Every four years, the world stops to witness the biggest and greatest sports showpiece on earth, the Olympics Games as it takes centre stage in which thousands of athletes from over 200 countries participate in a variety of competitions.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, the Games which was originally scheduled to take place from 24 July to 9 August 2020, was postponed in March 2020 as concerns about the pandemic began to affect qualifying events which were also postponed till the coast was clear to resume the qualifiers.
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These postponements naturally affected nations’ preparations for qualifying tournaments and Team Nigeria was not an exception.
In a bid to get Team Nigeria’s qualifying series back on track, the federal government made sure the ‘Nigerian Olympics’, the 20th National Sports Festival was held in Edo State after it also suffered several postponements.
With the conclusion of the festival which equally served as qualification series for some athletes like Grace Nwokocha who won the women’s sprint double of 100m and 200m events to ensure her qualification for the Olympics, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports has now shifted focus to the Tokyo Olympics.
Meanwhile, some of the home- based athletes who have qualified in their various events to be in Team Nigeria for the trip to the Far East, are expected to begin camping in Lagos and Port Harcourt for final build-up.
It will be recalled that the sports minister, Sunday Dare had said the National Camp for the Olympics Games will be set in Edo State to allow contingents for the games to take advantage of the world-class Samuel Ogbemudia stadium, Benin City and other facilities built by the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration.
“There is no better place to host Nigerian athletes for the Tokyo Olympic Games than Edo State. The state already has the facilities and the national camp will be set up in Edo State,” said Dare.
But the rumoured fallout between the ministry and the Edo government over federal government funding for the festival may have been responsible for the sudden decision to shun the facilities in Edo State.
However, it will be noted that prior to the kick off of the Edo 2020, 14 track and field athletes under the supervision of two coaches were camped in Port Harcourt.
In Abuja, eight para-athletes, 14 para-table tennis players and eight weightlifters were in camp while eight wrestlers are camped in Yenogoa, Bayelsa State under the supervision of two coaches.
At the moment, Team Nigerian athletes, those who are Tokyo bound and those who are preparing for qualifiers in different events are being camped in Abuja, Lagos and Port-Harcourt.
Another thing of interest as Team Nigeria prepares for the 2020 Olympics is the success recorded by the sports ministry’s novel initiative called ‘Adopt an Athlete programme’.
The campaign which was launched in December, 2019 is aimed at increasing funding for the development of sport in the country in the build up to the Olympics.
Consequently, the Adoption Campaign got a boost with the backing of the President, Muhammadu Buhari who gave support for the initiative at the flagging off of the movement of the Torch of Unity for Edo 2020, at the Presidential villa in Abuja.
The campaign has recorded tremendous successes as more individuals and corporate entities have continued to indicate interest in the Initiative with the Minister believing this will lift the spirits of the athletes and encourage them to give their best performances at the Olympics.
Dare had explained that the diaspora adopted athletes would receive $20,000 while the home based athletes are primed to get $10,000 from the individuals and corporate bodies who adopted them.
So far, the initiative has attracted captains of industries from the Private Sector and Sports philanthropists in the country with some prominent Nigerians like business moguls, Aliko Dangote, Sir Kensington Adebutu keying into the campaign.
Some of the prominent athletes already adopted by individuals and corporate bodies are Joy Udo Gabriel, Praise Idamadudu, Adekuoroye Odunayo, Ruth Usoro and Nwokocha Nzubechi.
Other adopted athletes are Amusan Tobi, Ese Brume, Favour Ofili, Raymond Okevwo, Enoch Goke, Patience George Okon, Adeniyi Aminat, Usheorise Itshekiri, Blessing Oborududu and Mercy Ita.
It is hoped that before the kick-off of the Tokyo Olympics, more athletes would be adopted and motivated to win medals for Team Nigeria.
However, even as preparations are ongoing, it is yet to be known how many sports Nigeria will participate in at the Tokyo 2020 due to the fact that some qualifiers are yet to be concluded
The Minister of Sports had said to avoid another round of jamboree, Team Nigeria will feature in only 11 events in Tokyo but the decision has not gone down well with some athletes who have either qualified or are standing a good chance of qualifying in their events.
But the sports ministry is insisting on taking only events where Nigeria boasts of comparative advantage.
“The days of jamboree at the Olympics are over as Nigeria would only compete in sports where she has a comparative advantage,” said Dare.
While Team Nigeria is trying to put its house in order, time for the Tokyo Olympics is ticking fast and going by some noticeable lapses in the build up to the games, there are concerns that the fate that befell the country at the past two editions of the Olympics would be witnessed again.
It is an open secret that the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics were complete disasters for the nation as only one medal was won. The only medal was bronze won by the football team led by John Mikel Obi.
Therefore, Tokyo 2020 Olympics scheduled to hold from July 23 to August 8 offers Team Nigeria the opportunity to make amends.