Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – The 2016 Olympics has concluded and it will be another four years before many of the athletes get a chance to either repeat or exceed their most recent accomplishments. The medal rankings is as expected with many of the countries that we fans are accustomed. The order is not relevant but without looking at the final rankings, I can predict that the United States, Japan, China and United Kingdom dominated the Olympic rankings, however the Jamaicans continue to steal the show because of their track and field dominance. We all witnessed the crowning of Usain Bolt as the undisputed sprint king during the 2012 Olympics but this most recent Olympics set him up for discussion as one of the greatest athlete to ever live.
As Usain Bolt crossed the line leading the pack and forcing all the other sprinters to fight for second, I thought back to a dialogue between Bill Simmons and Malcom Gladwell. Bill Simmons was one of the top writers at ESPN and has since moved on to start his own platform called The Ringer, while Malcom Gladwell is a best selling author with books such as, Outliers and Blink. In this discussion, Gladwell delves into the reasons why he believes Jamaica has done remarkably well in the sprinting competitions involving their male and female athletes. The term he used was capitalization rates. According to Gladwell, “capitalization rates refers to how efficiently any group makes use of its talent”. For example, in an African nation, “there might be a vast number of people that have the ability to be [top executives] but never get the chance to develop the talent”, while in a country like Canada, if you have a good chance at becoming a hockey player, someone will likely find you and you will become a professional. Thus, capitalization rates, Malcom Gladwell claims could be the reason for Jamaica’s dominance in track and field. They simply make efficient use of their talented athletes.
How then does this apply to Nigeria? You see Nigeria is a nation that has fully embraced the sport of football or soccer, as it is known in North America. While other sports dominate at the amateur level such as track and field, boxing and basketball; soccer is the only sport where the country has faired well internationally and at the professional levels. Nigeria has consistently represented Africa in the World Cup but has never made it past the second round of the tournament. The team has also done well at the junior levels, whether it’s the under-19 squads or Olympic squads, however, consistency has always been their problem. I think Gladwell’s theory on capitalization rates applies to Nigerian football teams.
My cousin, an athlete in his own right who has participated in a wide range of sports including American football, soccer and basketball makes a claim that Nigerian soccer players are very skilled at dribbling and doing tricks with the ball but lack basic fundamental and technical skills that other dominant football nations have mastered. This essentially is him claiming that the efficiency at making use of the talent is non-existent because in a country of over 150 million people, it should be able to identify the best 22 players to place on a national squad and build a pipeline that produces the best players in the world at each position on the field.
During the 2016 Olympics, Nigeria won a bronze medal in football and failed to medal or place well in any of the other competitions. This is a great accomplishment for the team but I think it should have been seen as a disappointment because it is an underachievement for a country that diverts a significant portion of its athletic resources to its football program. The problem is countries like Jamaica have narrowed down to a niche and have maintained its track and field dominance. In economics, there is a term called comparative advantage, which is the ability to carry out an activity more efficiently than another. Nigeria should focus on its dominance of African football and focus on tightening its grip in this sport, rather than sending athletes to competitions they have a zero chance of winning because the talent pool is not being cultivated appropriately.