Danger Signal For Team Nigeria Athletes
Lack Of Fund May Stop Defending Champions’ Trip To Addis Ababa
TWO years ago, Nigerian junior athletes took Africa by surprise in Mauritius, when they over came stiff challenges from South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia to top the medals table on the last day of the 2013 African Junior Athletics Championship.
Though, the athletes and their officials waited endlessly for their Presidential reward, which never came, but a majority of the athletes later gained from the Mauritius trip, following series of scholarship they now enjoy from American universities.
At the moment, not less than ten Nigerian junior athletes, including 400m speed star Akerele Omeiza, sprinter Ada Benjamin and jumper Fabian Edoki Ime enjoy over $70,000 (about N12 million yearly) scholarship money from American universities, following their superlative performance in Mauritius.
The 2015 edition of the African Junior Athletics Championship will hold in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from March 3 to 7, but there are indications that Team Nigeria may not be there to defend the title it won two years ago.
The Athletics Federation of Nigerian (AFN) conducted its final trials for 35 athletes at its Shagamu camp on Thursday, where five junior athletes were dropped. The AFN was not satisfied with the performance of Mercy Ntia-Obiong, Peace Nwaelihia, Ruth Damatie, Tobechukwu Nwokolcha and Olotu Folashade during the trials.
But dark cloud seems to be surrounding the hope and aspirations of the remaining 30 athletes, including Commonwealth long jump champion, Ese Brume and 2014 IAAF silver medalist, Divine Oduduru. Lack of money is likely to stop their trip to Addis Ababa.
Team Nigeria is expected to jet out to Addis Ababa on Tuesday, but The Guardian learnt yesterday that AFN officials were considering giving up their search for fund to sponsor the trip.
The National Sports Commission (NSC) was said to have approved N20m for the trip, but the AFN had allegedly been directed to search for the money.
“We got approval of N20 million from the Sports Ministry for the trip to Ethiopia but why the money has not come out is what I can’t understand,” an official of the AFN told The Guardian yesterday.
Speaking further, the AFN official said: “We need at least N9 million to purchase flight tickets alone, and it will be a big disappointment if Nigeria who is the defending champions fail to make the trip to Addis Ababa. That means a whole generation of junior athletes might be wasted and it will not be good for the youth empowerment programme of President Goodluck Jonathan.
“At the moment, more than ten of the junior athletes who were part of the trip to Mauritius two years ago are enjoying scholarship programmes from American universities in Los Angeles, Texas and Oklahoma. The junior athletes are next to the senior and these are the people Nigeria will bank on for medals at Rio 2016 Olympics. Look at what the country is doing for both the male and female football teams in their qualifiers for the All African Games alone. Millions of naira is spent on each of the football team, which can’t even guarantee two gold medals at the African Games. Yet the country is finding it difficult to sponsor an athletics team to a championship in Ethiopia, which will go a long way in preparing the athletes for the All African Games later this year and even the 2016 Olympics Games. It is sad,” the AFN official said.
Effort to speak with the President of AFN, Solomon Ogba and Technical Director, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama could not yield fruits yesterday. But a board member who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that both Ogba and Nesiama were running from pillar to post searching for funds to enable the athletes and their officials make the trip to Addis Ababa on Tuesday.
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