Onochie Anibeze Reporting from London
The aura he radiated was infectious. The respect paid to him made this reporter momentarily feel good as a Nigerian.
You would need a special pass to get into his Marriot Hotel on Duke Street here to see him. He is well known in the international sports family. But Bolaji Abdullahi, the sports minister of Nigeria does not even know him.
However, Olatokumbu Thomas knows that the minister is new to sports and would not blame him but those in the sports ministry and the Nigeria Olympic Committee whom he said were yet to brief the minister adequately on important sports matters.
Thomas is an Executive member of FINA, swimming world governing body. Swimming has up to 47 gold medals and said to fetch money for IOC more than other sports. That is how big swimming is here. And one of those who run the sport in the world is our own Thomas.
“The minister doesn’t know that I exist,” he said in a chat with him at the lobby of the hotel. Other top sports officials here payed tribute to him as they passed by.
They said pleasant things and hailed the Nigerian who is a Vice President of the world body. This reporter had visited in company of Amaju Pinnick, Delta State sports boss who said that he was here to learn a few things about swimming.
“There are only about three Nigerians in the Executive Committees of world bodies but the minister doesn’t even know us what more relating with us for the interest of sports in our country,” Thomas lamented before pouring out his heart on a matter he felt Nigerians must know.
“I don’t care if they don’t care about me but I care for Nigerian sports. Do you know the embarrassment Nigeria brought to me here? Two Nigerians qualified to swim here in the Olympics. They had already been registered to compete here and accreditation already issued. But the sports ministry advised the Nigeria Olympic Committee to withdraw them from the Olympics because they felt that they would not be able to win anything.
It was unbelievable. Members of FINA here are asking me what is wrong with Nigeria? It is a good question that I want the sports ministry and NOC to answer. Do you know what it means to an athlete to qualify for the Olympics and compete there? It is the greatest stage for any athlete. And there are always surprises. Even if the athletes don’t win the experience gathered at the Olympic Games is unmatchable.
Have all the other athletes we entered won in their events? Were they ever hoping that all of them would win? Why must they exclude swimming because they felt we would not win? Something must be wrong with us and I really want the leadership of NOC and the National Sports Commission to explain to Nigerians what the problem is. People have been nasty to our sports and it is unfortunate. I weep for Nigeria.”