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Berlin as metaphor

As you are reading this the World Athletics Championship would have come to an end. At the time of going to press, Nigeria had no hope of getting into any final, not to talk of winning a medal of any metal, colour or shade.

My son tells me that perhaps we will do something in the relays by which time my column would have been submitted and stale. I reminded him that we did not even qualify for the 100 metres relay men and that in athletics the morning, most times tells the day.

In the past, we posted Nigerian athletes in the 100 and 200 metres semi-finals and finals to be able to have any hope in the relays. In the last one week, I have had to sit through the agony of watching other countries celebrating their athletic prowess.

When I talk about other countries, perhaps I am not referring to the US, Russia, Germany, Great Britain, Spain……perhaps not. What bothers me and has always bothered me is how a “tiny” country like Jamaica, countries like Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama,…….how these countries can win medals at a World Championship and we do not.

At a time that football offered all the headaches that our sports could bear, it was track and field that we ran to for succour. Then came the lean years, the disappearance of athletics from our sports radar. Nobody could offer any explanation. There were defections, accusations of neglect and the non-formulation of youth and developmental programmes.

The national sports festival aimed at developing and unearthing talent became a charade, as medal acquisition became a trade, when headship of the medals table went to the highest bidder.

With the arrival of new association boards, hope was rekindled that some sports will come back to life, especially athletics, headed by a man with a passion for the sport who as sports commissioner in Delta State did a lot for the sport including the exportation of athletes abroad for the furtherance of their education and the improvement of their sporting abilities.

Solomon Ogba did not disappoint. He hit the ground running, held and revived classics, organized some key competitions and camped athletes.

Track and field became the bench mark for the evaluation of other associations. During the Nigeria/NNPC/Mobil track and field championship which acted as the trials for the Berlin World Championship, I noticed that Solomon Ogba’s board spent so much time, energy and money insisting on dope tests.

Every time you got to talk to him, the AFN President found a way of bringing in the dope issue, insisting that there has to be a will for the sanitization of our sports and that though the Mobil budget was not enough in that regard, the federation was going to FIND money to fund the dope tests for ALL the athletes that will be competing in the championship.

Listening to Ogba, it struck me that during the sports festival in Kaduna, certain athletes tested positive for various banned substances. It was also confirmed that some states and individuals were indicted in the process,. Today, months later, the results of the dope test has not been made public just as the affected medals table has not been readjusted and the new one published.

In the case of the AFN, results of tests conducted in July have been released leading to the banning of two athletes even before Berlin. As at press time Amaka Ogoegbunam a JUNIOR athlete and star of the Mauritius tourney had also joined Vivian Chukwuemeka and Gloria Kemasaude in the fray of those who have to resort to drugs to be able to excel. I am getting frightened at this latest development that is fast creeping into our sports. A development that must be arrested before Nigeria becomes a country whose youths now adopt a quick fix attitude to life.

What is happening now in athletics I am ready to bet is also prevalent in other sports where we have not had the courage or the opportunity to conduct  dope tests. In the past, any mention of dope was considered so scandalous that we were ready to swear Nigerians will not be involved. Today, it’s a different and strange story.

Since they came on board, Chief Ogba and his lieutenants have been finding money to execute their programmes. The sports ministry has had to approve budgets in principle, asking them to go and source for funds pending availability. In circumstances like that you resort to BUYING MONEY and depending on who sells the money to you, the interest can only be imagined.

What about facilities? We have paid so much lip service to sports development without the matching infrastructure. Nigerians will not be surprised to hear that barely few hours to the start of the Grand Prix in July, the AFN was on its knees in Abuja begging the Kaduna State government to release its electronic timing device for use. (Only Kaduna has the facility) What this means is that the National Stadium in Abuja is just a carcass devoid of equipment and facilities that could host a world approved athletics event.

If we say this of the National Stadium in Abuja, we are indirectly saying that no state in this country has any resemblance of facilities in this regard. Akwa Ibom State had to go to Calabar in Cross River to train its swimmers for the last sports festival, just as Sokoto nearly did not enter for boxing because of the absence of rings to train with……and so on.

Berlin is a metaphor, a grim reminder of the rot we have fallen into, a mirror of the state of our sports decay. The AFN president says with time we will be back. That time is relative, depending on what we will do and plan to do. I quote him: “We have fallen so badly that the major work now is to stop the slide and see how we can pursue the likes of USA and Jamaica. It may take us about ten years to get to the level they are now in.

“We will go back home and try to begin a programme that can spread to the schools and all areas. To get to the level we are seeing here, the ministry of education must work with the sports ministry from state to national levels. It is not what AFN can do alone. If we do not go back to the school system, we may further slide. From what I have seen, it will take us about ten years to get to the level these people are.”

Nothing to add to the above submission.  Nothing.

As september 6 approaches
I carry this message on behalf of General Emma Okaro, who wants us not to forget the problems we found ourselves when Kenya came calling during the world cup qualifier. General Okaro will want us to remember the security implications of that match, which if not for Dr. Adamu may not have held. He wants us to remember the traffic bottlenecks that made even the Super Eagles bus not gain easy access into the stadium.

General Okaro wants the NFF to swing into action immediately by setting up an organizing committee that will review the last match with a view to perfecting issues this time around.

Funny side of life
I have just come back from Ilorin where the Globacom Super Four was held. As a member of the “college of match commissioners”, I benefitted from a referees group that was at ease and full of confidence.

In the neutral environment that was Ilorin, you could see the referees anxious to perform without any fear that rules league venues in this country. Let it be said that our referees see hell in the course of their duties. Referees have been beaten, dehumanized and insulted. Thugs have gone back to referees rooms after matches to rob them of their indemnities and belongings.

A referee that was not very mobile during a match confessed to his colleagues that he was impeded by the money he had stuffed into his pants for safety.  Most have escaped death as guns and other dangerous weapons rule our league venues.

In Ilorin, no such fear, leading to the story of a match that was held in Gombe. After the match that did not go down well with the host, there was so much threat on the life of the referees that the match commissioner ( He was with us in Ilorin) decided to relocate them to Bauchi. A member of the Gombe State FA was sent to go and retrieve the luggage of the referees from their hotel rooms.

The centre referee insisted on going back to the hotel but was repeatedly restrained. Back in Bauchi, the angry commissioner was scolding the referee on why he wanted to go back to town when he knew his life was at stake.

The answer he gave, stunned everyone.

“Oga match com. Na for the hotel room ceiling I hide my money.”

See you next week.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.