By Pual Bassey
Nigeria hosted the First African Youth Athletics Championship (AYAC) in Delta state and came out tops. An apostle of grass roots development of sports, that event for me was of great interest in a country where all our athletics eggs are heaped in the basket of Blessing Okagbare.
During the grand finale of the 14th AKS/NNPC/MPN Schools Athletics Championships, in March, Governor Godswill Akpabio said it was high time the Utit Ofons of the state athletics fame were effectively replaced. He said the track and field infrastructure available at the Akwa Ibom International Stadium was to aid such an enterprise.
Before his speech, word had come round that an Ambassador of the Mobil Schools Athletics championship, Aniekeme Alphonsus, was in the National team to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and she was making waves, winning one gold, one silver and a bronze.
After the Addis Ababa exploits, Nigeria was set to defend the AYAC title in Mauritius and AFN set the machinery in motion by organizing a trials in Lagos where 27 youth we gathered were picked. (Including Aniekeme Alphonsus.)
Being a product of a Championship that I have supervised for the NNPC/MPN Joint Venture for the past 14 unbroken years, it was only natural that I tracked the progress of the Ikot Ekpene born star, hence my call to find out when they will finally depart for Mauritius. “ Sir, we don’t know. AFN say they have no money!”
Another call to the General Secretary of the AFN confirmed my fears and the frantic efforts being made to secure the foundation that was being built for the future of our track and field.
During one of such discussions with the General Secretary, he quickly excused himself, that the Federation President, away in the US was on line and he needed to update him on the state of the Mauritius trip.
Olumide called back to inform that Chief Ogba was calling every hour to see how the kids could be ferried to Mauritius. Also pending was the team for the world relays in the Bahamas. That the AFN was owing the agent that helped to facilitate the trip to Ethiopia, who was not ready to issue tickets again until “something was paid from the old debt, no matter how much”
In the course of running from pillar to post there was a faint ray of hope and the kids were contacted and told to arrive Lagos by “tomorrow unfailingly for their trip”. For most of them that meant taking the “night bus” to be able to make Lagos in the morning for the flight to Mauritius in the afternoon.
Those who could find money jumped into buses for the risky and dangerous travel, while those who could not were moaning their miss when the “good news” came to them that the trip was off! You can imagine the plight of the kids that had joined night buses and labored to Lagos and had no where to stay, now faced with the predicament of looking for money to go back to their various destinations.
By this time the numerical strength of the contingent had been reduced from 27 to 12!
While those that arrived Lagos were struggling to find their way back, another call came that the trip was back on track, with the contingent due to depart by 2pm from the Murtala Mohammed Airport. Again another frantic effort to make it to Lagos, while those on their way back home had to make an about turn. This was Wednesday, April 22 a day before the commencement of the Championship on Thursday April 23.
Another twist. The 2pm bookings fell flat, so the sorry students and their officials, (some of them got to the airport as early as 9 am,) were stranded there until 10pm when the Emirates flight finally airlifted them via Dubai.
I have gone this far to make us realize the mental and psychological trauma those children went through. Their crime? Emerging as the best, chosen to represent their fatherland. When I saw them at the airport that afternoon, scattered on the floor, they were in no physical state to represent anybody.
Back to the story. By the time they arrived Mauritius, they were too late for the sprints( Their specialty) So it was a matter of pushing them to any available event.
Hear Aniekeme: “ Sir I have not done long jump before, but when I tried I got silver”
Fadekemi Olude went for the walk event and got gold. Another gold was reaped in the medley relay girls.
Last Monday the proud and battered contingent touched down in Lagos with two gold and four silver medals with no one to receive them. They arrived too late to get back to their various destinations and had to be quartered in Lagos before setting out in the morning, yet no hotel reservations had been made. When I called the AFN Scribe he was at the ministry struggling to get some funds.
I remember vividly that during the last elections into the various Sports Federations, Chief Solomon Ogba nearly lost the Presidency of AFN, until someone pointed out the personal sacrifices he had offered to keep the Federation afloat. There is no disputing the fact that again and again, he has had to dig into personal finances to sponsor trips and championships.
Two years ago, the National Sports Commission took a decisive step when it set up a grass roots development directorate manned by my very good friend the erudite Yakmut Alhassan. I praised the decision to high heavens. For me this was the solution to our perennial problem , that of replenishing old stock as it were. After the youth sports festival in Abuja and subsequent interest in development of the youth, we have reaped abundantly. If there was any championship that we should have sponsored as a matter of priority it was the Mauritius Championship.
The Technical Director of the AFN Commodore Omatseye Nesiama was even quoted as saying he was delighted by the gold won by Fadekemi Olude in the walk event. That he believed Nigeria had the capacity to challenge Africa and the world in events not considered our forte. I add that the only way this is possible is by sports development, combing the grass roots, investing in the youth.
This is one case I stumbled on, one that is replicated in nearly all the sports , one that should never be allowed to happen again, NEVER.
American Judges…. Pacquaio’s loss
My friends say I am not a boxing judge. That fight? Which I saw from the beginning to the end? Saw Mayweather running scared with Manny taking the battle to him throughout the 12 rounds? Saw and heard the father repeatedly telling him he was not doing anything> Common. It was later that my son drew my attention to the fact that the three judges were Americans…….and the referee too. Unanimous Decision my foot. I blame Manny, he should have killed him. I am so angry. And to think that I stayed awake from 2am, ran my generator all through for a match that did not start till 5am? Manny remains my champion, any day.
Congrats Warri Wolves
Very unexpected result. The Congolese needed just a goal to progress yet it was the Wolves that pounced, coming back with a sweet victory. A lot has been said about the intervention of Governor Uduaghan who galvanized the team to action by clearing their backlog of salaries and offering words of encouragement.
This brings me to the fact that all Nigerian teams need is a wee bit of organization to excel.
Meanwhile back to the trenches. This is the stage that Bayelsa United faltered last time out. The stage where the big boys, knocked out of the Champions league will come down to wrestle league positions with the Confederations Cup qualifiers.
Before the Wolves can make it to the promise land that is the group stage, they must contend with the likes of A.C Leopards of Dolise, who lost to Enyimba conquerors Smouha of Egypt, Raja Casablanca of Morocco ousted through penalties by holders Entente Setif of Algeria. Also expected are the losers from yesterday’s matches that will involve giants like T.P.Mazembe, Al Ahly, El Mereikch, Esperance and C S Sfaxien among others. This is the veritable test before the Wolves en route the money spinning league qualification.
Good luck Wolves.
See you next week.