Published On: Sun, Aug 28th, 2016

Leadership Lessons From Rio 2016 – By Onwuasoanya FCC Jones


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The final curtain has been drawn on an eventful Olympics for the year 2016. Ranked as the world’s biggest sporting event, it is not just athletes or those who have direct businesses to do with sport that look forward to another Olympics with excitement. The Olympics is a culture to a whole lot of people; from ordinary sports lovers who will be glued to their screens watching some of their favorite sports, to government officials who appreciate the important role these games play in making the human society beautiful and of course the athletes, their tacticians and the organizers of the event, the Olympics is one enthralling package for the whole world; for all businesses, for all cultures, for all religions and for all professions. It is also one of the biggest job providers, albeit, adhoc.

The Olympics are some of the world’s oldest sporting cultures, having started as a kind of religious festival mixed with sports spearheaded by Heracles the son of, Zeus; The Amadioha or god of the sky and Thunder of Greek ancient religion. Any nation serious with leadership must take the Olympics seriously, not just because of the international exposure the games command, but also for the games’ concepts of excellence, fairness, equity, ethics, cultural preservation and other noble ideals associated with the games. Above all this, leadership excellence is a prominent feature of the Olympic Games. By leadership excellence, I do not just mean to celebrate the exceptional organizational quality of the International Olympics Organization and their over 200 members, but something more than that. The Olympics medal table does not only tell a story of a country’s sporting credentials, but more of its leadership credentials.

That the 2016 edition of this sports fiesta was held in Brazil holds out lots of lessons to Nigeria than the talk about how many medals we should have come home with. If we have had the right leadership in our country for any bit of time, then Brazilians should be paying through their nose to pay a visit to Nigeria for anything, and there would not have been any reason why that country should beat Nigeria to the hosting rights of any international event like this one, but Nigeria did not even have the confidence to throw in application for the hosting rights of this event.  A third world country with its own doses of troubles and internal strife, Brazil has surprised the world by hosting the world and hosting them well. At every point, there would always be naysayers who tried to turn the world against that country, but they always proved that with a determined leadership, many things are possible for any nation. Brazil does not boast of half the natural resources which God has blessed Nigeria with. Yet Brazil has in the last two years hosted two of the world’s biggest sporting events, and both are deemed successful; the World Cup in 2014 and now, the Olympic Games that just ended. It can only take a purposeful leadership to achieve this.

I keep asking myself if it is possible for Nigeria to qualify for consideration in hosting any of these world events. No doubt, we have the resources to be able to do this, but with the present crop of leaders bestriding this great country, it may be impossible for Nigeria to host any of these events. Apart from the dearth of facilities necessary for the hosting of these events, many other factors will hinder Nigeria’s chances of hosting any of such world class events. Is it the argument over which ethnic group will provide the city or the political leaning of the contractors that will handle works on such city? Is it the kickbacks that will go to government officials whose signatures and recommendations are needed for the award of this contract, or the possibility that such contracts may be abandoned by the contractors maybe because most of the funds approved for such contracts have been expended in paying kickbacks? Even South Africa, a country that just won its independence yesterday hosted the 2010 World Cup, and if care is not taken, by the time the IOC is ready for another concessional hosting right, the same South Africa or another African up-comer may be awarded the right to host the Olympics in the near future. To stand a chance of hosting any of these sporting fiestas in the nearest future, Nigerian leaders must invest massively in providing the necessary infrastructure and amenities necessary for any nation to be considered for such. We must also begin to address the issue of corruption with the necessary political will it deserves, instead of using rhetoric on fighting corruption as a political tool to win elections or instill fears in perceived and real political opponents. That the IOC allowed Brazil to go on with the hosting of the Olympics even with the threat of the dreaded Zika virus, the political uncertainty occasioned by the ongoing impeachment proceedings against the country’s President and many other grey issues begging for attention, shows among other things that the world body does not insist on having perfect conditions in place before granting the hosting right, but a commitment from leaders and stakeholders to diligently pursue excellence.

