Nku fumes, as Okagbare, Okoro get AFN’s wildcard


Athletes navigating the bend during the women’s 200 metres race at the Eko 2012 National Sports Festival. The best of Nigerian stars are currently taking part in the on-going All Nigeria Championships holding in Warri. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

What may spark another round of controversy within the athletics family in Nigeria may be afoot following the decision of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) to give a wildcard to two athletes, sprinter Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor and thrower Chinwe Okoro, to the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing and the All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville.

The AFN flagged off the much talked about All Nigeria Athletics Championships in Warri yesterday to select the nation’s track and field athletes for both the World Championships and the AAG without the duo of Okagbare and Okoro in attendance.

AFN says it has exempted Okagbare and Okoro from competing in the trials, which will end today at the Warri City Stadium, on the duo’s request.

The federation claimed in a statement yesterday that Okagbare’s Medical and Sports Science Team in a letter through it’s medical committee, headed by Prof. Ken Anugweje, pleaded to be exempted from the national trials to enable her treat a knee injury and abdominal problem. On the other hand, Okoro wrote to the AFN board seeking exemption because the period of the trials coincided with her Masters’ degree examination. “

After deliberation on the subject, we (AFN) agreed to the request of the two athletes,” a statement by spokesman of the board, Olukayode Thomas said yesterday. But former African sprints queen, Mercy Nku, frowned at the decision by the AFN yesterday, describing it as ‘wrong.’

Speaking with The Guardian from her base in Abuja yesterday, Nku, who ruled Africa’s athletics for about a decade, winning 100m gold for Team Nigeria at Jo’burg ’99 All Africa Games, said: “The AFN usually do that, but it is wrong.

No one eats his cake and have it.” Some other athletics followers who spoke on the issue yesterday criticised the AFN for setting what they termed a ‘bad precedent’ for the future.

AFN claimed yesterday that the ‘injury’ had forced Okagbare to withdraw from the Diamond Leagues and other competitions before the IAAF World Championship in Beijing and the AAG in Congo Brazzaville.

The Guardian recalls that Okagbare had bombed the AFN earlier this year for ‘paying money and rent’ to US-based athletes who have not even shown up for trials back home.

She described as ‘show of shame’ the Solomon Ogba-led administration, which according to her, rated ‘their recruits’ above local talents back home. “For those hoping for a change in our Nigeria track AND field, should not just wait but also pray,” Okagbare said then. Okagbare was said to have apologised to the AFN later.

Some athletics followers, who were looking forward to seeing a ‘new look’ Okagbare at the trials in Warri yesterday, were of the view that the AFN should have launched a ‘deep investigation’ into her claim of injury before granting her wild card for both the World Championship and the All Africa Games.

Okagbare took part in the lucrative IAAF Diamond League in London last weekend, finishing second in the 100m without any sign of injury.

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