‘AFN Should Be Celebrated’
A year ago, Nigerian athletes made the podium at the maiden IAAF World Relays in the Caribbean Island country, Bahamas, a bronze in the women’s 4x400m by the quartet of Folashade Abugan, Regina George, Omolara Omotosho and Patience Okon.
But the colour of the medal changed to gold last weekend, thanks to the effort of reigning African queen of the track, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, who propelled the country’s 4x200m relay team, including Regina George, Dominique Duncan and Christy Udoh, at the same stadium.
It could have been silver, but Nigeria gained from a poor baton exchange, which stopped Team USA from winning the race. Nigeria’s 4x100m women team also picked a ticket to Rio 2016 Olympics Games despite finishing seventh in the final.
Rather than return home in celebration mood, the AFN family was plunged into crisis, with Okagbare pulling the trigger against the leadership of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN).
She accused the Solomon Ogba-led AFN of killing Nigerian athletics with their recruitment of athletes from other countries, instead of building the great talents at home.
“Honestly, I have been so calm about these people killing our grassroots section/home based athletes with their recruiting of athletes from other countries instead of building the great talents that we have.
“They sit down, criticize the athletes back home that they are not improving or doing enough to be at the top. Yet, they don’t do anything to support them. They rate their recruits above the great talent that Nigeria has, paying money and rent to athletes who did not even shown up at our trials in Nigeria, just to look good. Enough is enough with the shortcuts to success because our nation and athletes can do better than this,” Okagbare said.
Okagbare’s outburst took the leadership of AFN by surprise, considering the fact that she is the Federation’s most coddled athlete. It got all top guns in the AFN talking.
Technical Director of AFN, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama, fired back saying: “I am most disappointed by Blessings’ comments and it shows lack of respect for order, structure and authority. It must be placed on record that no athlete is bigger than the Federation and the Federation would deal with the issue appropriately.”
To Nesiama, the timing of Okagbare’s bombardment was not proper. “I feel embarrassed for her making such comments at this time that AFN is supposed to be celebrated for her sacrificial efforts at ensuring that Nigeria and indeed her athletes are able to feature at the IAAF World Relay to prepare them for the World Championships and the Olympics.
“The AFN board will accept constructive criticisms from stakeholders and indeed athletes, it shall not condone indiscipline and baseless comments while playing to the gallery,” Nesiama said. “We have given Blessing the due regard she deserves as an elite athlete, but we will not because we need her services, fail to do the needful to checkmate acts of insubordination from her. Enough is enough.
“I think it would be apt for Blessing to be asked to specify the athletes that have been recruited and taken to the Bahamas and paid money by the Federation, when it is an open secret that the body has funding issues.”
According to him, the AFN leadership has made so much selfless sacrifices this year, and deserves kudos, rather than baseless attack.
“We in the Board have made a lot of sacrifices to achieve the modest results we have so far recorded, which is there for all to see. I have said on several occasions that medals are not picked on the streets. There is a lot that goes into winning beyond the athletes’ effort.
“I can authoritatively say that since last year, we have had a couple of requests, but have not given consideration to any, let alone approve. Further to this was the reeling out of the World Championships selection guideline published since February.
“With these, it would be clearly seen that we apply lessons learnt from past errors to ensure that we improve in future engagements. These are the things paying off now and we are determined to build on it. As such, one would consider Blessing’s comment as undue distraction at this stage,” he said.
The AFN Technical Director stated that it is the Federation’s policy to encourage all Nigerian athletes whether at home and abroad to compete for the country, if they are considered capable of flying the Nigeria’s colours.
“We have encouraged, prepared and even entered our home-based athletes in every of the world class competitions we are involved in. Examples are the junior athletes that we exposed to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the African Championships in Morocco. The recently concluded World Relays in the Bahamas also had a bulk of the team members composed of home-based athletes.
“It was only visa and health issues that prevented some of them from attending. In the same vein, we monitor the foreign-based ones to determine the ones to invite based on current performances. If Blessing says we do not care for the home-based ones, how would people like Ese Brume and Divine Oduduru have been prepared and entered into the Commonwealth Games and African Senior Championships?
“We have consistently encouraged the home-based athletes by ensuring they are well prepared to the best of our ability for competitions in spite of the daunting challenges we face. This information is necessary to be presented for the records. It is also very shameful for Blessing to state that they (girls) selected the team for the 4x200m relay in Bahamas. One may ask how did they do that? It has been our policy to discuss the relays strategy and thereafter brief the athletes to see how they feel about it.