Team Nigeria goes to Durban with only one coach

Blessing Okagbare in a long jump event.

Blessing Okagbare in a long jump event.

Okagbare, 29 others in, London-based athletes opt out

With just a few weeks to the commencement of the Rio Olympic Games, there are signs that things are fast falling apart in Team Nigeria’s camp. The nation’s contingent to the 2016 African Senior Athletics Championship is already in Durban, South Africa, with just one coach.

The Guardian learnt that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) hurriedly put a team of 29 athletes together to avoid the shame of missing out of the competition.

Two years ago, when the championship took place in Marrakech, Morocco, Team Nigeria finished second behind South Africa on the medals table. The Nigerians won eight gold medals as against 10 gold won by the South Africans.

This time around, AFN is aiming to use the championship to prepare and sharpen the athletes ahead the Rio Olympics.

An official told The Guardian yesterday that only one coach was able to make the trip to Durban due to an alleged directive by Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, that the coaches should pay their own visa fees.

“How can the sports ministry say that coaches should pay for their visas when they are going to Durban to work for Nigeria?” the official queried yesterday. “As we speak, only one coach, Gabriel Okon, made the trip because he has an American passport. Someone paid the visa fee for Yusuf Alli, but he refused to go because it is not proper,” the official added.

AFN President, Solomon Ogba, and Technical Director, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama, were said to have also made the trip.

The source disclosed that 11 US-based athletes, including Commonwealth and African track queen, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguenor and 18 others from the local scene would fly the nation’s flag in Durban. Activities will commence this morning and will end on June 26.

Team Nigeria will compete in the men and women’s 100m and 200m, 400m, 100/110m hurdles, as well as the long, triple and high jumps.
The team will also participate in the relays and the shot put events.

Another official said yesterday that Nigerian athletes based in London were told to foot the bill of their expenses, including flight tickets to the championship, but they declined. “Our president only used his contact in America to purchase tickets for 11 US-based athletes and those in Nigeria, but he made it clear to those in London to pay their way and that they would be refunded when money is available, but they refused.”

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