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Rio Olympics’ hope dims for Nigerian male lifters


Rio-2016-Olympics• Federation to investigate frequent changes of coaches
• Taekwondo worried by Dalung’s plans for games’ qualifiers

The hope of Nigerian male weightlifters taking part in the Rio Olympic Games may have been finally dashed by the team’s inability to secure funds for the qualifiers in Cameroun.

Since Nigeria returned from the last African Games in Congo Brazzaville, where the lifters contributed just eight gold medals to Team Nigeria, as against the 17 gold the country won at Algiers 2007, there has been in-house fighting within the weightlifting family.

Things got worse in November last year, when two Nigerian lifters, Miriam Usman, a +75 kg and Victoria Adesanmi, 63kg, failed to book their Olympics ticket during the qualifiers in Houston, Texas. Recently, there were misleading stories from a top official of the weightlifting federation that the two lifters had already qualified for the Rio Olympic.

With the first chance already bungled in Texas late last year, Nigeria’s chances of featuring weightlifters in the Rio Olympics now rest on the African Championship slated for Yaoundé, Cameroun, in May.

But the country’s male lifters may have been technically knocked out of the race even before the qualifiers in Cameroun.

The Guardian learnt that all the male lifters invited to camp last week ahead of the qualifiers were sent home just two days after their arrival in Abuja because the Nigeria Weightlifting Federation could not get the required funds from the Sports Ministry to take them to Yaoundé.

The first vice president of the weightlifting federation, Mohammed Yahaya, told The Guardian yesterday that the male lifters were asked to go home following a directive from the Sports Ministry that there was no enough fund to cater for the 15 lifters invited to camp.

“We invited 15 weightlifters, eight male and seven female, for the qualifiers in Cameroun. But we were told shortly after the athletes arrived in camp that government only approved money for 10 lifters for the trip and that only N7 million was approved. We had to decamp the boys immediately. So we are going to Cameroun with the female weightlifters,” he explained.

One major issue, which seems to be tearing the weightlifting family apart, is frequent change of coaches.

In preparation for Congo 2015 African Games, some stakeholders in Nigerian weightlifting raised the alarm over what they termed ‘unhealthy’ situation, particularly the selection of coaches.

Accusing fingers were pointed at a particular board member (name withheld), who was said to have used his position to ‘edge out’ some of those he perceived as ‘his enemies.’

Coach Emmanuel Oshoma was the assistant to former Technical Director, Cosmos Samson to the Algiers 2007 Games, where weightlifting recorded the highest number of gold medals (17) for Team Nigeria.

Many were looking up to see Oshoma to lead the team in Congo Brazzaville, since Cosmos Samson had retired. But he was edged out by the ‘power that be’ in weightlifting and in his absence, the Federation settled for Andrew Ekanem as head coach for the lifters to Congo.

The poor result recorded by weightlifting in Congo Brazzaville has forced the federation to make another change for the Olympics qualifiers in Cameroun. But tongues are wagging, following the decision to bring back two ‘old timers’, Cosmos Samson and Patrick Bassey to coach the weightlifters.

While Cosmos Samson led Nigerian lifters to Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where they failed to win a medal of any colour, Patrick Bassey was in-charge of the lifters to the last Olympics in London 2012, which turned out to be another exercise in futility.

However, the federation fist vice president, Yahaya, promised yesterday he would look into the recent appointment of coaches for the team saying: “We have to get things right this time.”

The weightlifting federation’s financial predicament mirrors the experience of other bodies, some of which have already been forcefully made to miss the Olympics even when they held high hopes of excelling in Rio.

First to miss the Rio 2016 train was taekwondo, who failed to attend the qualifiers in Cairo, Egypt because the Sports Ministry said there was no money for the trip.

Taekwondo, which gave Nigeria a bronze medal through Chika Chukwumerije at the Beijing 2008 Games, was seen as one of the events where the current crop of young athletes could win medals for the country. But the team was forced to withdraw from the race by the sports ministry.

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