NOC Chief Media Executive bares his mind on his organization’s hopes, aspirations, and the stumbling block it faces towards taking Nigeria’s Olympic games aspirations to a new level
By Ed Emeanua
Nigeria began attending the Olympics games as a nation in 1952 at the Helsinki Games in Finland. But it was not until at the Tokyo Olympics Games of 1964 that the most populous Black nation on earth finally managed to win its first Olympic Games medal, through Nojim Maiyegun.
Maiyegun (born 17 February 1941 in Lagos), a boxer, won the bronze medal in the men’s Light Middleweight (71 kg) category for his country at the Tokyo Games.
Nigeria boxer Efe Ajagba beat his opponents at will during Rio 2016 Olympics Picture credit: Bella Naija
It is tragic that the Country of late Dick Tiger and Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey has not made much headway in Olympics boxing
Incidentally, he won the medal by default-without throwing a single punch. From 1952 to the 2020 event, Nigeria’s Olympics games success was abysmal to say the least.
Three gold medals; 10 silver medals and 12 bronze medals, were all the country could show for attending these Games that it has so far sent 722 male and female athletes to, plus four times that amount in officials.
At the 2020 Games, Nigeria won just two medals, comprising one silver and one bronze. The country was represented by 55 athletes and finished overall at the 74th spot at the end of the 2020 Tokyo Games, ranking the eighth best among the 54 African nations at the event.
The 2024 event is billed for the city of light, Paris, France, and the umpteenth question lingers: Will it be another Olympic games jamboree outing for Nigerian athletes and their officials.
Will Paris 2024 be another Olympics jamboree for Team Nigeria?
Sports Joust caught up with, and spent 60 minutes with the Chief Media Executive Officer of the Nigeria Olympics Committee Mr. Tony Nezianya and posed this question and many more to him.
Mr. Nezianya was very direct, to-the-point, and spoke about his organization’s aspirations, commitments as well as difficulties in making meaningful changes to Nigeria’s Olympics participation and medals win going forward.
Here are excerpts of this must-read-interview.
Sports Joust: Good evening Mr. Tony Nezianya, Good to have you for this interview.
Tony Nezianya: Thank you for having me.
Nigeria has been attending the Olympic Games since 1952 and it’s rather noteworthy that the most ‘Populous Black Nation’ on the planet has not been outstanding at these events based on Nigeria’s medals turn-ins from subsequent Olympics events till date. Another Olympic Games will hold next year in Paris, France. What are the intentions of the Nigeria Olympics Committee (NOC) towards making this next outing memorable and one that would bring pride and glory to Nigerians?
Tony Nezianya: I believe the 1996 event in Atlanta will go down as perhaps, our best outing at the Olympics Games. Even at that, we only won two gold medals: one each in Athletics and Football.
Now, the NOC is determined than ever before to move and improve our competitive edge as a nation, and uplift our overall placements in subsequent events going forward. Next year in Paris, France, the Olympic Games will be holding again. We plan to make it a very memorable outing for the country by winning many laurels and climbing taller whenever the drum beats roll for Athletes to take to the podium in Paris. We have many programs and activities planned to make Paris 2024 Olympic Games a success, highly rewarding, and very memorable for Nigeria and Nigerians.
However, we must realize the extent that the NOC can be able to effect the changes that we seek because we do not directly run the sports federations, state sports associations, school sports councils etc.
It is the responsibilities of these bodies that I have mentioned above to discover, train or nurture and prepare the various Athletes for these Games. Our contribution is mostly to advise, provide the type of resources from both local and international that are needed for these bodies to succeed in their tasks.
Nigeria’s Youth Olympians are ready to bring honors to the country but is Nigeria ready for them?
Though, we have some incentives and requirements that we use to compel the compliance of these various administrative sporting bodies, they are not always fool proof or hundred percent effective. However, our Committee is very determined to succeed. Our duty is to carry along our various sports Federations and Olympics councils who as you are aware are also members of the NOC. This we have done to the letter.
