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Nigeria has a World Relays to forget

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By Yemi Olus

“THE more things change, the more they stay the same.” French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr may not have had Nigeria in mind when he coined this phrase, but it appears that we are still stuck with the old way of doing things as played out during the IAAF World Relays held in Yokohama, Japan, last weekend.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – MAY 02: Blessing Okagbare, Regina George, Dominiue Duncan, and Christy Udoh of Nigeria celebrat on the podium after winning the final of the women?s of the 4 x 200 metres on day one of the IAAF World Relays at Thomas Robinson Stadium on May 2, 2015 in Nassau, Bahamas. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for IAAF/AFP

Nigeria was in Yokohama with 11 home based athletes – five male and six female athletes, to compete in the men’s 4x100m and 4x200m relay events, and the women’s 4x100m and 4x400m relays. The goal of competing in this championship was to secure qualification in the men and women’s 4x100m, and the women’s 4x400m ahead of the IAAF World Championships coming up in Doha in September.

Only 16 countries can compete in the men and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m relays at the World Championships, and so the Top 10 teams in each of these events at the World Relays were to secure automatic slots for the World Championships. It was expected that Nigeria would go with a strong team to ensure that we qualify for the World Championships. However, that was not the case. The Athletics Federation of Nigeria took a total of six female athletes – four quartermilers and two sprinters, to run the 4x400m and 4x100m respectively.

Two of the four quartermilers taken to Yokohama haven’t competed this year, and so it wasn’t surprising when Nigeria finished 5th behind Canada, Jamaica, China and India, in the heats of the women’s 4x400m. Our performance wasn’t even good enough to get us a place in the ‘B’ final. Nigeria eventually ranked 18th overall in the women’s 4x400m, their worst placing in the history of their participation in the World Relays, considering that the women’s 4x400m team has been Nigeria’s most consistent relay team in almost a decade.

An hour later, two of the quartermilers, Patience Okon-George and Favour Ofili, had to join the two sprinters – Joy Udo-Gabriel and Rosemary Chukwuma, to compete in the heats of the women’s 4x100m. The team placed 4th behind Denmark, Ghana and Thailand, and was ranked 17th overall. Meanwhile only the Top 10 teams automatically qualify for the World Championships.

It was a similar case in the men’s 4x100m where the team finished 7th but was eventually disqualified, so the quartet wasn’t even ranked at the end of the day. And that was how the federation bungled the World Championships qualification for its athletes. With just six slots left for each of these events, Nigeria now has to commence the arduous task of finishing Top 6 in the world before the September 6 deadline.

I continually find it difficult to wrap my head around the way we do things here in Nigeria. Why must we always wait for the last minute to try to get things right? Athletics greats like the USA and Jamaica came with their best athletes because a lot was at stake. Why couldn’t we do same? To think that Ghana has now qualified for the World Championships while we are yet to get our act together is demoralizing to say the least.
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A dark cloud is hovering over Nigerian Athletics at the moment. According to a letter sent by the IAAF to the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, which has been in the public domain for some days now, Nigeria risks getting sanctioned for not refunding a sum of $130,000 that was erroneously credited to the federation’s account in May 2017. The letter states that following a series of phone calls, correspondence, and meetings, the Ministry of
Sports was ready to refund 50% of the amount, but didn’t eventually fulfill its promise.

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Part of the letter goes thus: “On 28 June 2018 you informed us that the Ministry of Sports was ready to refund 50% of that amount and despite several telephone conversations, the amount was still not paid. While we were in Asaba in August 2018 during the African Senior Championships, we met with the Minister of Sports and his Permanent Secretary. We discussed about the return of the funds to the IAAF and until today we have not heard anything.

“We understand that the Minister of Sports will be stepping down soon and it is imperative that you arrange for the return of the full amount within two weeks at the latest. Failure to receive the funds back within that period, we will have no alternative than to apply appropriate sanctions against your federation”.

What makes this situation a tricky one is the fact that the current AFN board was not in place at the time the federation’s account was credited with this sum. Who then ‘swallowed’ the money? Who has been held responsible/liable for this international embarrassment? Why is ministry yet to refund the money after making promises to the IAAF? It is a well-known fact that finalists at the World Championships are entitled to prize monies.

What will be the fate of Nigerian athletes who win prize monies while this issue is still pending? Will Nigeria even be allowed to compete at the World Championships?

These are questions that need to be answered as soon as possible, lest our athletes are condemned to pay for the sins of administrators who do not have the interest of sports at heart. Considering that the World Championships is just four months away, Nigerian athletes do not need this sort of distraction to hamper their preparations.

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