By Ben Efe
Last Wednesday, Nigerian athletics family huddled together at the National Stadium in Abuja. They took a retrospective look at their sport, and gave insights to how there could be a rebirth to track and field, that seems to have run into a permanent stall in the country.
It was more like a therapeutic massage to the coaches, athletes and administrators from well over 20 states of the federation. This is because every participant who spoke had a sorry story to tell about the ills that have plagued the sport for many years.
Athletics Federation of Nigeria vice-president, Tunde Abudulkarim who was chairman of the occasion, had to parry some of the brickbats hauled at the present board of the federation and at other times, he agreed with the participants on the perceived wrongs of the past eight years.
Ever combatant Brown Ebewele accused the outgoing president, Solomon Ogba of running a one man show; adding that most of the money, the former Delta State commissioner for sport claimed to have spent running the sport, was duly refunded by the government.
But Abdulkarim urged the gathering to present cogent facts to buttress their claims: “The job of administering athletics was made difficult by the government’s lack of willingness to support the sport.
“We have often gone cap in hand to source for funds. As far as I know, the AFN did not receive a dime from the government for most of its programmes. The National assembly approved money, but we did not get anything,”
This notwithstanding, everyone in the hall agreed that the sport hadn’t got the required leadership that will move it to the next level.
“Athletes who compete in the golden league cannot get their winnings. Coaches and athletes in camp cannot get their allowances. During a camp in Port Harcourt I have to buy a gas cooker, so that the athletes can get at least one decent meal in a day,” Ebewele a former Edo State commissioner for sports argued.
Former AFN statistician, Samuel Fatula brandished documents, with which he claimed that the present board had on several occasions violated IAAF rules. He also argued that the outgoing president failed to call quarterly congress as stipulated by the statutes, and therefore, the president was liable to impeachment.
On the way forward; it was agreed that Athletics need change. A new board full of enthusiastic and passionate people should be the ones to take up positions.
“Everyone is complaining. Now it is time to make corrections, every one of us must go back to our zones and spread this message of hope.
“We need the right kind of people on the board, we cannot afford to gamble with the future of our sport, we cannot afford to make mistakes again, we must choose those who have the interest of athletics in their hearts; with that we can make our athletics great again,” former 400m runner and Atlanta 1996 4x400m silver medallist Charity Opara-Asonze stated.
She received a standing ovation: but a coach in the crowd was quick to observe. “This is a battle for the soul of Nigerian athletics. It is either change or doom.
“I know that we all here are all committed to the cause, but can we resist those who will come with bags of money with the intent to sway our votes? We must choose a man or woman that will take the federation out of the woods.”
The gathering made some recommendations, with the hope that the Sports ministry will put a stamp of approval to it.