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Rewarding the Paralympians

Three world records. One Paralympic record.

Eight gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals.

Nothing tells the story of Nigeria’s Paralympians’ performance better than a look at the medals table, the records they broke, the ones they set and, most of all, their commitment while preparing for the games.

Nigeria’s contingent at the Rio Paralympics did the nation proud. And of course there’s been comparisons between their performance and that of their colleagues, at the Rio Olympics; who returned with one bronze medal in football.

While we looked into what the Sports Ministry should concentrate its strengths on in light of the poor showing of the Olympics team, for the success of the Paralympians – the issue lies in consolidating the team’s strength, working on perceived weaknesses and rewarding them for their brilliance at the world stage.

Kehinde Paul, one of said Paralympic gold medallists featured on Sportsville on Channels TV and among the issues he touched on- one that stood out was the reward for these athletes.

Paul spoke about an athlete, in his weight class from Britain, who the British Government gave car for qualifying for the Paralympics. He mentioned the attention the athlete got and the resultant confidence that gave said athlete.

This, Paul said, downed his moral a while. While mentioning that he jumped buses to make it down for his TV appearance.

We all expect that the Federal government will reward these set of athletes. The Nigerian Senate already said it will reward them with 18 million naira, that’s 50,000 naira from each Senator.

But we can’t tell how well they’ll be rewarded. And this boils down to the whims of whoever’s in power.

Paul won gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth games in the men’s 72kg category. He received 2.5 million naira from the Goodluck Jonthan government. He said that met his needs at the time- he rented the apartment that he stays at the moment.

That was two years ago. And now he’s looking forward to what the government will give him. Noting that the nation’s in recession- so whatever he’s given, he’ll understand.

This uncertainty shouldn’t be the case. The sports Ministry should have a proper reward system in place for these athletes.

That makes one wonder, what would have been his fate if he hadn’t won this medal? Or better still, what will Paralympians who didn’t win a medal get for representing their nation?

Paul mentioned that he represented Lagos state at the National Sports Festival in 2006. And he only got stipends (2,000 to 3,000 naira monthly) from the state’s sports ministry for his upkeep. He ditched the team and began representing Delta State when they made a better offer.

And that’s symbolic of the treatment Nigerian athletes get, and they end up representing other nations who naturally provide better working conditions.

Living off stipends or changing allegiance to a well-paying patron isn’t enough to make life bearable and the game worthwhile for these athletes. A proper payment scheme should be in place.

Because, at the moment, to leap frog the poverty line, these athletes have to keep winning medals.

Which brings up the question of what happens when they retire?

They lose their relevance.

It’s important we advocate financial literacy for these victorious athletes. Making them better managers of their windfall, when it comes.

But doling out cash to these heroes isn’t enough to address their overall situation. Give them cash, sure, but there needs to be a sustainable program in place that will address their upkeep while they represent the nation. And a pension scheme should be in place, as a shield for when they are spent.

Here are our heroes from the 2016 Rio Paralympics:

Nigerian Paralympics gold medalists: Ezuruike Roland (Powerlifting Men’s -54kg), Kehinde Paul (Powerlifting Men’s -65kg), Ejike Lucy (Powerlifting Women -61kg), Onye Lauritta (Athletics Women’s Shot Put –F40), Nwosu Ndidi (Powerlifting Women’s -73kg), Omolayo Bose (Powerlifting Women’s -79kg), Ugwunwa Flora (Athletics Women’s Javelin Throw –F53/54). Orji Josephine (Powerlifting Women’s +86kg).

Silver medals: Tijani Latifat (Powerlifting Women’s -45kg), Oyema Esther (Powerlifting Women’s -55kg) won

Bronze medals: Innocent Nnamdi (Powerlifting Men’s -72kg), Iyiazi Eucharia (Athletics Women’s Discus Throw –F56/57) won Bronze

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