Lessons from the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games

Lessons from the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games

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The frills and thrills of the recently held Olympics in Rio, Brazil, have come and gone but the memories will linger, especially with the records broken and set by the different athletes who competed at the two games.
Without any doubt, the Nigerian Paralympians made the country proud at the just-concluded Rio 2016. Coming home with eight gold, two silver and two bronze medals might not be the best performance at the global event, but it is the best ever recorded by Nigeria in its Olympics history.
The brilliant performance earned the medalists and the management of the team a grand reception at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, when President Muhammadu Buhari hosted them and appreciated their tenacity and commitment to achieving results. But while many Nigerians believe that the ‘grand reception’ given the physically challenged athletes is enough, especially with the current economic recession, some argue that the Federal Government would have done much more, if the regular Olympians had recorded such a feat.
Meanwhile, it should be borne in mind that Nigeria’s preparations for the event were shoddy and tattered, right from when the athletes began camping in May in Abuja and Lagos, and it remained so until the contingent departed for Rio.
Their trainings were almost marred by the non-payment of camp allowances, poor facilities and poor feeding, with the Ministry of Youth and Sports complaining of non-release of funds by the Federal Government to kickstart preparations for the games in Brazil.
But while the able-bodied Olympics athletes posted a disappointing performance at last month’s Games, which saw them picking just one bronze medal in the men’s football event, the special sports athletes redeemed Nigeria’s image in sports, putting up dazzling performances, which not only rubbished that of their Olympics counterparts, but also saw them emerge as the best African country at the Rio Paralympic Games. It was, therefore, no surprise that of the 12 medals scooped by the physically challenged Paralympians, nine were won by the female athletes. This reinforces the fact that in recent times, the country’s sportswomen have surpassed their male counterparts in global competitions.
Historically, Nigeria made its Paralympics Games début at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona, where a delegation of six male athletes competed in the country’s colours in tracks and field, power lifting and table tennis. At the debut, Adeoye Ajibola won two gold medals in sprint, while Monday Emoghawve obtained one in power lifting. untitledNigeria has since then participated in subsequent editions of the Summer Paralympics, though it has never taken part in the Winter Paralympics. In all the Paralympics competitions, Nigeria has garnered a total of 45 medals, made up of 22 gold, 11 silver and 12 bronze but the nation’s special athletes can do better with a little more support from the government and/or private organisations.
Every participant at the Paralympics has their disability grouped into one of the five disability categories, namely, amputation, cerebral palsy, wheelchair athletes, visual impairment and Lesautres, including any physical disability that does not fall strictly under one of the other categories, for example, dwarfism or multiple sclerosis.
Each Paralympics sport has its own classifications, dependent upon the specific physical demands of the competition. Events are given codes, made of numbers and letters, describing the type of event and classification of the athletes competing.
Our point, however, is that the Federal Government and the nation’s sports authorities should think out of the box. If the lacklustre performance of the celebrated able-bodied sportsmen are not quenching our thirst for medals in the Olympics, as a nation, it is time we looked inwards and created more enabling environment for about 20 million Nigerians living with disability, especially the ones roaming the streets across the country and begging for alms, to help them identify their latent God-given sporting talents.
Rather than treating them like destitutes and harassing them, all in the name of ridding the streets of their nuisance, the local, state and the Federal Government should endeavour to build sports villages at the grassroots with a view to identifying these hidden talents and bringing them to limelight to represent the country at subsequent global sporting events.
In Nigeria, there are millions of people with disabilities roaming the streets, begging for food but unaware that they could harness their potentials for their individual benefits and that of the nation as a whole. Unconfirmed reports say over one million of these physically challenged persons beg for alms in places like Oyingbo, Sabo and Agege areas of Lagos State. Others are scattered in the nooks and crannies of Sokoto, Borno, Ogun, Kano and Kaduna, among other states.
Though disabled, most of them are ignorant of the potentials and talents they possess. The government would do well if it takes it upon itself to make this category of Nigerians see reasons why they should not be constrained by their physical challenges in reaching to the top and living meaningful lives. They, too, can be champions in their own rights.

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