â€¢Ekeji accepts his challenge
By Onochie Anibeze, in Berlin
Nigeria left Berlin without a medal but Patrick Ekeji did with a symbolic one.The Director-General of the National Sports Commission arrived here towards the end of the World Athletics Championship and in his two-day stay he achieved what he hopesÂ could transform to gold medals for Nigeria in big meets.
Ekeji was a guest of Lamine Diack, the IAAF President, on the last day of the championship. They discussed sports, its benefits especially for developing Africa, the challenges and most importantly the falling status of Nigeria in sports- its negative impact on the continent and the attendant economic losses. But at the end, Diack agreed to assist Nigeria in any way posssible. His was a challenge that Ekeji was ready to accept. He told the story himself:
â€œI am happy that I made this trip. It has been eventful. I sat with Diack and the man almost shed tears for Nigeria. He lamented over our dwindling performances in sports. He kept asking â€œwhat is the problem?â€ He kept repeating â€œNigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria, why Nigeria.â€ At a time, he got so emotional about our country. He asked why should a country with so much potential waste away its strenght.
He said he did not need to remind us that sports was
our strength. He reminded me that Nigeria had greater potential than Jamaica in track and field but we did not build on our strength. He reminded me that Jamaica is a country less than three million people and enumerated what sports has won for them. It has won them fame, money and has remained a major tool for youth transformation.
Diack was almost in tears. He reminded me that at a time, the whole continent of Africa looked up to Nigeria to lead them in sports. He reminded me that, at a time in international meets, everybody knew what Nigeria was capable of doing. He recalled his experience in the 2000 Sydney Olympics when he sat with then Sports Minister (Damishi Sango) and he told the minister his willingness to assist Nigeria and told him a couple of things Nigeria was capable of doing and should do. Nothing happened thereafter.
He even recalled that just recently, the IAAF wrote to build a regional centreÂ Â for sports in Nigeria and that the benefits would be tremendous to Nigeria. Nigeria (under Abdulrahman Gimba as sports minister) never replied that letter. I knew that Gimba had issues with almost everybody but this was about Nigeria and up till today I have not seen the said letter.
The current minister has not seen it either. I told Diack that there has been a change in sports administration and that he should expect changes. I pleaded with him to visit Nigeria so that we can initiate things. He is the President of the global body running athletics and I am sure that our President would like to welcome him and cause him to initiate things for us. We are also ready to meet him in Senegal or any place he so wishes.
There were other things we discussed and I leave this place so fulfilled that we have achieved something. I also met the technical director of sports in Russia and the outcome was huge. He said Russia would be ready to help train our coaches. They are ready to go into some partnership with us and this will help us a lot in sports. There are a lot of things this trip has exposed and which we will exploit. Can you imagine an IAAF centre in Nigeria?
I want to see if it can be revisited if it has not been shelved or taken to another country. There will be events that will pay our athletes and general sports development. There are 47 gold medals from athletics in the Olympics and other big championships and we are no longer going to leave track and field lag behind. I am thinking of a special vote for AFN in our budget. I will be happy to see track and field be at par with football.
When our athletes become world stars, they will earn money for themselves, help their communities and at the same time boost the image of the country. This is the challenge we should not allow slip. I want to accept the Lamine Diack challenge and we need to set the ball rolling.â€
AFN scribe Maria Whoophil and one time great athlete and now coach Maria Osifo kept nodding as Ekeji spoke. Maria andÂ AFN President Solomom Ogba were with Ekeji on the visit.