Engr Habu Gumel, President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), has renewed the call on stakeholders in the sports sector to test-run their readiness for the 2024 Olympic Games by using the African Games for both qualification and awareness-creation.
A statement by Tony Nezianya, Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) said that after several postponements, the 13th African Games will finally be hosted by Ghana from March 8 to March 23, 2024, in Accra.
Before then, the Youth Winter Games would be staged in Gangwom, South Korea, from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1, 2024. According to Gumel, the Games will offer opportunities to qualify more athletes for the Paris showpiece.
Of the 29 sports on offer at the Accra Games, eight will be Olympic-qualifying and seven, demonstration events. It is hoped that Nigeria, which has performed well in past African Games, would use the opportunity to qualify more athletes for the Summer Games in Paris, a city famed as the citadel of love.
It is, however, sad that currently, we have only qualified for eight slots at the Olympics, as revealed by Gumel during a joint meeting of the NOC, the sports Federations and the Sports Ministry, headed by Sen. John Owan-Enoh.
“As of today and heading into the Olympic year 2024, our nation has only qualified three in Athletics, three in boxing and one each in cycling and wrestling, ” noted the NOC boss.
”This is a far cry from expectations, even though we are still hopeful of qualifying more athletes, especially with our Women’s Basketball and Women’s Football teams still engaged in the qualifying series,” he said.
Dr Adewale Oladunjoye, president of Nigeria Triathlon Union (NTU), who was at that meeting, said: “To go for qualifiers will require massive funding of teams by the ministry.”
According to him, even though the Minister has called for collaboration with the private sector, it must be noted that this a sector that is facing fluctuating fortunes in sourcing the scarce foreign exchange to stabilize their businesses.
Many are now asking if the Corporate world is really in a position to support the various sports to the qualifiers. Meanwhile, Brig. -Gen. Oyelade Akinniyi of the Nigeria Boxing Federation had cried out to the Sports Minister to help his federation with refunds of the money spent on attending the qualifiers that yielded the country the three boxing hopefuls at the Olympics.
”We have a few more qualification opportunities,” he said, noting that they had many approvals awaiting cash-backing in the Sports Ministry.
In the case of Ademola Damilola Daniel, Chairman of the Curling Sports Federation, he urged for speedy intervention to support his team bound for South Korea with less than 90 days to the Youth Winter Games in Gangwom.
Looking back at Nigeria’s performance at previous Olympics, the NOC President pointed out that Atlanta’96, where Nigeria won two gold medals, has remained Nigeria’s best outing to date.
‘’We had won other medals of other colours but non came close to the 1996 epochal performance,” he said.
Gumel, the lone Nigerian member of the International Olympic Committee, notes with regret that some of Nigeria’s talented athletes and teams are missing out because they failed to take part in mandatory qualification events leading to the Olympic Games.
According to him, there is no doubt that we need to chart a new course by making a clear departure from the status quo in our drive for better results.
“Right now, the qualification system for both individual and team sports for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games is ongoing and as far as the Olympic Games are concerned, a critical take-off point is the qualification tournaments.
An obvious point worth mentioning has been that qualifying more athletes would not only brighten the chances for a podium finish but a build up Nigeria’s quota for an official team contingent to the Olympic Games.
The NOC helmsman therefore appealed to the Minister of Sports to ensure Nigeria would take part in the African Games as well as other qualifying tournaments to improve the chances of the country’s strong presence at the Olympics.
”The failure of any Federation, athlete or team to feature in one or more of the qualification tournaments lined up by the International Federations ahead of the Games would mean automatic self-disqualification from the Olympic Games.
Gumel, however, notes that he was certain all parties are committed to the success of the nation and are determined to surpass the 1996 record.
According to him, the ministry has agreed to have another joint meeting of stakeholders, which will offer further opportunities to appeal for the Minister’s goodwill and intervention to ensure that Nigeria’s medal hopefuls in key sports can participate in their programmed Olympic qualifier events.
He called for early preparations for the 13th African Games as it holds great potential for African athletes and also serves as a platform for international qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“There is no doubt that our country Nigeria has maintained her dominant position, in terms of haulage of medals at the African Games, and we should be more determined to sustain our continental top rating.
“At the last edition of the African Games in Morocco in 2019, Nigeria finished in second position, with a total of 46 Gold, 33 Silver and 48 Bronze medals, behind Egypt which came first, while South Africa was third position.
Gumel urged the Minister to strengthen the Federations and support them with funding as they are critical to the success of the sports sector.
He pledged the readiness of the NOC to work with the minister and help him to achieve better outcomes.