I stated earlier in this essay that the Olympics medal tables is not just about an individual country’s sporting credentials, but mostly about such country’s leadership credentials. One of the major reasons why some countries go home from the Olympics with bags of medals while many others go without any of its athletes having stepped on the podium is leadership. Someone told me that the individual strength and discipline of the athletes is all that is needed, but I completely disagree with him. There is little an athlete can do in an unfriendly country. Even the Refugees Olympic Team; drawn from countries across the world, whose citizens are taking refuge in different countries of the world due to the crisis in their home countries, required good leadership for them to make an appearance at the Olympics.

The Nigerian under-23 soccer team who got Nigeria’s only medal from this Olympic would have crashed out at the group stage of the football event, if not for the exceptional leadership qualities of the Team Coach, Sampson Siasia and the team Captain who was also the Captain of the Team Nigeria to the games, John Mikel Obi. These two men shouldered more responsibilities than their professional callings required of them, and it seemed the individual charged with such responsibilities was only watching by the sidelines to see that the team falters. He either did not know what to do, or didn’t care about doing the right thing. The stories of the challenges faced by the Nigerian Team as a result of the ineptitude or lack of patriotism of the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung will not bear repeating, as almost every medium is awash with the stories.

That it had to take the intervention of a Japanese plastic surgeon with zilch business interest in Nigeria to cheer the Nigerian boys to success during the Bronze medal match against Honduras tells deep stories about our leadership woes as a nation. Dr. Katsuya Takasu came all the way from his base in Japan, not necessarily to give our boys the 390,000 Dollars he gave them in appreciation, but to ridicule the Nigerian political and economic leadership class for being irresponsible and paying less regard to its athletes. The Japanese doctor understands that athletes are like warriors who bring honor to their countries through the different events they participate in, but our leaders down here do not understand that. The Sports Minister talked about the Nigerian team like it is just a total waste of money sponsoring any team to the Olympics. The Under-23 coach had recently insinuated that the Sports Minister could not even recognize him, the Chief Coach of his (Sports Minister’s) football contingent to an Olympics. What criteria were used in appointing such an individual as Sports Minsiter?

The revelation by Siasia clearly shows that apart from knowing little or nothing about sports administration, Dalung is not even a sports fan. He does not see sports as worth his time, yet, he is the Number One Sports officer of the Federation! While political appointments should provide opportunities to appreciate Party faithful and political loyalty, it makes no sense sacrificing merit on the altar of nepotism.

The fact that the world’s five most powerful countries came tops in the Olympics medal table, with the United States of America snatching the overall first position, while Great Britain came second and China coming third, tells a lot about the need for countries to invest in human capital development through creating as many avenues as possible for the citizens to be productively engaged. This, will apart from enhancing the economy of such nation, also reduce incidents of crime as more and more young people are engaged in one productive adventure or the other.

These countries are able to lead in the medal table because they presented athletes in most of the 28 games and 306 events in the Olympics. There are many of such events and games that Nigeria could have participated in if our leaders had taken social security and human capital development as seriously as their counterparts in the developed countries. Some of these sports; like archery, gymnastics, swimming and others thrive in their crude forms in our local villages. Nigeria was not represented in most of these games because our leaders do not see the need to invest in providing facilities for athletes to train in these games. Take another look at that medal table and you will observe a stark difference between nations who put the development of its people first, by taking actions to ensure that a conducive environment for all positive talents are made available for the citizenry. Most of these countries do not dip hands into government coffers to sponsor their athletes to such sporting events because they have designed better avenues through which such causes could be sponsored without unnecessarily straining State funds. For instance, the United States of America funds its Olympics athletes with funds from the national lotteries which are dedicated to the development of the arts, sciences and other creative causes like these games. Nigeria has a National Lottery Commission and other agencies dedicated to regulation of lottery, but these funds don’t seem to have been channeled towards specific ends, and if they are, it is possible, some things have derailed this target. This is another leadership lesson we may need to tap from the recently concluded Olympics.

The best time to start preparations for the 2020 Olympics is now. No country wins medals at such big sporting events by starting on the eve of the games to prepare for it. We have a good number of our athletes donning the national colours of other countries during international sporting events, there are many more of such talents raring to escape to more friendly countries to advance their careers. With investment in sports development and administration, some of these athletes will be encouraged to stay back and make Nigeria proud.


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