The just concluded World Athletics Championship which took place between September 27 and October 6 in Doha, Qatar, has shown the deficiency in the country’s athletes and the Nigeria Athletic Federation.
For an event coming up just few months to the Olympic Games slated for Tokyo, Japan next year, there were expectations that Team Nigeria will demonstrate what to expect at the Olympics in Tokyo.
We make bold to say that the performances in Doha was enough to conclude that the country so far has no plans for the big games.
It was a huge surprise that Nigeria did not make the expected impact especially in sprints which is the country’s strongest area. It all started with the mix-up between the Athletic Federation of Nigeria and two prominent athletes-Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare. The athletes were registered for the 100m event without consent and they were marked absent. The IAAF subsequently suspended them from the competition in accordance with the rules because they did not pull out of the race. Somehow, Nigeria’s protest was upheld and the athletes were recalled. This is the only major reason Nigeria was in the news in Doha as Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivore, Ethiopia and Kenya represented Africa well.
The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, recalled the AFN Technical Director because of his lapses but it was clear that there were many other concerns. More heads should roll in the AFN. The athletes did not present themselves as good examples. Oduduru has recorded one of the best times in the 100m this year and all eyes were on him to do well in Doha but why he chose not to compete is a surprise. The 200m he concentrated on, he barely managed to be in the semis as one of the best losers and did not make the final. Okagbare also crashed out in the 1st round of the 200m after crossing the lane in a race she finished 4th among unknown athletes.
As if the individual flops were not enough, the relay which is one of the strong areas of the country was also a disappointment. We recall that in the past, Nigerian sprinters compete in the final of the 100m, 200m, 400m and also the 4x100m and the 4x400m relays in both the male and female cadre. Innocent Egbunike was amazing in the 400m events. Apart from ruling Africa for many years, he was a sure bet for the final in major global events like the World Championships and the Olympic Games. Top sprinters like Chidi Imoh, Olapade Adeniken, Davidson and Osmond Ezinwa, Olusoji Fasuba, Antony Emedolu, Francis Obikwelu just to mention a few, qualify for final of sprint events while some won medals. Mary Onyali, Fatima Yusuf, Bisi Afolabi Falilat Ogunkoya were impressive in their respective disciplines. Onyali and Ogunkoya have individual Olympic medals.
The reverse has been the case over the years and this further manifested at the just concluded event in Doha.
No doubt, the commitment level of these athletes is so poor and the ministry must work seriously on this as the Olympic Games approaches. We recall the mixed relay introduced in the competition and it was interesting to see the two male and two female athletes of USA winning with superior strategy. It is important to also reflect that some Nigerian-born athletes represented Bahrain and other countries due to poor motivation and organisation in Nigeria.
We want to emphasize that the poor showing at the World Championship is enough to say that the country is not ready for athletics in Tokyo. Okagbare won two medals in 2013 and since then the county is yet to mount the podium. There is need to regain the lost glory of the country in athletics. Oduduru is a young athlete with prospects, same goes for Ese Brume and Tobi Amusan. These athletes should be well-monitored, motivated and encouraged to get the best results for Nigeria.
Deliberate efforts must be made to get the country’s athletes on the right track as the Tokyo Games draw near if not, the poor run at big stage will linger on. There are potential ‘podium athletes’ in the country but they need to be motivated and be psychologically primed for the big stage.
We frown at situations whereby our athletes take part in multiple events, perform well and when it mattered most, they fumble at the big stage. There should be a way of bringing in the personal coaches of these national team athletes to boost their medal winning chances.
The sports minister has vowed to draw both long and short term programmes for the athletes. We expect a good plan for the athletes to excel in Tokyo while there must be plans to bring in younger ones good enough to represent the country in the next one decade.
Nigeria is blessed with numerous talents across all sports but the template to expose them and take them to the next level is not there. That should happen under the new minister.