Sports Joust: What can be adduced as the reason(s) for the persistent poor successes at the subsequent Olympics and major sporting events for Nigerian Athletes over the years?
Tony Nezianya: It is necessary that we should first talk about the level of our preparations for these events before and even now. The caveat remains: Are they usually enough? Do we leave our Athletes with the type of preparations they need to excel at these events?
We cannot expect our Athletes to do well in an event like the Olympics for instance, by just gathering them together for a week or two for some kind of last minute training exercises before major events, and hope they will go there and work some magic, and do very well. Olympic Games allow Athletes four years to train and properly prepare.
The advanced countries always begin preparations for the next Olympic Games and major international sporting events right even before the conclusion of the last Games. That is the only recipe for Olympics success that is known to mankind. The Athletes and their training are priorities must come first. If we do not invest in the proper preparations of the Athletes as a nation before major international Games, it will be unrealistic for us to expect them to defeat competitors from other nations that are well trained and better prepared at the Olympics.
There is a noticeable emphasis on not wasting time to get out the best from the Athletes among the major countries that are doing very well at the Olympics and major sporting events. Because of their level of preparations, these countries can even project with accuracy the number of medals they are going to win and at which category of events the medals would come from, even before the events due to the readiness of the Athletes. They commence their training and preparations of their Athletes timely and follow their programs to the letter. That is the difference between Nigeria and the countries that are beating us to the medals at the Olympics.
This is because sports medal wins and the level of preparations and readiness of Athletes are directly linked ruling out injuries, and miscalculations or mistakes that are usually man made or self implicated. Knowing these, the other nations usually start preparations right away by scouting for talents even before the conclusion of the previous Olympics. and put them through extensive programs to get them ready for the major game ahead plus the qualifiers.
The talents are obviously there, but is the execution lacking?
The trainers and coaches are always at work twenty-four seven in those countries that are very successful at the Olympics. These coaches are also well trained and are sent to refresher courses and seminars to broaden and improve their current knowledge and techniques as trainers and coaches.
Our job at the NOC is to raise proper awareness that would help our government and various sports Federations and Associations to do the right thing, so that our Athletes are also benefiting from their work and commitments by excelling at major tournaments. To also prepare for the games, we need infrastructures where the Athletes can train and develop locally as well as properly.
Do we have such good facilities locally? The presence of such facilities, modern training resources or infrastructures locally will always allow our Athletes to prepare consistently and properly everyday.
Rushing them abroad on crash training program is not only expensive, but is inadequate, and as such, can only give an Athlete the type of limited success that we have continued to get from some of them that are supermen and superwomen in our attendance. We need these resources and training gyms and infrastructures to be competitive with countries like Great Britain, the USA, China and Russia and even South Africa, that at levels above us due to their preparations.
We already have the talents available in Nigeria. But where are the resources to train them to that international level of competitiveness and readiness? Must we continue to take our Athletes out to other countries where they can then go and train for two weeks before major sporting championships and expect them to do magic at these championships against competitions that prepared for over four years?
The Godswill international stadium, Akwa Ibom state , Uyo is perhaps, according to many, the only Olympic size stadium in Nigeria
Two weeks of intensive training cannot win you an Olympics medal. It is that glaring and our years of trying the same mistake since 1952 has given us the same results time and time again. Yet, we keep doing the same thing over the years. We cannot continue to merely hope to reap when we have not sown the seeds that would give us the type of harvest that we desire.
Also, we need trainers who have modern training knowledges. Are we training our trainers like we are supposed to do? How about in the areas of sports psychology, sports science and sports laboratories? These are essential resources for Athletes’ wellness and competitive edges to develop properly. But we do not have them readily available here in Nigeria. We are still relying on outside help but they are very expensive.
How about in the areas of sports nutrition and sports medicine? Are we up-to-date in these spheres? There are a lot of reasons for our lack of satisfactory medal win in tandem of Olympics participation and other major sporting event participations. These reasons or retrogressive actions are all over the place for everyone to see. We cannot blame any of the causes on our Athletes. It is garbage in and garbage out. You can only reap what you have sown.
