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Sports Administrators And Challenge of Kitting Athletes

Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan

August 07, (THEWILL) – The pride felt by the entire country when Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan cruised to a world record run at the semi-finals of the women’s 100m metres relay event at the recently concluded 18th World Athletics Championships at Oregon, USA, was in stark contrast with the pain, agony and suffering that has been the plight of the average Nigerian in recent time.

The shrinking value of the naira, the nosediving economy and rising inflation had contributed so much to the suffering of the average Nigerian that Amusan’s record-setting victory ushered in a moment of soothing relief and a sense of pride. The country’s name was in the media in a positive light, a rarity these days. It was an occasion to relish and an accomplishment to bask in. Away from the embarrassing negative baggage associated with the green-white-green identity of Nigeria, the national anthem played out as Amusan stood proudly on the podium with her gold medal around her neck and tears of pride streaked down her cheeks.

It was from this height of pride that Team Nigeria went into the competition for honours at the Commonwealth Games in the English Midlands city of Birmingham. The athletes were full of enthusiasm, they were riding on a wave of positive zeal as they were joined by Amusan, fresh off her world record exploits and Ese Brume, who clinched the silver medal in the Women’s Long jump event with a leap of 7.02 metres, an improvement on her bronze medal finish in the previous championships.

The positive energy and high spirits nearly were undone by administrative letdown once again. In a very clear sign that sports administrators in the country learnt nothing from the kitting fiasco that turned into a national embarrassment for Nigeria at the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan and the misspelling of the country’s name in sportswear donned by the country’s athletes at the World Championships in Oregon, there was a last minute scramble to find kits for the country’s contingent at Birmingham on the eve of the opening ceremony.

The international disgrace that could have followed was averted by a UK-based sportswear company, whose manager initially thought that requests sent to his company to make kits to be used at the Commonwealth Games was a prank. That was how incredulous it was and it gave an inkling of the shambolic preparation that those responsible for making these kits available for our hard-working athletes were involved in. These kits for the athletes to wear on Friday did not arrive and by Tuesday, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria switched to panic mode and started scrambling for a fix. Therefore, a normal work day for the Kidderminster-based company MG Sportswear and its 14 staff turned into a maddening rush to produce enough kits to suit the athletes. The manager Gino Ruffinato admitted that as soon as they were convinced it was a real emergency, they got the fabric, the print and the designs to work with and it was “panic stations” immediately. They had to put in long hours to fulfil the order of 200 pieces of kit with 400 Nigerian badges on them, including running vests and shorts and staff tracksuits, as well.

Given the short notice, it took everything they had to round up the order and deliver just in time for the 93-man strong contingent to wear and represent Nigeria at the different events for which they had toiled dedicatedly to compete in. Yet, how different it could all have been if something went wrong along the line. The very strict rules on kits for identification and cohesion that the organisers of the Games stand by are non-negotiable. Unfortunately, Nigeria has a long history of failing to do things right. As far back as 2014, at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, Nigerian athletes were using masking tape to cover the sponsor’s name on the different kits they had on for their events, as it differed from official sponsors of Team Nigeria. When these masking tapes fell off during the competitions, it became an embarrassment that the Commonwealth Games Federation, CGF, had to officially query the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC, over the kit inconsistency of the Nigerian athletes at the Games. It is incredibly upsetting and disheartening that eight years after, sports adminstrators cannot get simple kit organisation right.

The excuse for the Birmingham near mishap came from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, which tried to exonerate itself from the embarrassment. Toyin Ibitoye, the Special Assistant to the Sports Minister on Media, who provided the Ministry’s explanation of the kit issue said: “About 300 Team Nigeria Kits were delivered over two weeks ago and have since be issued to almost all the athletes. These kits, which are the general kits procured by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, as is the practice, have since been issued to the athletes. These include track suits, house wears, sneakers, face caps, back packs, trolley bags, shorts, and ceremonial wears. Team Nigeria athletes have since been donning them in Birmingham as was evident at Thursday night’s opening ceremony and other team functions. However, the competition kits for each federation differ. Each federation produces specific competition kits for its athletes. The ministry is aware that federations have their own arrangements with different manufacturers with different delivery times and expectations which is being monitored very closely. We hope this clarification helps to put the matter in perspective so that all distractions to Team Nigeria athletes and officials are avoided.”

At this level and in this age of interconnectivity, a lack of synergy is hardly an acceptable excuse for one embarrassing kit problem after another at international competitions where the country’s athletes are putting in their extreme best to bring honour and glory to the country’s name. The feeble attempt at a defense by the ministry reeks of mediocrity and irresponsibility as oversight functions and supervisory roles behoves the ministry to ensure that there are no repeats of such embarrassing situations at every international competition.

At the just-concluded World Championships in Oregon, on the kit that sprinter Favour Ofili wore during the 4x100m relay event, the letter ‘i’ was missing from the spelling of Nigeria, such that it was spelled N-I-G-E-R-A.

In their defence, Prince Adeniyi Adisa Beyioku, the AFN Secretary General, turned on the Nigerians, who were unimpressed by the error and while calling those who reacted an “idle few” explained that the misspelling was “a factory error made by giant sportswear and equipment company, Nike, and which affected just the vest Ofili wore at the championships.”

The point is why does it keep happening in Nigeria, if not that there is an apparent lack of professionalism and attention to details on all aspects of the participation of Nigerian athletes in these competitions?

If sports administrators can dedicate a fraction of the commitment that Nigerian athletes devote to their preparedness for these competitions that are often botched by an inept sports administration, the difference will be obvious for all to see.

THEWILL recalls that during the Olympics a year ago, a viral video posted via the account of Nigeria’s Olympics shot put finalist, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, via TikTok quickly became the cause of several harsh criticisms of the government over the welfare of the country’s contingent before the video was deleted. Nigerians decried the treatment of the athletes representing the country typified by Enekwechi washing his jersey in preparation for the August 5 final of the shot put event for which he qualified. Yet, instead of using every available time to prepare, he was caught up in laundry duties because as he captioned the video, he had no choice: “When you made the Olympic Finals, but you only have one jersey.”

Many critics recalled the embarrassing disqualification of no fewer than 10 Nigerian athletes because they failed to meet the standard test requirements due to “officials’ negligence” from the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) where infighting at the top has rendered athletics governance null and void. It is the same incompetence that continues to bring embarrassments to the country even as dedicated athletes, even the para powerlifting athletes, continue to shine the light of victory on the country to make Nigerians proud of the green-white-green and the anthem that calls all of us to “Arise, oh compatriots…”