By Patrick Omorodion
IN exactly 10 days from today, Nigeria will, through the benelovent Delta State government, host the rest of Africa at the newly completed Stephen Keshi stadium in the state capital, Asaba. The event is ceded to the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, an arm of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development by the Confederation of African Athletics, CAA. Delta state is only assisting.
The Federal Ministry of Sports should be the one providing the logistics and funding through its parastatal, the AFN but since it is shirking its responsibility, Delta state which has always come to the rescue of Nigeria in such events, rose up to the occasion by accepting to host it.
To show its seriousness, it mobilized the funds to complete the abadoned Asaba Township stadium which was renamed after their illustrious son, late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, who brought honour to the state through his meritorious service to fatherland by his exploits as a player and later coach of the senior national football team, the Super Eagles. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state promised to complete the stadium on schedule for the African athletics fiesta and he lived up to his promise as the facility was test-run during the week after officials of the continental athletics body, CAA had inspected it and given it a pass mark.
While the stadium was being put in place for the event, the athletes the country would present to compete with other African countries were ignored as the AFN which was supposed to prepare them was initself in a confused state, owing to leadership squabbles occasioned by the ill-tempered election into its board.
Assuming that all was well with the AFN board, it was nonetheless also handicapped as funds were not made available by the sports ministry to open up a camp for the preparation of the athletes. In the past, Delta state would have come to their rescue by supporting the AFN but that was when its son, Chief Solomon Ogba was the president of the federation. He had a cordial relationship with the former governor of the state, Emmauel Uduaghan.
Other ways the Delta state government also assisted the country was by providing grants to athletes of Delta origin who were medal prospects. That was how Blessing Okagbare and Ese Brume benefitted and bailed Nigeria out at major competitions. This however, caused some problems for Chief Ogba who was accused by other athletes of favouring Delta athletes over them. The confusion in the AFN affected the preparation of the athletes who had to result to a boycott of the planned trials organised by the AFN to select the contigent to represent the country at the event as they complained of neglect and poor welfare. And so for the first time in a very long time, the AFN selected a team to represent the country in a major competition without the usual trials from which athletes are picked.
A statement from the AFN’s secretary, Amechi Akawo disclosed that about 70 athletes have been selected to resume camping in Ozoro, Delta state immediately. If you remove two days for the release of the statement and travelling of the selected athletes, you will be left with about a week to the start of the championships. Talking seriously, what kind of preparation or training would the athletes have in one week to be able to compete with their counterparts from other African countries, especially South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire, two countries that have made in-roads into Nigeria’s area of strength, the sprints?
With key directors of the Sports Ministry along with the permanent secretary and the minister himself emptying into Russia for the FIFA World Cup, no serious plan was made for the athletes preparation and participation in the championship the country was hosting. It is also not very clear if any money was voted for the purpose. Even if voted, was it released to the AFN, especially at a time the minister has turned himself into the accountant/treasurer of the ministry, keeping and disbursing money to athletes and officials at competitions?
Athletics and other sports which have competitions to attend were simply ignored, for reasons best known to the sports ministry which minister was more involved in trying to raise funds to support the Super Eagles campaign at the World Cup. It didn’t matter to the minister that the NFF leadership had said it had raised enough funds to cater for the football team’s participation at the Mundial.
NFF told Nigerians that it had raised enough money from its sponsors and partners as well as the support it got from CAF and FIFA. While CAF supported the NFF with $500,000 to prepare the Eagles, FIFA released almost tripple that sum from the amount the NFF was to get for qualifying to play at least in the first round of the competition.
With the Eagles unable to qualify for the second round, one expected that the minister and his directors and permanent secretary would return to make serious plans for Team Nigeria athletes to make appreciable impact in a championship holding on their own soil.
Instead, the minister returned to make himself an enforcer of a Supreme Court judgment he may not have fully understood its ruling as it relates to the leadership crisis of the NFF. Even though he was expected to be a neutral arbiter, he openly threw his support in favour of one of the factions led by his fellow Plateau man, Chris Giwa.
The only presence or input Solomon Dalung, Nigeria’s sports minister seemingly made towards his athletes’ participation at the CAA Championships tagged Asaba 2018 is his unnecessary inspection of the new Stephen Keshi Stadium to be used for the competition.
And you want to ask, is he a technical man to know whether the venue is suitable or not?
Delta state may have put in place a befitting stadium to host Africa but has the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports planned enough for the athletes to excel?