Sadly, we all know that the talents are there. But what have been consistently lacking are the things that would develop the available talents to world standard. This is directly the responsibility of Government, beginning from the Local Government level to the Federal Government, they have a huge role to play to make us succeed in becoming an Olympics world power. We have called them the ministry for Youth and Sports Development for a reason. The ministry should therefore be given the resources to fully develop the Youths and Sports of Nigeria to the internationally accepted standard.
The government should therefore help the ministry it has created to do the job of developing the Youth and Sports of the nation. We need these facilities and infrastructures here in Nigeria to be able to honestly hope to compete at the levels of our competitors who have them in their countries.
Moreover, are our various sports Federations and sports Associations that run sports properly constituted? In the past, we were having selection of officials to run our sports Federations and Associations.
The AFN has now become a house of war and turmoil as the Olympics loom
This culture of selection as we all know, lasted for the majority of our years of international sporting participation. They were unsuccessful years of participation due to the selection of cronies who know next to nothing about sports, who were then charged to run sports.
This led to the poor results we have had over the years as these selection of usually unknowledgeable officials or cronies were usually based on sheer nepotism. Thus, the wrong officials were getting picked and because they don’t have the experience or knowledge to do the job, the Athletes do not get proper attention to do the great things that they are capable of doing for the country.
Luckily, today we have electoral processes that can help us to place the right people into the proper offices in the sports organizations. So, this new development is very heartening.
Very soon, we will start seeing the results. For instance, we had elections of officials in NOC as well as all the sporting Federations and Associations recently. This was not happening in the past. So, it is a step forward from where we used to be 30 or 40 years ago.
Nigerian Athletics stars have been left in a state of quandary and despair as official factional rift tear at the heart of AFN
This change in attitude was largely due to international pressure from the World accreditation bodies under whose umbrella the sports Associations and Federations must operate. They have also enforced that those running the sports bodies in the country shall have and follow their various body constitutions. The NOC is currently helping to make all our sports Federations and State sports Associations to create their individual constitutions. If the constitutions are followed by the presidents and scribes of various bodies, we hope the bickering and crises in these bodies will be a thing of the past. The in-fighting are only distractions that ultimately affect the preparations of Athletes.
Sports Joust: Despite the electoral process that we are now using to elect officials into the Federations and Associations in the country, we still have acrimony and major fall outs following these elections. Some of these election disagreements ultimately end in law courts with factions also formed to run a single association. Are these not also a distraction to the sportsmen and women, as well as the NOC?
Tobi Amusan’s remarkable 100 meters hurdle talent is there for the world to see, but how far can sheer talent alone take her when her local Federation is engulfed by crises?
Tony Nezianya: Obviously they are. But remember that every new shift comes with some major challenges. Change is usually problematic because it always comes with some resistance. But with time, we will get better.
Take what is happening at the Athletics Federation into consideration. There has been a disagreement over the outcome of their election with factions formed to run the same association. It was the same issue in another Federation. Thankfully, the later has decided to withdraw their litigation in the court to move forward as one body. We are working tirelessly with everyone and all stakeholders in Athletics to bring peace and harmony to the team. We hope to start seeing the results soon.
Sports Joust: The Athletics Federation is still in turmoil with some members accusing the president of undemocratically running the federation with the connivance of some of his cronies and against the body’s constitution. How does the NOC cope with these level of distractions and acrimonious relationship within Federations and different factions, since the federation presidents and secretaries are also members of the NOC?
Tony Nezianya: Obviously, these have been a great distraction. For the association with factions, there has been a method that we have adopted to deal with unrecognized factions.
Nigeria is remarkable for producing weight lifting talents but how far they can go without standard training gyms in the country, continues to remain to be seen
Thankfully, the international body overseeing the federations have their methods for approving one of the factions as authentic. Also, the ministry of sports tow this line too by approving to work with the internationally recognized faction. We at the NOC do the same.
