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Examining the fire-brigade approach in Nigerian Track and Field

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By Yemi Olus

In the past week, two of Nigeria’s greatest Athletics rivals on the continent, South Africa and Kenya, named their teams for the forthcoming African Senior Athletics Championships that will be held in Delta State, Nigeria, from August 1st to 5th.

Athletics Kenya (AK) has selected a formidable 61-member team comprising of World Champions, Olympic medallists, reigning Commonwealth Games Champions and the like. Some members of their star-studded team are Hellen Obiri (5000m women’s World Champion), Conseslus Kipruto (reigning Olympic and World Champion in the men’s 3,000m Steeplechase), and Elijah Manangoi (London 2017 men’s 800m Gold medallist).

The Kenyan team also included a number of talented youngsters in its fold such as Amos Kirui and Celliphine Chespol, who won the World U-20 titles in the men and women’s 3,000m Steeplechase in 2016. Chespol is also the World Record holder in that age category.

South Africa is also coming to Asaba with its ‘A’ Team comprising of 65 athletes, including reigning Olympic and World Champions such as Luvo Manyonga (reigning World Champion in the men’s Long Jump), Caster Semenya (Rio 2016 800m Gold medallist and reigning World Champion), Sunette Viljoen (Rio 2016 Silver medallist in the women’s Javelin), Akani Simbine (2018 Commonwealth Games 100m Champion), and a host of others.

Most African countries are coming with their best athletes especially because the African Senior Championships will serve as the platform for selection of athletes that will represent the continent at the IAAF Continental Cup holding in the Czech Republic in September. Also, the IAAF Diamond League will be on break, to enable some these top athletes concentrate on the continental showpiece.

It is important to note that South Africa’s national Preliminary Team consists of a healthy blend of youth and experience, as a total of 18 individuals on the team are under the age of 21. Many of these youngsters were part of the South African team that dominated the 2017 edition of the IAAF World U-18 Championships held in Kenya last year, and are among the nation’s top contenders for titles at the IAAF World U-20 Championships in Finland next month. Incidentally, Nigeria did not send a team to Kenya last year due to poor planning.

South Africa named a powerful 19-member team to the IAAF World U-20 Junior Championships since May, while Nigeria’s participation at the same event is still shrouded in a cloud of mystery and uncertainty, even as the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) is yet to formally disclose whether or not Nigeria will be represented at the championship, which is barely two weeks away.

Should Nigeria decide to field a team at the World U-20 Championships, we do not need a soothsayer to give a prediction as to what the scrambling for visas, or the handling of other logistics, would look like. It has now become a norm for our athletes to arrive at competition venues on the opening day, or even days after the tournament has commenced. Nigerian athletes have had to deal with this level of incompetence over the past decades, and it is sobering to realise that things haven’t really changed several years after.

According to a release by Athletics South Africa (ASA), the African Senior Championships in Asaba will be used to prepare teams for the 2019 IAAF World Senior Championships and other major global events over the next few seasons. This clearly demonstrates the foresight of the administrators in charge of sports in these countries, and underlines their meticulous planning as well. Imagine that South Africa is already planning for 2019, while we are stuck with our haphazard way of doing things. How will they not maintain their dominance on the continental and world stage?

South Africa and Kenya finished ahead of Nigeria at the last African Championships held in Durban in 2016, yet they seem to be better prepared than Nigeria who is hosting the 21st edition of the championship. Considering the enormous task we have on our hands, one would have expected us to approach the hosting of the African Championships in a different manner other than our usual fire brigade approach.

The Stephen Keshi Stadium, which is to be used for the Championship, isn’t one hundred percent ready yet, although according to reports, the Warri Relays will be used to test-run the Stadium come July 18th – 12 days before the commencement of the five-day competition. Why wait until the last minute to get these things sorted out when all along, we were already in the know as to our hosting of this championship?

While other countries have named their teams, the host nation will only hold its National Trials, which will be used to select the Nigerian team, on July 5th to 7th – barely three weeks before the rest of Africa converges on our soil. How then do we stand a chance against nations that have already done their homework, and are armed with some of the best athletes in the world?

This is one moment Nigeria ought to have taken advantage of, and demonstrated to the rest of the continent and the world, that we mean serious business. What sort of legacy are we leaving for the coming generation of athletes? We need to as a matter of urgency, nip this syndrome in the bud, or else we will continue to be the butt of the jokes of our rivals. This is hoping that all goes well at the Asaba Championships.



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