Conflicting reports over Okagbare’s absence in Team Nigeria’s camp

Blessing Okagbare in a long jump event.

Blessing Okagbare in a long jump event.

• Egwero, Oke, Amusa also missing, Asumnu, Ajayi qualify for 100m semifinals
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Amidst complaints of poor motivation, two Nigerian female athletes, US-based Gloria Asumnu and Yinka Ajayi yesterday qualified for the 100m semifinals at the on-going African Senior Athletics Championships in Durban, South Africa. But there were conflicting reports yesterday over the absence of Commonwealth Games double sprint champion, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor from Team Nigeria’s camp.

Okagbare, who was Nigeria’s most celebrated athlete in 2014, following her performance at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the African Athletics Championship in Marrakech, Morocco, was originally listed by the AFN among 29 athletes for the battle of Durban.

However, The Guardian learnt yesterday that Okagbare was missing, when hostilities began in the sprint event. While one AFN official claimed that the US-based Okagbare was denied visa to South Africa, another one said she was never invited by the AFN for the championship.

There were also reports yesterday that Nigeria’s most consistent male sprinter, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, withdrew from the championships alongside female hurdler, Tobiloba Amusa, who has the African leading time in the women 100m hurdles.

Also missing in Team Nigeria’s camp is national champion in the men’s triple jump, Tosin Oke, who won the African Championships in 2010 and 2014, as well as the African Games in 2011 and 2015.

His recent outing was at last month’s IAAF World Challenge in Hengelo, where he finished second behind USA’s Chris Carter with a Season’s Best (SB) of 16.87m.

With the absence of Okagbare, Oke, Egwero and Amusa, Team Nigeria may face a bigger challenge of meeting its expectations in the championship.

An effort to speak with AFN President, Solomon Ogba, who is in Durban with the athletes, was unsuccessful yesterday.

It was not clear if the athletes’ decision to pull out of the championship was as a result of the paucity of fund currently sweeping across Nigerian teams preparing for the Rio Olympics Games.

An AFN official said the situation is so bad that the Sports Ministry could not pay visa fees for coaches for the trip to Durban. Only one coach, Gabriel Okon, is with the athletes in South Africa. The final of the women’s 100m will take place today.

In the midst of complaints of poor motivation, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, assured the AFN on Tuesday that he would do all within his ambit to ensure that the athletes attended the championships in Durban, according to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Nneka Ikem Anibeze.

The minister had been critised in several quarters for allegedly paying lip service to Nigeria’s preparation for the Rio Olympics. Some Nigerians are already calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack Dalung as quickly as possible before more harm is done to the nation’s sports.

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