Atlanta – How time flies.Twenty years ago, the world celebrated Nigeria here. 24 hours after Chioma Ajunwa won Nigeria’s first and only individual Olympic gold medal, the only Dream Team Nigeria ever had dazzled to Nigeria’s second gold. It was in soccer. It was the first time an African country would clinch such diadem.
History was made. Truly, it was a Dream Team. Nwankwo Kanu , Daniel Amokachi, Victor Ikpeba, Taribo West, Uche Okechukwu, Mobi Oparaku, Garba Lawal, Sunday Oliseh etc. The array of stars earned them the name Americans gave their Basketball team that boasted their best ever.
Nigeria copied them but subsequent Olympic teams have erroneously been tagged Dream Team. The only Dream Team were the 1996 Olympic team that played champagne soccer right from their qualifying matches to the historic day in the city of Athens here in Georgia.
Twenty years on the Nigerian Olympic team returned to Atlanta, this time to prepare for the Rio Olympics starting next month. And it appears the memory of Atlanta ’96 is still green here. At the Hyatt Hotel where the team is camped, the pleasantries have been warm and good wishes tremendous. Americans wish the team well and hope they repeat the 1996 performance.
Head coach Samson Siasia has a name here. He is respected and the goodwill has been amazing. The team arrived here without money. No daily allowances are paid and no hope of possible change before they fly to Brazil from here. “You have an amazing team,” two ladies in their 50s told Siasia while walking past the lobby of the hotel. They were referring to the 1996 squad. “We wish you the best in Rio,” they said, thumbing up. The team arrived here without money.
Such greetings have become routine here. The County even hosted the team Tuesday and honoured with awards. But while the people here are full of expectations, how ready are the Nigerian players? The players, naturally are nursing hopes of a good outing in Rio. But what is the support from Nigeria like? Nigerians are expecting the best from a team the government has failed to support. From the African championship that served as qualifiers in Senegal to their training camp here, the Olympic team players have marched from one hardship to another.
Àn individual sponsor brought them here and his sponsorship covers 10 days. If Nigeria does not send money to take care of the team after 10 days the team will be stranded here. The bad press this may subject the government could make them act. That is the way of the Nigerian sports authorities. The coaches here are not thinking of only the Games. They are concerned about camping facilities, hotel bills, food and even water especially when their sponsorship elapses.
These are serious distractions. And that is the team Nigerians are banking on to win gold in Brazil. It will be an uphill task. The ongoing European Championship has shown the level good preparation can take average or even small teams to. Wales and Iceland showed it. They upped their preparation and enjoyed the results. Nigeria is facing the worst times in terms of Olympic preparation and sports minister Solomon Dalung appears overwhelmed. All the teams are facing hard times and the minister seems to lack the solution.
There’s cash crunch. He alleged that the N2.9 billion President Buhari released for the last All Africa Gàmes and Olympic preparation has been misused but he has refused to probe the alleged fraud. Dalung knows that he has not done well for our sports and he even lacks the the tools to drive our sports.
There is cash crunch in the country but the much that was available was mismanaged. One cannot explain why he has refused to take action. If “reaping what you sow” is anything to go by, Rio Olympics may be a sad story for Nigeria.
The last time the minister commented on football, he condemned Nigerian coaches who dropped some of the players that participated in the qualifying series from the main event.
He said it was injustice. He was not informed that at the time of games proper some of the players who played in the qualifying series could drop form while some who were not in the team could hit better form and be selected.
There could also be cases of injuries. Sometimes changes are inevitable and sentiments are sacrificed. Dalung simply dabbles into where he is not informed and exposes his ignorance that may haunt Nigeria in Rio.