A people ready for the world

Bring it on says one of the headline banners of the London 2012 Olympics and were they ready! A friend had alerted me to the infectious and surreal experience of being in London during the 2012 Olympics. This was ahead of the opening ceremony date of 27th July. My group did not have tickets for the opening ceremony. We could not shell out between 300 and 3000 GBP for an opening night ticket! But we had fun. In a society where there is relative and not absolute poverty, there is a place for everyone.

The London Olympics website announced free ways to get involved with London 2012; activities to organise with friends and family, London 2012 Festival events to attend and ways to get involved without leaving the comfort of your home, there was something out there for everybody. There were suggestions for everybody, including schools, sports fans, and culture lovers – both in the UK and around the world. You had the option of huge screens in the parks or sitting with friends at a restaurant to watch for group therapy or just in the privacy of your room. The BBC gave detailed coverage.

Not even the threat of terror could keep the crowd away, there were over 80,000 spectators in the Stratford Olympic park stadium on opening night. Victoria park and even Shakespeare’s birthplace Stratford upon Avon in the British countryside had viewing centre.

Patriotism and national pride burned bright. Proud service providers; from hotel, to taxi drivers, to bus drivers and shop owners all hugged you with bright smiles and helpful advice. Every Briton we met was ready to welcome the visitors. The most amazing of them all was the Volunteers. I absolutely applauded Lord Seb Coe – London Olympic Organising Committee Chair when he singled out the volunteers for a much-deserved commendation at the opening and closing ceremonies. From the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies to traffic control and visitor information, volunteers were everywhere at every train station and bus stops and any Olympic venue and that meant other town venues such as Manchester in the north of England. There my daughter and I watched football icons Brazil welcome debutant Belarus in Rio style with a 3-1 goal line. 66,212 spectators were thrilled to classical display of skills at Old Trafford. Brazil went on to settle for silver having lost gold to Mexico.

Like everything in life there were lessons from the 2012 London Olympics.

First is education. It is the tool for national development. There were volunteers from all fields of endeavour relevant to the successful hosting of the Olympics, and they came with vast skills. Any country with an educated populace will definitely be at the cutting edge of knowledge because then ideas would triumph. The coordination of the Olympics and the grand opening and closing ceremonies were a testimony to the spirit of the Britons and the celebration of imagination.

Second is motivation: A motivated people will always deliver 10 out of 10; whether in sports or medicine or farming or in song. Britain hosted and finished 3rd on the medal table with 65 medals. You would think the volunteers were professionals in the field of calisthenics’, ushering and guiding and the transport sector. I guess anyone would be good at what they had to do if they were well trained, briefed on what to do and motivated to do it.

Third is the organisation: Nothing beats organisation. When you have a game plan and consistently follow a blueprint over a period of time, success is bound to come out of that hard work. Things went like clockwork including crowd control, merchandising and most importantly the logistics of the games. The transportation system was a dream. Even the much-feared traffic jam in the heart of London did not happen.

Flexibility: The beauty of organising is that you have a plan B which means you know that things could go wrong and are prepared to mitigate them if that should happen. There was some downside to the 2012 Olympics. E.g. for a city whose economy thrives on tourism and commerce, London was reported to be way less full than its usual bustling self. Seats were empty at some Olympic venues. That didn’t dampen things; a self-correcting system went into action. Organisers moved in to fill those seats; teachers, students and the military got choice seats! Tickets were moped up and resold to the public. No system is perfect you have to work at it, but there must be flexibility to respond, and self adjust. That comes from years of practice and learning.

The 2012 theme inspire a generation was apt. Yi Shiwen the 16-year-old female Chinese swimmer broke all records in the 400 meters individual swimming event including beating the men’s time for the same distance. This is what we need to do to go back to youth development and begin to build a young squad that will be ready for international competitions in the next 8 to 12 years. We used to be good in athletics, boxing and football. Chioma Ajunwa won our first individual gold medal in the long jump in 1996;our national football team won gold in 1996 and silver in 2008. In 2012 Nigeria entered for eight sports out of a total of 36 in the Olympics and won no medal.

How could we throw a few million naira into our Olympics preparations months to the games and expect miracles? You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that victory comes at a price; commitment, selfless dedication, investment at the individual and system level those are the currency. It was sad to see how many Nigerian born athletes we gave other countries of the world. They seem to be telling us; well you could not give us a chance at home so we had to go elsewhere. Here at least they gave us a chance to nurture our talent.

Even though the Olympics flame has been extinguished, London is still agog with Olympics fever, This time it is the Paralympians ready to go higher, faster, stronger; a great symbolism of what anyone can do when they are determined no matter what human condition they may find themselves. That gives me hope for my country. That if we learn to plan and start early and work consistently to give room to the best to excel, we can reclaim our Olympic glory.

Things are in top gear for the 2012 Paralympics. Mandeville, the Olympics mascot, has handed over the torch to Wenlock the Paralympic mascot as the Olympic rings give way to the Paralympic Agitos. Rio is set to host not just the Olympics and Paralympic games, but it’s a double warmy as they got to host the FIFA world cup in 2014.

Rio has begun its count down to the Olympics and Paralympics game with over 1475 days to go at that. Are we ready, Nigeria? Maybe if we start serious preparations now, we may just surpass our 1996 feat in Rio.

Amina Salihu, August 2012

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