When the other faction come to our meetings at the NOC, we always disallow them on the grounds that they are not authenticated by the world body of their sport and the Federal Government, which is represented by the Sports Ministry.
Our advise to them is to allow their grievance to play out in court and whatever the court decides afterwards would be respected by all concerned. They have no option that to listen to the voice of reason and comply.
This is the way that we at the NOC have been dealing with the issue of factions and I must say that it has been highly successful. With the issue of accusations of some Federation presidents of not following their constitution, that too is a process the world bodies of sports and the Sports ministry looks into and give their verdict on timely basis.
Luckily, sports governing world bodies have mandated federations and associations under them to create constitutions that they are also mandated to follow.
Reports of unconstitutional decisions are seriously tackled by these world bodies and the sports ministry. We at the NOC then follow the guidance of the ministry and global sports governing councils or the law courts decisions in resolving these type of overreach of the president or Secretaries of Federations.
Sports Joust: How does your Committee intend to make next year’s Olympics very memorable for the right reasons for the country?
Tony Nezianya: As you know, we only recently came to office following elections at the NOC board and the various Sports Federation levels. At the NOC, we have since hit the ground running. Since we resumed our tenure, the NOC has been organizing seminars and courses on the proper functioning of Sports bodies and on the best ways to run and operate sports organizations and sports events.
NOC is again organizing another seminar on June 9 and 10th that is targeted at the various secretaries and presidents of Nigeria Sports Federations. We hope to bring in experts from Uganda and from other parts of the world ostensibly to improve on common mistakes peculiar to sports bodies and planning, as well as conducting sporting events or tournaments.
These seminars and courses as you are aware, are organized to map out methods for identifying, managing and improving sports talents. The NOC does not directly manage the nation’s sports talents. This is rather the responsibility of the various sporting Federations. However, it is the responsibility of the NOC to remotely assist the Nation’s sports bodies in improving our Athletes.
The list of indigenous oil companies in Nigeria are lengthy but their contribution to sports and youth development is remarkably very short
This is where these seminars and courses come in as handy tools to prepare our sports administrators at the Federation levels which would then translate to better management of the sporting talents. Again, we are eager to have the best from our Athletes for them to qualify eventually for the Olympic Games. This involves their full participation at the ongoing qualifying tournaments and it takes extensive planning to make it possible. Moreover there is huge travelling and logistics such as Visa procurements involved and this is very expensive as well.
It calls for diligence and hard work that we send our best talents to these qualifying championship and make sure that only our best do make it to attend the Olympics so that we can stand a better chance for winning medals. The NOC is very committed in getting corporate sponsorships and financial assistance from stakeholders and individuals to make this possible. This is because the Government cannot do it alone.
Sports Joust: Preparing Athletes for major sporting events cost money especially when they are expected to go through various stages of qualification for the tournament. Isn’t it also the responsibility of your body to assist the various sporting Federations in this regard.
Tony Nezianya: We do provide assistance with funding to the various Sports Federations to help them prepare our Athletes for the Olympic Games through the World Olympics funds. We have a loaded program for the various qualifying tournaments for the Olympic Games that are coming up this year since the Olympics is coming up next year in France.
The African Games was supposed to take place this year in Ghana, but was postponed to next year. It is intended to also serve as the qualifying events for several Olympic sports. We hope to have Olympics funds to assist the Federation to train and send their Athletes to the qualifying games and the Olympic Games. Some of the weightlifters just attended a qualifying event for the Olympics. We are happy that one of them has now qualified.
We can also count on the assistance of the Olympic solidarity and the Association of African Olympics for funding support that is crucial to our Federations to train their Athletes. The Beach Olympic qualification event is also holding in Tunisia. We will be calling on the corporate bodies and sporting stakeholders as well as individual contributions to be able to make all these commitments possible.
