Despite shoddy preparations, the Nigerian Paralympics team put impressive performance at this year's paralympic games in China
By Chris Onokpegu
The saying that there is “ability in disability” once again was proved right when the Nigerian disabled athletes to the Paralympics in Beijing, China surpassed the achievement of the able-bodied athletes with gold medals.
Nigeria finished 30th on the overall medals table but third in Africa with 4 gold, 4 silver and I bronze medals, a feat that could not be achieved by their able-bodied counterparts in the Olympics who only managed to win a silver medal in men's football event with 3 bronze medals in 4x100m women relay, Judo and long jump.
25 athletes competed in power-lifting, athletics and wheel-chair tennis. Ruel Ishaku and Lucy Ejike won gold medals in the men and women 48kg power-lifting while Eucharia Njideka Iyiazi won 2 gold medals in shot put and discuss.
Though their performance was a far cry from what was achieved four years ago in Athens, Greece, it was still a remarkable achievement.
'Team Nigeria” as the Nigerian contingents are referred to, had a shoddy preparation towards the competition. The Paralympics had the worst treatment as they were abandoned at their various camps with little or no funds. They were left to fend for themselves while their Olympics counterparts had everything going for them including a training tour of South-Korea.
The disabled athletes neither had pre-Games competitions nor attended any championship to either keep them in shape or test their level of preparedness.
Sports analysts condemned the officials of the National Sports Commission (NSC) for the treatment meted out to the disabled athletes who had made the country proud. They said the Olympics team was over-pampered while the Paralympics team struggled to make ends meet hence their determination to win laurels.
At the National Stadium, Lagos and other venues, the disabled athletes train with dilapidated and obsolete facilities. They were also not well fed as many of them eat fast and “junk” food and without a proper dieting programme.
Power-lifting coach of the Paralympics, Are Feyisetan confirmed that they had little or no training before the Games. However, Adekunle, an athlete said it was sheer determination with support from family members that fetched them the medals. He attributed lack of modern technology for the reasons why they couldn't achieve more than what they got.
He said most countries have embraced modern technology that helps in making athletes run faster and better, a technology Nigeria is yet to embrace.
If information reaching our sports desk is anything to go by, then the contingent will not be rewarded or hosted to a reception by the President. This might not be unconnected with the eight gold medals the National Sports Commission promised the President while being able to win only four in both the Olympics and Paralympics. The Paralympics team has always had this type of treatment meted out on them.
Apart from what they usually experience before competitions, they are hardly rewarded hence their call for government to give them recognition on their arrival. The team which was received by the governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola on behalf of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua is yet to be hosted or rewarded but the case was not the same when the conquering team tutored by late Yemi Tella won the U-17 world cup in South Korea last year and were immediately rewarded by the federal government both in Lagos and Abuja.
It was not the case in other lands as barely 24 hours after the Paralympics, Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper hosted the Canadian Paralympics team despite their not-too-impressive performance.
Another instance is the United States of America that spent a lot of money on Michael Phelps, the world's best swimmer who won eight gold medals in the Olympics hence the US President, George Bush's presence at the event.
The United States assigned a coach to an athlete especially if the athlete is a medal prospect but in Africa and Nigeria in particular, a minimum of ten athletes are assigned to a coach.
Apart from rewarding them, they place them on monthly subvention and in most cases, they are gainfully engaged or employed depending on the country and its policy.
In Nigeria, athletes are not rewarded and where they are so rewarded, officials sit on their files. Some trade with funds approved for athletes as was the case before the Olympics where the money approved was kept in a fixed account to yield interest. In most cases, the approval ends verbally, hence the reason why athletes protest before and after competitions.
Newsworld investigation shows that officials and their friends get their estacodes and other allowances even before embarking on the trips. Some of them end up not embarking on the trips while some board the next available flight after showing their faces. Officials mostly go on trips to enjoy themselves while the welfare of athletes is left to their own fate.
Football followers wondered why all the board members of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) went to the Olympics leaving behind the goalkeeper trainer, Best Ogedegbe.
The national female team, the Super Falcons once protested in South Africa for unpaid allowances. Their action was carried out because according to them, they are always being dribbled when they get back to the country.
Report also has it that the Tunisia/US 94' team led by “Dutchgeria” Clemence Westerhof is yet to get the house and other rewards promised them by the Babangida government. It is also said that the late coach Yemi Tella-led U-17 World Cup conquering team's reward is also hanging in the balance.
Analysts say if others who are able cannot get their rewards from government, how much more the disabled who are not given a sense of belonging in a society like ours. They foresee a situation whereby a good number of athletes will dump the country to adorn the colours of other countries where they will be appreciated like their compatriots because of the shabby treatment that becomes their lot after competitions.
This is not the first time they are bringing honour to the country. They won 30 out of the 85 gold medals during the 2003 All Africa Games hosted by Nigeria to put the country on top of the overall medals table. They also did the country proud in Athens, Greece, where the able athletes couldn't win a gold medal.
The next Olympics and Paralympics will take place in London. what will happen then remains to be seen.