The 2012 London Olympic games are only half way through but people are already saying that, so far, it may turn out to be the best in history.
It has not been the perfect games. It has had its own share of flaws and challenges, but everything put together, I doubt if there has ever been a better organised and a more enjoyable games for most participants and spectators than this. I have personally, thoroughly enjoyed it
In seven years since London won the bid to host the games the city has undergone a complete metamorphosis. I have always loved London because of its cosmopolitan nature, a melting port of people and cultures from different parts of the world. There is no other city in the world quite like it that makes every visitor feel completely at home. It has something for everyone. Whatever a person's interest or passion it provides amply to saturation point - from arts, to music, to sports, film, theatre, museums, sites, sounds, etc.
Then as host of the biggest sports project on earth, the Olympics, London pulled out all the stops in rebuilding and rebranding itself, and confirming its pre-eminence as the capital city of the world. For the Olympics the British have resurrected the "Empire', turning on all their charm, opening their doors wide and putting on a show of uncommon spectacle that reminds sports purists of the original and true essence, the spirit and the ideals of the Olympic movement - a celebration of global peace and friendship through healthy competition. So, nothing has been spared to make the London 2012 Olympics the best the world has ever seen. By next weekend that may become the global consensus.
Last weekend I joined the armada of visitors to the Olympics. The spirit strikes one from the moment of arrival at London Heathrow's new terminal 5. The sea of visitors is uncharacteristically whisked through Immigration and Customs in a breeze. I timed it. It took 20 minutes, from the moment I stepped out of the aircraft to when I walked into the embrace of waiting friends. The British have opened their doors to everyone with correct papers!
Apart from the first day of the games when the cycling event closed down half of the city for hours and made driving through parts of the city a horrendous experience, London has settled down to put on display the best public transportation system in the world. Its buses, trains, underground and overhead trains, cable trams, taxis, are efficient, modern, comfortable and easy to navigate. There are signs everywhere guiding people so easily and so well that a total newcomer can almost go anywhere without even asking for directions once they know their destination.
Now to the games proper. This is an Olympic games like no other. Every country on earth is represented, even the warring and famished ones. Every participating country, for the first time, presented a female athlete, even the most religiously conservative. As London is home to all communities in the world, every country at the games has ample spectatorship-base on ground in the city.
The original spirit of the Olympics is being revived at these games with the British leading by example. At the football World Cup, for example, there are England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, but here at the Olympics, there is a united Great Britain, an amalgam of the nationalities that make up the United Kingdom under one banner.
An 18 year old Black British weight lifter, Zoe Smith, came a distant 6th in her event, but broke the national British record in the process. She is being hailed and celebrated for effort, not for winning a medal.
British Cycling hero, Bradley Wiggins wins an Olympic Gold medal in the Cycling Time Trials for the UK on Wednesday night and by Thursday morning Royal Mail had designed and produced a commemorative stamp in his honour. The examples go on.
Winning is good, but is not everything. Those that are merely participating and doing well are celebrated and given as much encouragement for putting up their best effort as those that win medals of any coloration. After day-three of the games and the British had not won any medals, they never stopped filling up the stands and ceaselessly cheering their athletes in every event at every venue. Through the power of vociferous support, by day-five they had lifted the spirit of their athletes so high and made them perform beyond their normal capacities so much so that, at the time of writing this, Great Britain have climbed from 22 to 5 on the medals table! They are still climbing.
As a Nigerian, the sour part of the games, so far, has been Nigeria's token presence at the games. The absence of any of the Nigerian football teams has been a major draw back. The 2-million Nigerian population in the UK has not impacted the games in any way. Once again the largest black population in the world, naturally gifted to provide the world with some of the best athletes in several sports, will come and leave without making a dent on the games. The country's philosophy of bringing only athletes that can 'win' medals is faulty. The policy of 'preparing' athletes at the last minute by providing training funds less than a year before major competitions is wrong. The practice of not having a sustaining grassroots development programme through schools to discover and develop the best talents from the 60 million below-25-years-of-age youth population of the country is counter-productive. Nigeria has got it all wrong in her sports as the greatest show on earth going on in London is now showing once again.
The greatest tragedy is not learning from history. As in previous Olympics, after the games, the country will go to sleep once again and wake up in 2015 hoping to win medals in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 without adequate preparation.
So, London 2012 is quiet for Nigerians. Although this may be Nigeria's best preparation for the Olympics since Montreal 1976, the country truly has not done enough, or invested enough in sports to deserve more than the token it will go back home with from London.
As the games are unfolding so also are great stories from different countries about how they all prepared through the years for the games and are now winning medals. Nigeria has no such story to tell.
There seems to be no appreciation at the highest levels of government of what value sports can add to the country. Seminars, workshops, conferences, workshops have not made any impact. In all the talks about the fate and future of Nigeria there are not enough conversations about sports, the arts and entertainment generally, simply because these are never seen as serious issues by those that can do something about it, or influence policy on it. Sports have never occupied the front-burner of our country's economic, political or even social discourse.
But this is not the time to lament. As London 2012 goes on let us join the rest of humanity in celebrating sports and the youths as they continue to unite the world in ways that nothing else has been able to.
I am looking toward South Africa and Kenya particularly to provide the black content that would make up Africa's success at the 2012 Olympics. Plus, of course, Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare, who I am putting my wager on to give Nigeria one of its token medals here.
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