Falilat Ogunkoya has seen it all in Nigerian sports, her young age notwithstanding. She is a product of grassroots development that has since ceased to happen in Nigeria. She won bronze in the Atlanta Olympic Games where her 49.1 seconds in the 400m is still the African record.
At the same Atlanta ’96, Olympics Mary Onyali won bronze in the 200m and Chioma Ajunwa won gold in the Long Jump before the soccer team also won gold, making it Nigeria’s finest moment at the Olympics. What went wrong with Nigeria? Falilat answered this way here in London
“We went to sleep after Atlanta ’96. It was largely the Atlanta team that competed in the 2000 Games in Sydney and some athletes remained till 2004. So, we went to sleep after Atlanta ’96 and the result is what we are getting now. After we won in Atlanta did they ask the medal winners how they won? What we went through should have been a lesson, some kind of guide to the authorities.
But they did not build on that. They probably saw us as a burden and avoided us. There are things that matter in sports. You may train an athlete for months and you think that the athlete is good enough to win a medal but on the day it matters the athlete gets into an overwhelming stadium with 80,000 spectators shouting and the athlete freezes.
So, experience counts but we don’t give a hoot about experience. Somebody who runs 100 meters, for example, should be able to learn a few things from the person that ran it and won an Olympic medal. I’m talking about role models.
Where is their place in Nigeria? There are people who should be role models to our athletes but the authorities would not use them. Same goes with coaching. Dennis Mitchell ran in my time and most of the coaches now ran in my time. It is their generation. Which generation can we refer to in Nigeria?
In my time we used our credit card to help ourselves. People celebrated the medals that we won but they did not know what we put in to win. Olympic medals don’t come like that. You work for them. Everybody is talking about the National Sports Commission. It is not only about them. What about the states? What are they doing? We were the products of the school system, the grass roots system.
What has happened to those programmes that produced us? In 1986 Mary Onyali had already moved to the United States but as local athletes Tina Iheagwam and myself beat her for the World Junior Championships. We started from secondary schools. Now, who in any secondary school can make a national impact in sports?
Governors don’t do anything now. Talents are wasting because sports has age limit. A great talent may fade away if the talent in him or her is not developed at the appropriate time. That’s what is happening to us. And we put all our eggs in one basket by pumping all the money into football.
That has to be looked into. I can tell you that our athletes are determined to do well but they don’t get the help they need to excel. If we used our credit card to help ourselves, do you expect that to continue? things are no longer the same, so we need to move with time but we are not doing so.
People are so greedy now and they don’t help athletes. Here, in England, Britain invested in sports and they are reaping it now. So, after everything the question goes back to the President of Nigeria. What does he want to do with sports? That is the question I want to ask you as an answer to your question.” BRILLIANT.