By Yemi Olus
Back in the early 2000s, the ‘Fuji House of Commotion’ was one of the sitcoms that dominated the airwaves in Nigeria. The programme portrayed the uniqueand dramatic experience of living in a polygamous homecomprising several wives and children, and as one would expect, the household was never short of drama due to the infighting and constant bickering.
This appears to be the predicament of the current Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) board since assuming office after the last Sports Federations elections in 2017. The AFN has been beleaguered with one issue or the other, and all of these are the off shoot of having a divided house.
In my very first article on this platform two years ago, having followed all the drama that ensued during the elections that brought current AFN President Ibrahim Shehu Gusau to power, I had opined that it was important to unite the house so that our Athletics does not suffer. This was what I said at the time:
“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.”
Apparently, this did not happen, and so it is no surprise that things have turned out the way they have. Only two days ago, it was reported that Adeleye had been removed as Technical Director by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, following the unfortunate incident that played out at last month’s World Championships in Doha where two Nigerian athletes, Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oduduru were initially disqualified from the championships after the pair Did Not Start (DNS) their respective 100m races despite being confirmed for the event.
Part of the letter from the ministry goes thus: “Adeleye’s removal followed the report of the Advisory Committee on the Poor Performance of Team Nigeria at the IAAF World Athletics Championships, Doha – Qatar 2019.
“Consequent on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee, I am further directed to convey the directive of the Honourable Minister for the immediate removal from office of Mr. Sunday Adeleye as Technical Director of the AFN on account of ascertained Gross Misconduct.Accordingly, you are directed to convey to Mr. Sunday Adeleye in writing this directive and evidence of compliance delivered to the Honourable Minister.”
It must be said that Okagbare and Oduduru’s DNS at a major global competition like the World Championships displayed a huge technical gap. While still trying to come to terms with all of that, last week, the IAAF Nationality Review Panel revealed that Sade Olatoye, who made her first international appearance for Nigeria at the 2019 African Games back in August where she won two medals – Gold in the Shot put and Bronze in the Hammer throw, has been disqualified from the African Games because the panel concluded thatOlatoye was not eligible to represent Nigeria at the time of the Games.
Olatoye who was born and raised in the USA, represented the USA at the 2016 World U20 Championships in Poland and was only declared eligible to switch allegiance from September 17, whereas the African Games happened in August. And so her results from Rabat have been cancelled, and she would of course lose both medals. Nigeria will also lose the top place on the Athletics medals table, while Kenya (with whom we were tied with at 10 Gold medals each), will now replace us in 1st position.
This also means that officials were not familiar with the latest rules as it concerns the transfer of allegiance process, leading to this messy situation. As it stands, AyomidotunOgundeji who was also raised in the US and represented Nigeria for the first time at the same African Games, may likely face the same situation because his IAAF profile still lists him as an American athlete, having represented the US in 2016 as a junior athlete.
This is what happens when the decision-making process is left in the hands of a few. I believe a major solution to AFN’s lingering crises will be found if aggrieved board members arereached out to. An honest dialogue needs to take place to clam frayed nerves and for a new course to be charted ahead of 2020, which is an important year because of the Olympics. A house divided against itself will never stand.