How not to host – The Nation

  • Logistical crisis at Asaba Africa Athletics Championship a shame

Hosting nary a tea party ought to be a task to be undertaken with utmost care and attention for any self-respecting host. Bringing athletes from the entire African continent therefore, should be a national event in which all concerned must consider a most patriotic duty.

But this was not the case with the just-ended 21st African Senior Athletic Championship in Asaba, Delta State. Reports preceding the event which kicked off August 1 had been most unsavoury, to say the least. And the photograph of stranded foreign athletes sprawling on bare floor at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, last week Tuesday, was most disgraceful and a taint on Nigeria’s image.

It is reported that contingents, chiefly from Kenya and about 200 athletes from a few other countries were stranded in Lagos up till late Tuesday evening, unable to connect flights to Asaba. For a tournament that was to start the following day, we consider this an inexcusable logistical calamity.

It is well known that Asaba is peculiar in the sense that its airport has few scheduled flights. It also lacks night landing facility. These crucial facts ought to have been taken into consideration in scheduling the arrival of athletes. Many more airlines ought to have been pressed to service and possibly, chartered flights arranged for the occasion.

In the event that all these failed, hotel accommodation ought to have been put on standby around the vicinity of the airport to ensure that athletes delayed for a few hours are kept in comfort while they await their flight.

For an international event of this magnitude, it is expected that the Minister of Sports and even the Presidency would have taken keen interest and indeed played active roles in both the preparation, organisation and event proper to ensure that embarrassing glitches such as those reported did not arise at all. Deploying one or two jets from the presidential fleet to see to the smooth movement of delegates, especially considering Asaba airport’s peculiarities would have been most salutary.

There were also several other unedifying reports. Nigeria’s Sydney Olympics gold medallist, Enefiok Udo-Obong, wrote on a whatsApp platform that, “There are problems, probably Asaba is not yet ready by my assessment… there are no floodlights, I heard they are still in Lagos, while painting is going on in darkness. Every contractor is rushing to finish because tomorrow’s events start by 9.00am.

“In general, I see a lot of efforts, a lot of endeavours but the enormity of the occasion seems to have overwhelmed the LOC,” Udo-Obong surmised.

This apparently encapsulates the situation of things in the Delta State capital for a tournament whose planning had been in the works for about two years.

However, we are happy that the stranded athletes at last managed to arrive Asaba for the tee off of the tournament. The Kenyan contingent which had threatened to return home were in Asaba and were most sportsmanly with it: “Despite the hiccups here and there, which of course happens… we are still focused on taking all the medals,” says team leader, Peter Mutai.

We tender our apologies to the  athletes and officials and urge Nigeria’s sports authorities and indeed the Federal Government to endeavour to show more than a passing interest in a tournament of this nature.

Forward-looking countries seek opportunities to host big events and attract quality human traffic to their countries. They seek to showcase facilities and delight travellers so they can do repeat visits. Tourism is a big stimulant for today’s economies and it is very serious business.

To win hosting rights for an African showpiece event which brings about 52 countries to one venue with over 1,500 participants is a feat not to be taken lightly. It is not for nothing that many countries engaged in underhand acts to host major sports events like the World Cup. The reason is that major events are a tonic to a country’s economy.

This is hoping that the Federal Government would not only seek out great opportunities like these but must make the very best of them.

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