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Access Bank Lagos City Marathon has made us Africa’s sports hub, says Ambode


Governor Akinwunmi Ambode (middle) presenting a cheque of $50,000 prize money to Kenyan-born French runner, Abraham Kiprotich at the end of the 2018 Access Bank Lagos City Marathon on Saturday. With them is Sports Minister Solomon Dalung

“The main goal for now is to have a Gold Label Marathon on the calendar of IAAF, and I believe strongly that we will get there within a short period of time.” Those were the words of Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode last Saturday while presenting awards to various winners at the end of the third edition of the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon.

Kenyan-born French runner, Abraham Kiprotich, had won the race to emerge new champion, beating his compatriot duo of Kibos Roony and Bitok Benjamin to the $50,000 prize money.

It was time to speak, and Ambode did not hide his feelings: “We are tired of foreigners, most especially Kenyans coming to win this Marathon. Now, we need to develop our own part of this sport and allow Nigerians win it. I will sponsor coaches to Jos to train our long distance runners, and in the next two years, I believe Nigerians will be ready to give the Kenyans a run for their money. The marathon race is a veritable platform for Nigerians to showcase their talents and that is why everybody is getting more interested in the event.”

The governor has every reason to look inward.Apart from the trio of Kenyans sweeping the top prizes in the male categories, it was an-all Ethiopian affair in the female category, as Herpha Guta and her fellow country women claimed the first, second and third positions, pocketing the $50,000, $40,000 and $30,000 prize money in the process.

But the governor was full of praises for organisers of the event: “It was gratifying that the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon had, within three years, earned a Bronze Label rating. The past two editions have put Lagos on the international map as the hub for sports development in Africa and efforts are in top gear to make every edition bigger and better.

“For Lagos, the marathon event is an exciting moment. We believe strongly that we are the capital of sports in Nigeria and we need to showcase all infrastructure and facilities that we have in Lagos, and that is why we have supported this marathon. It is getting bigger and we are happy to be the host. I believe strongly that with the support of all the sponsors, we will get to where we want to be.”

Speaking further, Ambode said that in the last two and half years, Lagos had actually progressed in terms of landscape: “We believe strongly that sports is part of that social facility that we can bring to bear to let people see what is going on in Lagos. I’ve always said that I was going to do sports, entertainment and hospitality to create excellence in Lagos and also allow the youths to be able to see that there is future for them. Through this marathon, we believe that we are achieving our vision to making sports that instrument for development in Nigeria and Nigerians have come to love what is happening in the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon.”

The governor stated that the 2018 Access Bank Lagos City Marathon was unique as it added the first 10km race that put Nigerian athletes on the forefront and afforded them the chance to showcase their talents.The newly introduced 10km race saw Sadjo Ishmael winning the GAC salon car and cash prize money attached after Adamu Shehu Muazu, who finished ahead of others, was disqualified. Akusho Rose won the female category.However, like in other long distance races around the world, the 2018 Access Bank Lagos City Marathon had its share of distractions.

At the end of the race on Saturday, one of the female participants, Mary Akor, forced her way to the podium when the first three Nigerian women to finish the race, Deborah Pam, Olude Fadekemi and Olamide Oluwaseun were called to receive their prizes.The organisers said that Akor dumped Nigeria for the United States of America at the peak of her career in 2004 and therefore was no longer eligible to participate in any championship as a Nigerian.

Akor was said to have competed in the marathon as an American athlete in the 2016 edition like other foreign athletes. She placed ninth overall in the women’s category and she was paid $4000, being the prize money for the ninth-placed runner.To prevent what could have been an embarrassment in front of international observers, the Chief Executive Officer of Nilayo Sports, Bukola Olapade, whose company is the Consulting firm to the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon, came to the rescue by advising the security men not to manhandle Akor.

The security men had carried Akor away from the podium, but when she insisted on causing commotion, Olopade asked that she be allowed to stand on the podium to collect her dummy cheque.“The Access Bank Lagos City Marathon is an IAAF label race. It is impossible to deny an athlete prize money that they won. If Akor has a genuine case, let her write to the IAAF or CAS, but she will never do that because she knows the rules. Assuming that we are not aware of the IAAF rules concerning change of allegiance and her current status, Akor will continue to propagate falsehood. We even told her to write to Nigeria of her willingness to represent the country, but she has refused to do so. She is free to compete as a foreign athlete,” he told The Guardian.

Olopade, a former commissioner for sports in Ogun State praised members of the organizing committee for their eagle eyes in preventing some Nigerians, who wanted to cheat at the event. “Our security personnel and members of the Local Organising Committee did excellent job. Nobody is perfect, but I must say this year’s edition of the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon was excellent,” Olopade stated.

Like Governor Ambode’s views on prospect of the marathon attaining the prestigious IAAF Gold label very soon, Olopade said that members of the LOC are doing everything possible to actualize the Gold Label dream.Meanwhile, the Kenyan trio of Kiprotich, Roony and Benjamin, are already looking forward to 2019 edition of the marathon to hit Lagos for another ‘operation sweep.’

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