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Hopes, challenges, as top African athletes gear up for Asaba 2018

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After months of preparations, the stage is set for the 2018 African Senior Athletics Championship, holding in Asaba from August 1-5.The championship is in its 21st edition, and Nigeria is hosting it for the second time. In 1989, when Nigeria played host to the rest of Africa at the National Stadium in Lagos, the country topped the medals table.

Nigeria also emerged winner in seven other editions of the championships at Dakar ’79, Cairo ’85, Annaba ‘88, Cairo ’90, Yaounde ’96, Dakar ’98 and Port-Novo 2012.Perhaps, the biggest rival Nigeria has in the championship so far is South Africa, which has equally won the event eight times. Since 1992, when the South Africans made the top spot for the first time, the Rainbow nation has not looked back, setting a record as the biggest dominants of the event in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Kenya has won it three times.

A lot has happened between 1989, when Nigeria first hosted the event in Lagos and now. With athletes from over 60 countries expected to storm Asaba from August 1-5, members of the Local Organising Committee (LOC), have a major challenge at hand. But the chairman of the LOC, Chief Solomon Ogba says there is no cause for alarm.

After scoring a big point with the hosting of the inaugural edition of the Africa Junior Athletics Championship in Warri, in 2013, which is the best in the series till date, Ogba is optimistic that Delta State will score another big mark this time.One of the major challenges before Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the entire people of Delta State, is to put in place a befitting stadium for the championship.

From the early 1960s, the people of Asaba have been waiting to have a sports complex like their counterparts in other Nigerian major cities as Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Kano and Bauchi.The desire to have a stadium of their own became even more crucial with the exploits of the defunct Asaba Textile Mill FC, a football Club, which produced a large number of stars for the country.

Shortly after the Nigerian civil war in 1970, many football matches were played inside the complex with Asaba Tex becoming one time Bendel State champion, even winning laurels up to national level. Many notable football clubs visited the stadium as guest to Asaba Tex.The then Bendel State government took over Asaba City stadium in 1974 from Asaba community. And from 1974 to August 27, 1991, when Delta state was created by the Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, some soccer competitions were played in what could be better described as children’s park, with an open space for unorganized junior and senior football matches and athletic games.

The complex later became the inherited asset of Delta State government in 1991, and the ‘open space’ scenario remained the same until 1999 when Chief James Onanefe Ibori became Governor of Delta State. Before then, all the Military Administrators, from Bendel to Delta, had the political will to construct a stadium for the people.The Ibori administration, which had Chief Solomon Ogba as Sports Commissioner, constructed an Indoor Sports Complex at the west end of the stadium, while former President Olusegun Obasanjo, laid the foundation stone for the mainbowl in 2001. He (Ibori) distributed mini sports complexes across the state, but kept the Asaba project in view as a major work.

With the relegation of Asaba Textile Mill FC, and its slot in the national league conveyed to NPA FC of Warri, then in the amateur division, attention shifted to the Warri Township Stadium which was renovated as home for Wolves to host local and continental events alongside medium stadia at Agbor, Ogwashi-Uku, Kwale, Oghara, Ughelli and Oleh.

Credit must be given to Ibori’s successor, former Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who awarded contract to raise Asaba Stadium to a reasonably level. But his inability to complete the job and put the stadium in use became a big worry for the people of Asaba.However, five years after, a green light appeared on the tunnel, when Governor Okowa approved the completion of outstanding works at the stadium named after former Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi. The job includes the spectators’ stand and tartan track. Okowa ensured that the complex enjoy the best of facilities to meet international standard. The stadium complex now has nine lanes.

Today, the stadium has become a reality, thus ending the long debate of Asaba being the only capital in Nigeria that does not have a stadium.Apart from hosting the African Senior Athletics Championship this year, its first international event ever, the stadium has been designated by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to host matches involving the Super Eagles and other national teams soon.Ogba told The Guardian during the week that for the first time in the history of the African senior athletics championship, all the countries in Africa would be represented in Asaba.

“The LOC is working hard to ensure Asaba host the best championship ever,” Ogba said. “The LOC will be sponsoring two athletes from all the countries, and we want to set a new standard as far as the Africa Senior Athletics Championships is concerned. The goal is to make this edition as glamorous as the World Championships itself.” To reduce the financial burden of Delta State, the LOC organized a fund raising dinner last week in Asaba, where major stakeholders in Nigerian sports doled out millions of naira towards a successful hosting of the CAA Asaba 2018 African Senior Athletics Championships.

Consultant for the Fund Raising dinner, former sports commissioner in Ogun State, Hon. Bukola Olopade said that the response of Deltans and friends of Delta was very good.At the event, Zenith Bank Plc led the donors with the sum of N300 million, while Bube Dan gave N20 million, Levant Construction N20 million, Gomene N11 million, Delta State House of Assembly N7 million, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development N5 million, among others.

Some corporate organisations and individuals made their donations anonymously.Meanwhile, as the city of Asaba is wearing a new look ahead of the championship, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), seems to be having a problem in raising a formidable team that can give South Africa and other visiting countries a good challenge on the track.

The 2018 National Athletics Championships, which is popularly called the All Nigeria Championships, was disrupted two weeks ago by the athletes who called for the removal of the Technical Director of the AFN, Sunday Adeleye.The competition, which took place in Abuja featured home and overseas-based athletes, and it was meant to serve as the trials for the selection of Team Nigeria flag bearers for Asaba 2018 African Senior Athletics Championships.The competition had began smoothly on Saturday with heats in various events, but were halted the following morning when the athletes, most of whom are home-based, refused to compete and instead carried various placards calling for the removal of Adeleye, who also doubles as athletes’ representative on the board of the AFN.

Some overseas-based athletes pleaded with their protesting colleagues for events to hold on Sunday, but the protesters returned on Monday and grounded the competition, forcing the athletes to return home without an official end to the competition.The athletes accused Adeleye of not fighting for their interest on the board as his appointment by the federation’s president, Ibrahim Gusau as the Technical Director of the AFN has led to a conflict of interest. They alleged that Adeleye has used his position as technical director to intimidate the athletes he was elected to protect.


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Ifeanyi Okowa.
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