Our gold at Sydney Olympics without national anthem painful —Udo-Obong

Members of Nigeria’s Dream Team led by Mikel Obi (right) and Williams Troost- Ekong (left) celebrate the bronze medal they won at the just-ended Rio Olympics. INSET: Udo-Obong

Olympics gold medallist, Enefiok Udo-Obong, has said the inability to play the national anthem for him and three others when they won the gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics remains a source of worry to him.

Udo-Obong, the late Sunday Bada, Jude Monye and Clement Chukwu, it will be recalled, were awarded gold medal  12 years later by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), after the United States of America which finished first in the men’s 4x400m was stripped of the medal following the late Antonio Pettigrew’s confession of having taken performance enhancing drugs at the time of the Games.

“Yes, everybody was happy that we won the gold at the end of it all, but it was painful that our national anthem was not sung because on the podium, what we got was a silver medal before justice brought gold to us.

“So, it came with a mixed feelings, of being cheated in the first instance and being awarded the medal you deserved which is the gold, but it would have been something more satisfying if it had happened right there. Our national anthem would have been sung and you feel higher on the podium,” he said.

The former international athlete while speaking on a local television sports programme against the backdrop of Team Nigeria’s unimpressive performance at the just-ended Rio Olympics also lamented lack of investment by the Federal Government as one of the major factors affecting the growth of sports in Nigeria.

He said the case of the Great Britain at the just-ended Rio 2016 was enough illustration to trace the misfortune of Nigeria on the global sports scene.

“This issue (poor Olympics performance) is beyond the leadership or the abilities of our sport federations chairmen. We have to go down and trace the root which boils down to funding. In 1996 we finished 32nd on the medal’s table with two gold, one silver and three bronze medals while Great Britain finished 36th with only a gold medal (eight silver and six bronze medals.)

“From 1996, Great Britain invested £5million in sports annually until at Sydney 2000 Olympics when they increased it to £254 million till London 2012 annually. Between 2012 and Rio 2016, they invested £354million in sports annually and they came second on the table at Rio 2016 with 27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze medals. This is so because of the huge government’s investment in sports since then.

“If we have invested a lot of money too in sports even as half as that, we would have improved. We were 32nd in 1996 and now 78th in 2016,” said Udo-Obong.

The 2004 Athens Olympics bronze medallist noted that the running of sports in the country leaves much to be desired.

“To me, the biggest error we are making in Nigeria is that sports is  being run by the ministry which depends on the money released through the budget. Let the sport federations be answerable to the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) and leave the sports ministry to face policy formulation. The system of having to rely on the ministry to run sports through the permanent secretary is not helping matters, the bureaucracy is not the best for our sports,” he said.