By Ben Efe
Nigeria’s first Olympic track and field gold medalist, Chioma Ajunwa is gathering tools with an aim to start the revival of athletics in the country.
Ajunwa pained by the dearth of talents in Nigeria is setting up a foundation which, according to her, will drive the development of the sport from the grassroots.
“It really pains me that we don’t see much of Nigerian athletes at the international circuit anymore. In the past you see Nigerians in the grand prix circuit competition with the rest of the world. But now when you tune to Eurosport to watch athletics, you don’t find Nigerian athletes, all you see are athletes from Botswana, Sudan and other African countries that are not even endowed in talents.
“So I said to myself since nobody is doing nothing to revive the sport, I have to do something and that is why I’m setting up a foundation,” said Ajunwa.
She stated that her aim is to go the schools and search for talents which would be groomed. Besides there would be regular clinics to teach kids the rudiments of athletics.
“Apart from this, the foundation will also spearhead a campaign against drug use by athletes. During my time I had problem with drugs and based on my experience I have so much to say about the effect of drug use,” said Ajunwa.
She disclosed that she will be going to competition venues, athletes’ camp and schools to spread the message of anti doping in sports.
Ajunwa against all odds won the women’s long jump gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and also set an African record of 7.12m in the process.
“It is really disappointing that 15 years after that jump no Nigerian is coming close. This is why we are coming out with grassroots development programmes from where we hope to discover talents and begin to build them up.
“The talents are there it is just that people in administration have chosen to abandon the process that produced quality athletes for the country in the past,” stated the former athlete.
She said that her priority would be to groom jumpers and sprinters.
AFN, Itanyi tangle over dollars
Former national heptathlon champion, Patience Itanyi and Athletics Federation of Nigeria officials are at daggers drawn over a 25,000 dollar (about N3.8m) debt. Itanyi claimed to have expended the said amount on scouting and bringing home Nigerian-born athletes based in the United States.
Since 2007 Itanyi was the federation’s contact in the USA. Before now she was the go-between for the athletes and the federation. In 2009 Itanyi brought home a plane load of young athletes from the US and according to her, she was responsible for their tickets and upkeep with the promise that she would be reimbursed by the Federation.
Last week Itanyi was in Abuja to press for her money, but a top shot of the AFN argued that she has no documentary evidence to back up her claims and therefore the federation will not make any payment.
There was a heated debate over the issue and the National Sports Commission, NSC had to intervene. It was gathered that Alhassan Yakmut who is in charge of athletes in the NSC has been instructed to examine the matter and make recommendation.
For now Itanyi has made a retreat hoping that the NSC would settle the mater amicably.
Speaking during a phone conversation Thursday from her base in the USA, Itanyi submitted that she has been totally frustrated by the attitude of the AFN with regards to paying her the money owed her. “I’m only just hopeful that the NSC will settle the matter, otherwise I would fight to the last drop of blood to get my money back. How could people be lying about something, which is obvious,” she queried.
All Comers a good omen – Suleiman
Next week attention shifts to Ekiti, where the second All Comers Meet will hold. For the participating athletes, this would be another chance to review their preparation for the season ahead.
According to coach Tunde Suleiman, the introduction of the All Comers by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, was a good sign that the federation is thinking about improving the standard of performance.
“The All Comers offers us coaches and athletes the opportunity to gauge just how far we have prepared for the season.
“The competition is good for us, now we can go back and work on the areas where we need to improve,” said Suleiman, a former national long jumper.
He said from what he saw of the last All Comers at the Sagamu Township stadium in Ogun State, there is hope that the athletes will do well in the season. However, he noted that the male athletes are lagging behind in their events and they need to do more to improve.
“I saw some promise from female athletes like Margaret Etim and Bukola Abogunloko. If they can sustain their form, I see them doing well in the season ahead. But I cannot say that for the men, I haven’t seen much of them. The men’s 100m and 400m did not impress me much,” said Suleiman.