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Lee Evans promises no magic in Berlin

*An x-ray of ups and downs in athletic

By Onochie Anibeze
So much work in such a short time, yet the ripples have not given way.Athletes have had to be moved from one hotel to another for reasons bothering on lean purses of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria. The new President, Solomon Ogba, knew how bad the situation was but never imagined the magnitude. And in trying to steer track and field from the rock bottom that he found it to a reasonable level, Ogba appears to be taking more than he can chew.

Fasuba
Fasuba

Three days after he was elected AFN President, Nigeria was to be absent in the regional athletics championship in Benin Republic. The Federation needed N3m but had no money. Ogba stepped in to rescue the team. And that has been the practice since. Take this: Last year, the sports ministry gave the federation N5m to augment whatever funds Mobil gave for the Mobil sponsored All Nigeria Open.

This year, the ministry gave nothing. It meant another hole in Ogba’s pocket. There are debts here and there in spite of the financial responsibilities  the former commissioner of sports has managed to personally  shoulder.

Three national athletics meets ( The Classics, one of which he sponsored while Governor Suswam shouldered one), The Grand Prix and the All Nigeria Open have taken place within four months that the new board was elected

. It did not end there. Nigeria presented team to the Pen Relays in USA and sent a team to Trinidad and Tobago Open. Clearly, action has returned to the hitherto dead sport.  Before the Mobil Open, a home team camped in Ibadan just to compete well in Mobil. .

And just at the weekend, the country’s junior team was winning back sprint events in Mauritius.

There are no doubts there have been positive signals in track and field but they have come at some costs and the burden appears to be creating some problems. Ogba’s drive has made impact but how far can he cope with holes the sport is inflicting on his pockets? There are other managerial problems that have made observers raise eyebrows. Is the President going solo in running the federation?

As commissioner of sports in Delta State, he, sometimes, delved into technical matters and succeeded. Is it going to be same at the national level? Is he sharing ideas with other members of the board for administrative purposes and the technical committee for technical matters?  Is he trying to be meticulous and prudent about the little they have as funds? Is he aware of past actions of one or two members of the board so that he has a better grasp of the responsibilities that lie ahead? How far is he coping with the lean purses?

What with their debts? How would they raise money to settle their debts, initiate good programmes and pay Lee Evans and Ron Davies, the great foreign coaches they have plan to engage? Lee Evans and Davies are no ordinary coaches. The two are legends. They had hand in making Nigeria a great track and field country when they first worked here from the late 70s. There’s no doubt the new President has the drive to turn athletics around but will he succeed under the prevailing circumstances?

Our own Ikeddy Isiguzo, a track and field buff, in his column in our pull-out,  SportsVanguard, last week feared that Lee Evans may not succeed this time because the school system which produced talents that he transformed into stars is now dead. There are no more sports in schools. And while Ogba keeps on soldering on, developing visions and tinkering solutions, observers believe he will do better sharing ideas with board members and other stakeholders. And as he prepares to lead Nigeria’s team to the World Championship in Berlin, Evans,  the man he banks on to help in the coaching of our athletes, says nobody should expect any magic from the team in Berlin.

“There’s nothing much one can do in a month or so. Berlin is already here. You may begin to see changes after about ten months. Give me ten months to a year and the signs of changes will be there. I know what to do,” Evans said with confidence. His 400m record stood for about 20 years. He was the first to run sub 44 seconds in the event. He won two gold medals in the 1968 Mexico Olympics and remained unbeaten throughout his career. He radiates so much confidence but he will be shocked at the level of decadence of sports in Nigerian schools where he hopes to begin again. He may be forced to abandon the schools for elite athletes who may not be young enough for the programmes he has in mind. Double problem.  “I can make (Olu) Fasugbu run better, I know what his problems are,” he says.

“Fasugba can run sub 10 seconds with time.” He was later to note the  likes of Obinna Metu and Egwero, Amaechi Morton etc. He hopes to work on them but he must be employed first. And the AFN is currently battling to raise money.

The rot in athletics is deeper than Ogba imagined before aspiring to lead AFN. But he says he will not bulge.  The news from Mauritius where the Nigerian junior team made impact appeared to have appealed  to him more than the problems on hand. But he would surely return to Abuja to battle them. He knows that expectations are high and must first put life into the Berlin bound team. But he needs the sports ministry to assist too. The ministry has the will but no capacity. They are also lacking fund. So hope is now on manna from heavens. London Olympics, the real focus of Ogba is two years away. TIME!hope is now on manna from heavens. London Olympics, the real focus of Ogba is two years away. TIME!


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