By Yeni Olus,
The year 2020 is a big one when you consider the calibre of events slated to hold this season, culminating with the Olympics and Paralympics billed to hold in Tokyo, Japan, from July to September.
Some of the major Athletics events for the year include the African Senior Championships in Algiers in June, World U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya in July, and the Olympic Games which comes up towards the end of July.
However, with the outbreak of the coronavirus in Asia (the continent hosting the Olympics) last month, there are concerns as to whether the Olympics will still hold this year.
Several major competitions across different sports have had to be postponed, re-scheduled or outrightly cancelled since the outbreak of the virus, starting with the World Indoor Athletics Championships which was initially meant to hold in Nanjing, China, in March, but had to be moved to 2021 due to the outbreak of the virus.
Now that the virus seems to be spreading, with about 80,000 confirmed cases worldwide, one wonders what the fate of sportsmen and women who have dedicated thousands of hours towards preparing for the Games will be.
The Olympics have only been canceled three times since inception: in 1916, 1940 and 1944, during the World wars. There are reports that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is monitoring the situation alongside the World Health Organization and authorities in Japan and China before making any firm decisions.
However, earlier this week, Dick Pound, a senior member of the IOC, said the Olympics was more likely to be cancelled than postponed, if health authorities deemed it too dangerous to proceed by late May.
Of course, there could be a scientific and medical breakthrough in the coming months which could stop the spread of the virus. However, the Nigerian in me wonders if a cancellation of the Olympics would help our case in any way.
It’s less than a hundred and fifty days to the Games but I’m yet to see a buzz that suggests that we’re on track with our preparations for the games. For instance, have funds been released by the Federal Government to aid the athletes’ preparation for the Games?
Thanks to the Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare’s Adopt-an-Athlete initiative, a few Olympic hopefuls like Divine Oduduru and Odunayo Adekuoroye (Wrestling) have been adopted by corporate organisations. However, the bulk of our athletes across different sports, still have a long way to go in terms of preparation.
The likes of Ese Brume and Tobi Amusan made the most of the indoor season, with Brume showing lots of improvement with each competition, setting an indoor Personal Best (PB) of 6.82m in her latest outing in France. Their counterparts like Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oduduru may likely open their season with the outdoors. However, I believe that we should have set up a relays camp by now.
Athletics South Africa (ASA) recently set up a national training camp comprising a squad of 22 athletes to prepare for the 4x100m and 4x400m, and the training has concentrated mainly on exchanges and combinations because these are areas that have been identified as being the weakest link in South Africa’s past failures.
A national coach, Paul Gorries, was appointed for the relay teams. South Africa is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that they make the podium in the relays, asides the respective individual events.
Akani Simbine who is the reigning African and Commonwealth Games Champion in the men’s 100m, and who finished 4th at the World Championships in Doha, had this to say: “I firmly believe that we have Gold medal potential. We can medal. I don’t see why we can’t chase the gold medal”.
It is interesting to note that South Africa’s newly found zeal in the relays was triggered by their African Record run in Doha, where they erased the former record of37.94sec in the men’s 4x100m set by Nigeria’s quartet of Davidson Ezinwa, Francis Obikwelu, Osmond Ezinwa, and Olapade Adeniken as far back as 1997. It was as though South Africa ‘’never hesperred it”, but that feat ignited in them the firm belief that they can make it.
I was speaking with Nigeria’s fastest man on the domestic scene, Enoch Adegoke, during the All-Comers Meet in Akure two weeks ago and when I asked him if he thought Nigeria could reclaim the African Record from South Africa, going by the calibre of male sprinters we have now, he said:
“We can do better than the current African Record looking at our individual performances, but I believe there are a lot of issues collectively. The togetherness is not really there because we do not have a lot of time to practice together.”
Rome was not built in a day, but at least we must be seen to be building something. We cannot bank on fears of the Olympics being canceled to give us more time to put our house in order because for all we know, the coronavirus might just disappear as suddenly as it started.