Nigeria’s participation in this year’s edition of the 2020 Olympics has been trailed by controversies and hullabaloo over some athletes’ disqualification to participate based on failure to complete the three-out-of-competition tests, the failure of the out-of-competition anti-doping test by Blessing Okagbare and other sundry matters.
Some have blamed the challenges on the incompetence of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development (FMYSD) to plan for the Olympics in 6 years, concluding it is an indictment on the Supervising Minister, Sunday Dare.
One wonders how Dare, just less than 2 years in the saddle can be made to account for 6 years. As an avid sports enthusiast that has followed events in the sector over the past few years, I’d attempt to throw more light on issues so that proper perspectives can be deduced.
The disqualification of 10 athletes though unfortunate is not unconnected to the power tussle in the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) that began to rear its ugly head in June 2017. It will be recalled that the current Minister assumed office in August 2019 but that is not to say he hasn’t tried to resolve the conflict.
A new President of AFN, Tonobok Okowa emerged in June 2021 in what was widely acclaimed to be a rancour-free election, bagging the support of most States Athletics Association Chairmen. But hardly had the dust settled before another charade emanated from Kebbi where the former President, Ibrahim Gusau literarily declared himself “autonomous President” in what analysts termed a kangaroo election.
These distractions obviously culminated in the inability of the AFN to apply all due diligence in preparing athletes for the competition. It is instructive that the AFN has since accepted responsibility for lapses and is putting in place measures to ensure the performance of other athletes is not negatively impacted by the setback. The Minister has also apologized directly to the athletes and promised to make their welfare a priority.
Purveyors of the rumour mill soon went to town with a fallacy that gained traction. They alleged that Samsung S21 phones given to disqualified athletes had been retrieved.
This has turned out to be untrue as the Director, Federation of Elites Athletics Department (FEAD) in the FMYSD, Simon Ebhojiaye Friday debunked the rumour stating that “ no official of Team Nigeria or National Organizing Committee (NOC) took away any entitlement of any athlete ”.
He also addressed issues relating to welfare, revealing that payment of allowances to athletes commenced last week, and is still ongoing. It is gratifying that some athletes have corroborated the Director’s statement by refuting on social media, the speculation that their phones were seized.
Another unfortunate incident that trailed the ongoing Olympics is the provisional suspension of Nigeria’s sprint queen, Blessing Okagbare by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) for failing the anti-dope out-of-competition test when she had already qualified for Semifinals of the women’s 100m sprint. She was discovered to have tested positive for the Human Growth Hormone, a prohibited substance.
Some have also blamed the Sports Ministry for this, forgetting that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) though under the Ministry is an independent body that tests athletes and give a clean bill of health, which the Ministry has no control over.
Besides, no agency or official can be with an athlete 24/7 so the onus falls on athletes, especially those that are considered veterans to ensure due diligence in what they eat or consume. Besides, she was only suspended for further investigations and she can still be certified innocent after going through the five stages of the AIU disciplinary process.
Despite the setbacks, there are heart-warming positives coming out of Tokyo 2021. For instance, Nzubechi Grace Nwokocha has qualified for the 100m event, Oluwatobiloba Amusan is also at the semi-finals of the Women’s 100m hurdles and the triumph is not restricted to women as Enoch Adegoke beat the fastest man in the World, Bromell Travon in the 100m men heat and is headed for the semi-finals.
The resilience of the Nigerian spirit is at work. Despite what seems like daunting challenges, we never cave in. The Tokyo 2021 might still turn out to be one of our best outings in recent times as Nigerian officials and the contingent have shown remarkable determination to surmount pitfalls and make the country proud.
_Musa Keffi , a Sports Analyst wrote from Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital