Able Paralympians By Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni
Today, I join many others in welcoming the heroes that didn’t shatter our hopes back to their fatherland. Despite the challenges of neglect, insufficient fund, governmental under-rating and low media hype; this small entourage of able-paralympians have come to make us see the power of conviction, believe, and innate ability. They are the definition of people who are obviously hard to beat when giving up is not an option to them. For a second, the Nigerian Delegation to the London 2012 Paralympics is changing some pessimist’s stand that this present administration of Goodluck Jonathan would not yield any good. The more reason, the athletes need to get much more than handshakes and peanuts by the time they walk into the President’s presence.
According to Wikipedia, the Paralympic Games is a major international multi-sport event, involving athletes with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities, including mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy. The formal explanation for the name “Paralympic” is that, it is derived from the Greek preposition, para (“beside” or “alongside”) and thus refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games. Nigeria’s first participation at the games was in 1992, Barcelona Summer Olympic, with a delegation of six male athletes who competed in track & field, powerlifting and table tennis. That debuting delegation brought home three gold medals and, since then, it has been one success story after the other that culminates in this year’s all time best performance of 13medals.
Unlike their disabled brothers (being able is about what you can achieve with conviction), that went to the London Olympic Games, the Paralympians received little supports from the government and some of them had to travel in out dated wheelchairs. But they are never less patriotic; they, against all odds put the country’s name on the medals table with Six Golds, Five Silver and Two Bronze medals, bringing the total number of our medals at the Paralympics to 23. Are you still wondering which of Nigeria’s Olympians and Paralympians is physically, mentally and patriotically challenged?
Though corruption can’t be said to be non-existent in the management of these physically challenged athletes, I still believe one silent reason they continuously make the nation proud is that the “sport cabals” have not been able to infiltrate the selection process of athletes that represent the country at the Paralympics. And the reason is not farfetched; the sport cabals physically challenged “candidates/wards” are not courageous enough to face the world of competitive sport, so they couldn’t have substitute names with their incapable favoured ones. And unceremoniously, the officials that follow paralympians are usually low because they are never viewed as deserving the attention. But they are they the ones who always bring smiles to our long drawn faces.
Information has it that the Paralympians would be officially received by President Jonathan on Saturday. Since hearing this news, a part of me has begun fasting and prayer for the President. I pray, he use this avenue as one of the rare moment to make the right decision and stand by it. I pray, the President spare us the burden of setting up a Committee to consider what to be used in compensating these gallant heroes and a Sub-Committee to review the recommendations of the first committee. I pray the President’s mind and thought be stacked with double digit million naira rewards for the athletes because nothing would be so saddening than to see any of the paralympians begging on the street of Lagos in the near future. And last, I pray, the President sees them worthy of national honours as against the cons pushed forward annually.
After Saturday’s handshakes and hopefully something tangible and motivating enough, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Sport Ministry need not rest on its oars. The government needs to understand that, it is only in the Dictionary that “enjoyment” comes before “preparing and working”. The government must stop its attitude of benefiting more from where it sowed little. It is believed that, had the Paralympians been properly motivated, maybe, we would have had more to celebrate for. The government needs to create the enabling environment for Corporate Sponsorship. Unlike Team Nigeria, the Team South Africa since year 2000 had telecom giant, Telkom as co-sponsors of its Paralympic Team. And the Main corporate sponsors for Team South Africa at the London 2012 Paralympic Games include Mercedes Benz South Africa, Nedbank, Pick n Pay, SASOL, South African Airways Sun International, Telkom and Vodacom.
Deloitte Inc, has been sponsoring U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams since 2009, and recently extended its sponsorship agreement through 2020. Other member firms of the Deloitte across the globe are also committed to the international Olympic Movement. Deloitte Canada supports the Canadian Olympic Committee and Deloitte UK is the Official Professional Services Provider to the British Olympic Association and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. But Team Nigeria gets little or no support despite the profits being made by these corporate bodies on our soil. If the truth needs be told, the huge amount expended on Dance reality Shows, Musical Talent Hunts, and ridiculous Family Game shows would go a long way to uplift the Sporting industry. As Barack Obama said at the Democrats’ Convention 2012, ” we don’t think government is the source of all problems – any more than are welfare recipients, or corporation, or unions…”. Developing the country is a collective effort. Every parastatal, corporate organisation and individual must give a hand. News that the Paralympic heroes got stranded at the dilapidated Nigeria Institute Of Sports in Lagos is not only saddening but could also kill the patriotism in any ‘wanna’ be athlete. With a Corporate Sponsor, such dis-heroic welcome for those who had given their all won’t have been the case.
Aside monetary and national awards, the government can make the Paralympians Ambassadors to tackle almajiri in the northern part of the country and curb Public Street begging by some physically challenged individuals. The paralympians can be used to motivate and bring the beggars out of their comfort zone to achieve the best in them. The paralympians can also be used to ginger the can-do-it spirit of the average Nigerian youth, whose dreams and aspirations are often suppressed by socio-economic realities. However, the first step is to make sure this paralympians habour no regret after Saturday.
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