By Onochie Anibeze
In the early hours of Wednesday the just concluded Africa Youth Athletics Championship, otherwise known as AYAC Warri 2013, was reviewed on Sky News.
Kenya, a country that has made global impact in track and field got good mention for presenting only 10 athletes and winning up to five gold medals which placed them behind Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Nigeria had 59 athletes while Egypt and Ethiopia had 19 and 38 respectively.
The championship in Warri, South South Nigeria, was a huge success. Veteran sports journalist and a member of the CAF and FIFA families, Paul Bassey, described it as ‘’a success by all standards.’’
For a person who travels to all countries on CAF and FIFA duties to say so should delight those behind it, starting from Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to the Local Organising Committee, LOC and to AFN and all the technical officials. But Bassey did not make his commendation on the basis of his football experience. He has organised the Mobil Track and Field in Eket for more than ten years now and he appreciated the magnitude of work that must have taken place in organising a show with up to 34 countries in attendance.
I have seen athletics from the reporter’s point of view and felt I had written a lot on the sport. But AYAC Warri 2013 brought me very close to the organisation of track and field. Paul Bassey can bear me witness. Organising football is a piece of cake when compared to track and field. The technicalities in track and field make football so easy and cheap to organise and develop. It was probably the success of AYAC Warri 2013 that attracted the time Sky News gave to it. It was the second time Nigeria was in the international media for positive reasons for a long time, the other being in February when the Eagles lifted the Nations Cup to become African champions.
AYAC Warri 2013 made me proud. In the words of Aminata Gueye, head of marketing in Confederation of Africa Athletics, ‘’this is amazing, it’s crazy what you guys have put up here. We don’t get this in senior championships. I cannot get tired of saying congratulations everyday until I leave here.’’
CAA President, Kalkaba of Cameroun showered encomiums on the organisation of the championships and personally thanked Governor Uduaghan for his contributions to track and field. He said that the people of Delta and indeed the continent of Africa will benefit from the seed Delta has sown in track and field. His vice, Bantsi from Botswana had described ‘’Nigeria as our country, delta our state and Warri our city.’’ He commended the organisation and said the CAA family was at home in Warri.
Kim Peters led a team of four Belgians and a Dutch to install the EDM equipment from Timetronics and was proud to tell all that ‘’athletics is still the mother of all sports.’’
He referred to the ancient times and how sports evolved and could not be faulted on his remarks on what Delta was doing for sports. ‘’I hope your people learn fast so that I can go on schedule. This is good for your country,’’ he said of the expensive equipment Delta acquired, the first of its kind in Nigeria. One of the Timetronics men was at the London Olympics. It speaks volumes of the standard Delta set in Warri 2013.
‘’When an event is on, many things come to play and that’s why, aside the gadgets and equipment, you still need the manpower. Football is simple. 22 players after a ball,’’ Kim tried to rub in what Delta had achieved and how huge track and field is.
I saw it all in Warri. Technical officials were up to 200.
What delighted me most were the talents I saw in the Nigerian team. I saw Divine Oduduru win the 100 and 200m and I knew a star was in the making if only the right things are done. He had run 10.51 seconds at the Olukoya Meet in Lagos and we expected him to better that time. He did not. But his 10.56 seconds time was good enough to win him the event in Warri. In his first heat, I saw him win it but I wasn’t impressed with the way he struggled. He was struggling and not sprinting. Beside me was Brown Ebewele, a veteran in track and field.
Brown agreed with me and after that race he went to him to have some words with him. Brown was at the finish line throughout the Warri show, coaching our athletes and encouraging them. Brown showed the coach in him. He showed the passion in him and I strongly suggest he returns to full time coaching. He showed his hand in Warri and he won my heart. I say this because I know that we have a lot of problems with coaching.
We lack good coaches in football, track and field, boxing, swimming, handball, tennis etc. It’s partly why we are not doing well at the Olympics. Divine Oduduru can be made a star with good coaching, good nutrition and management. So is Ofonnime Edidiong Odiong, the young girl who won 400m with a time of 54.46. Her victory was good but what impressed me most was her performance. Her strides were superb and the way she ran the curves made me see a world champion in that girl if only she can be trained and fed well. To me, that’s the star in the Nigerian team aside Divine.
However, while we commend Nigeria’s victory it is important that we analyse AYAC Warri 2013 well and see it as a wake-up call. Other countries are doing well in the events we dominated for long. An athlete from Egypt, Esraa Samir, with a jump of 5.63m won the Long Jump for girls. Gaber Liner from Egypt ran 14.04 seconds to win the 100m Hurdles. It did not end there.
Another Egyptian, Kamal Hamdy Riham won the Heptathlon with 4604 points, far ahead of the 44.63 points made by the Nigerian silver medallist Temiden Oshibanjo. When this happened, I asked myself, where are the Patience Itanyis and Oluchi Elechis? When will the glory days return to Nigeria? I’m not done yet. A Gambian, Keita Tijani ran 47.39 to win the 400m for boys. On this basis, I warn that it will be unwise to celebrate Nigeria’s victory at AYAC Warri 2013 without caution.
We still have a lot of work to do. The Federal Government, through the National sports Commission, should stop playing lip service to sports development. Good programmes for the Rio Olympics games ought to have started long before now. But we all know that nothing is happening. The NSC should should get cracking. Sports Minister Bolaji Abdullahi appears enthusiastic to do something. Let the Federal Government empower him so that he can practice what he has been preaching. Delta has taken the lead. Let FG follow the right way otherwise Rio will be like London 2012.