TRACK AND FIELD
By Yemi Olus
The 2017 Athletics season is one Nigeria’s athletes will want to forget in a hurry!
The outgone season epitomized a year of dashed hopes and dreams for these athletes who were left to their devices for the better part of the season, following the dissolution of the National Sports Federations boards in April, ahead of the elections which eventually held in June.
This left a huge leadership gap in most federations, with some faring better than others. Despite the posting of new secretaries to the various federations to hold fort pending the outcome of the elections, it was clear that many of them needed time to adjust to their new roles. Athletics, which is arguably Nigeria’s biggest sport after Football, was one of the hardest hit in terms of lack of competitions as a result of the vacuum created by the dissolution of the boards.
On the domestic scene, only one competition took place at Youth/Junior level, while three competitions were held at senior level, including the National Trials.
On the international scene, Nigeria missed all but one continental/global championship slated for the year, starting with the African Junior Athletics Championships which was held in Algeria in June. While athletes were still trying to get over the disappointment of missing this competition, Nigeria also failed to present a team for the IAAF World U-18 Championships, the very last edition of the event by the way, which was hosted by Kenya in July.
Furthermore, the team that had been camped in Abuja for the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas was also disbanded at the end of the day, having been denied transit visas by both the US and British Embassies.It is unfortunate that these young athletes had to be exposed to repeated heartbreaks triggered by the lack of vision and a constant state of unpreparedness of a nation. How then would they be motivated to give their all for a country that is already failing them so early in their careers?
And that is why the incoming season should bear no semblance with the last. It is commendable that Nigeria was able to send a team to London for the IAAF World Championships in August – a lean team, but a team nonetheless. Putting together that team was the first assignment of the new AFN board whose President, Ibrahim Shehu Gusau was only sworn in in July, following the nullification of the previous election which was marred by a lot of controversies, leading to petitions and the usual intrigues that trail elections.
Eventually, Gusau’s election as AFN President was upheld, much to the chagrin of some board members who had faulted his emergence as President. And so Gusau took over the reins of leadership of an already fragmented board. The rift further deepened following the release of a list of sub-committee members by the AFN secretariat sometime in September, without the input of most members of the board.
Worthy of special mention was the decision to appoint Sunday Adeleye, who got into the board as the Athletes’ Representative, as the Technical Director of the AFN without the approval of most of the board members who felt sidelined in the decision making process. The AFN cannot make meaningful progress if it remains divided, so their first task as a board is to put their house in order. Aggrieved parties should be reached out to and carried along in the decision making process to ensure that all hands are on deck to take the sport to the next level.
It is evident that the current board doesn’t have much time on their hands. The 2018 Commonwealth Games billed to hold from April 4 to 15 in Gold Coast, Australia, is already around the corner. Presenting a formidable team to the Games should be a priority for the AFN. And that is why a calendar highlighting the programmes for the 2018 athletics season needs to be released as soon as possible.
The major IAAF competition in 2018 is the World Indoor Championships taking place in Birmingham from March 1 to 4, and it is vital that Nigeria uses the event to prepare for the Commonwealth Games.
And though it is important to do the country proud on the global stage, the home front must not be neglected in the process. There will be a need for a visionary and well thought-out blueprint for grassroots development as far as Track and Field is concerned. It is necessary for the board to create a structure that would aid the grooming and harnessing of Nigeria’s bountiful talents into finished products who can become world beaters in the nearest future. Their progress ought to be properly monitored to ensure a smooth transition from the Youth category to Junior, and then Senior level.
The issue of athletes’ welfare must also not be taken lightly. Tales of prize monies, bonuses and entitlements being owed several athletes over the years, trailed the previous administration. Such a development doesn’t augur well for the sport and needs to be fixed as soon as possible. The major stakeholders of the sport cannot be treated as second class citizens while officials smile to the bank at their expense. The new board started on the right foot in this regard as the team to the London World Championships was paid their allowances. Nigerian athletes need to be reassured that their sacrifice is not in vain.