Some of the above listed major corporate entities in Nigeria are Lebanese owned but are renown for their reluctance to give back to the country
It is also a qualification tournament for the Olympics. As I said, we have a loaded program. We have to assist the Federations to stage contests to prepare the Athletes for the Olympics and stage seminars and courses to better prepare the sports administrators to better manage the talents at their various sports and to properly run their respective Federation.
Sports Joust: The Federal and State governments are usually quick to take the glory whenever the Athletes representing their States and the Federation do well in local and international sporting events. Do they not also contribute in the training and viability of such Athletes to participate in Olympic Games, and in what ways or manner do they contribute to make this possible?
Tony Nezianya: Not only do the Federal Government contribute to the training and participation of the Athletes in major events like the Olympic Games qualifying events and the Olympic Games itself through funding, the States and even Local Governments are supposed to contribute also.
However, some of the states and local government authorities does not see it as their responsibility to build grounds and venues for kids to play and develop their muscles and bones which are necessary for them to fully develop into well adults.
The National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos is presently in a state of dilapidation, more need to be done by Government
For instance, sporting development involve the provision of the infrastructures that would help Athletes to train and develop properly. At the Local government levels, this involves the creation of playgrounds where children can go and play to help them develop into well children, then healthy teens and adults.
As we are all well aware, sporting talents are first noticed, nurtured and then harnessed on these playgrounds both in schools and in our various communities. That is the case all over the world and Nigeria should not be the exception. The NOC has been very involved in bringing this to the attention of the various local and the state governments of the need for them to build more playgrounds and maintain existing ones. This would allow Nigerian children to go and play normally and to fully develop their sporting talents.
These are also the tertiary venues where sports talents are discovered very early and become nurtured to international standard by trainers and coaches. It is the responsibility of government, both State and Federal, to build stadiums or stadia in their various locales. These arenas, as well as training centers, are necessary for Athletes to train and properly develop.
It is also the responsibility of various sports shareholders like clubs, corporate bodies and philanthropists to contribute and help build more playgrounds and gyms for sporting development in the country. Unfortunately, the business community in Nigeria have not been contributing their fair share to national sporting growth unlike they do elsewhere in the world.
For instance, the Coca–Cola Arena is a multi-purpose arena developed in the City Walk area in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. It was opened for use on June 6, 2019 and has a capacity of 17,000.
Coca-Cola Arena, a multi-purpose arena, is located in the City Walk area in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates
Inside Dubai’s new mega Coca-Cola Arena
Though it is the property of Meraas and operated by ASM Global, but the Coca-Cola brand is advertised through the arena as a means of support for the arena which hosts events that include concerts, sport, family entertainment and ceremonies.
Again, there is also the Coca-Cola Coliseum, which is a venue at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, earmarked for agricultural displays, ice hockey, and trade shows. Coca-Cola can also do the same in Nigeria and help sponsor the promotion of major sporting arenas and sports brands. There is the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California and other arenas whose sponsorship and advertisements have helped to run functionally. We also expect same development in Nigeria and our NOC has been pushing the business communities to start becoming more visible in sports and talent nurturing in Nigeria.
The Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada sits 7779 ice-hokey spectators at a time
Ball Arena was formerly known as Pepsi Center. It is a multi-purpose indoor venue in Denver, Colorado, USA. It is located at Speer Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in downtown Denver, and is served by two nearby exits off Interstate 25. A light rail station is on the western side of this sprawling complex. This is the type of contributions that we also expect from mega-corporate companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola in Nigeria.
Our job as NOC is to raise the awareness. Our sporting life also begins at our schools. It is very necessary for schools to have facilities that can create well children and that can train and develop children properly. Sports can be an opportunity to promote business. The response from the business community has somehow been lukewarm. But we cannot give up. We must just keep pushing for more corporate involvement in growing Nigerian sports to international standard. The State and Federal Government definitely have a role to play. NOC has and will continue to raise this awareness to them and ginger them to contribute more.
Sports Joust: Thank you Mr. Nezianya for spending your time with Sports Joust.
Tony Nezianya: You are welcome. It has been a pleasure.