What happened to our Olympic outfit?

NIGERIAN athletes to the ongoing Rio Olympics paraded in the opening ceremony in track suits. It was not supposed to be so because special outfits were designed for them for the purpose of the opening ceremony and the clothes were proudly displayed to President Muhammadu Buhari, inside the old Banquet Hall of the presidential villa, Abuja on July 19, 2016.

I recall that at that ceremony which was the official hand over of Team Nigeria to the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC), three United States-based athletes (two females and one male), including sprinter Ese Brume were dressed up in the attire made from national colours of green-white-green and brought to the stage to be shown to President Buhari, members of his government and sports stakeholders gathered in the hall. The Minister for Sports, Solomon Dalong, had praised the dress and explained voluptuously that it was meant to stand out Nigerian athletes during the opening ceremony of the global sporting fiesta. The unveiling of the outfits drew a loud applause from most people gathered in the hall even though that was not unexpected given our propensity to praise anything associated with the government of the day.

For me, I thought something was amiss with the design. The male version was quite normal – a trouser and a jacket. But the female’s own caused me to do a bit of head scratching. Was this suitable for a sporting event? It was a maxi gown with bogus flappy sleeves like the wings of an angel. Slitting from under the armpit to the wrist, it had a headgear to match. The dress was apparently designed to cover up every part of the female body anatomy. Perhaps the athletes were not down with that. Maybe it was neither sporty nor trendy and possibly it would have made the Nigerian athletes to feel awkward and uncomfortable in the midst of other blithely attired athletes from other parts of the world unlike what Dalong had suggested.

However, it was in Nigerian colours and I guessed everyone looked forward to seeing it among the hundreds of designs that would be up for display during the Olympic opening ceremony. This did not happen. There were 86 Nigerian athletes to the Rio games. Even though there may be no law compelling all entered athletes to participate in the march past, I don’t think the number of Nigerians that took part was more than 20, all spotting track suits instead of the outfit originally planned for the ceremony.

There must be a reason they opted not to wear the dress at the games opening. We need to know what happened to the outfit. The contingent owes the president an explanation over what now looks like a deliberate act of deceit of making him believe that a worthwhile outfit had been designed for the athletes’ use at the ceremony.

Whereas sportsmen and women from other African countries adorned in attires proudly displaying their African heritage were vivacious, the Nigerians cut some mournful looks not surprisingly given the troubles that had befallen them in the run up to the games. Some of the budgeted money for their preparation was only ordered released during that presidential villa presentation ceremony at which time nations desirous of outstanding performances had completely wrapped up everything concerning planning for the games. It therefore meant that something was not right with their training. Yet, like Buhari charged, they were supposed to go for gold at the games.

Even after the order to release the funds, there were embarrassing reports of US-based Nigerian athletes utilising the online fundraising platform, GoFundMe, to raise money to transport themselves to Brazil  because airfares were not forthcoming from their federation. The story of the stranded Dream Team VI, the nation’s Under-23 Olympic football team has been well documented. Abandoned in Atlanta Georgia, USA training camp, they could only make it to the South American country by the grace and benevolence of the American-owned Delta Airline. Despite their travails, they have put the true indomitable Nigerian spirit on full show by overcoming all odds to pick up a quarter final spot in the football tournament.

Even Dalong whose initial position was that the team only had itself to blame for its woes has been forced to recant, apologise and paid off their camp allowances.

The contingent’s experience is one more demonstration of how Nigeria mismanages its fortunes. With a depth of talent, there is too often confusion about what to do and when, to properly harness our nature’s abundant gifts. These are things other less-endowed nations take for granted and their systems seem to work seamlessly. Nigeria cannot be different if only those charged with the responsibilities can be more efficient in the discharge of their duties.