Team Nigeria’s U.S. trip under threat due to lack of fund
• Gusau pleads with Ministry, AFN not to dump Puma kits
Unless a miracle happens, Team Nigeria’s trip to the United States of America for Tokyo 2020 Olympics Relays qualifying events may not happen today due to lack of fund.
After missing the World Athletics Relays qualifiers in Poland last weekend due to visa issues, about 24 athletes and unspecified number of officials are expected to jet out to the U.S. today ahead of the Relays scheduled for May 9.
The Guardian learnt that top officials of the sports ministry were still sourcing for fund to purchase flight tickets for the athletes and officials as at yesterday afternoon.
A source close to the ministry hinted that the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, wants to use the opportunity of the Relays in the U.S. to meet with some top athletes, including Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oduduru, who are considered ‘key’ to Nigeria’s relay team’s success at the Olympics.
“The minister is planning to go with the team to U.S. so that he can use the opportunity to meet with the likes of Okagbare and Oduduru and assure them of Federal Government’s support for them. Somebody needs to speak with the athletes because they are performing very well at the moment, and they have very important roles to play in our relay team at the Olympics. But they are still looking for fund to buy tickets for the athletes and officials. I don’t know if the Ministry of Finance will bail them out,” the source said.
Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, is doing everything possible to end Nigeria’s 13-year wait for a track and field medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Nigeria last won a track and field medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when Blessing Okagbare, in the women’s long jump, and the quartet of Gloria Kemasuode, Halimat Ismaila, Franca Idoko and Damola Osayomi in the women’s 4x100m event, won medals.
Okagbare has the second-best time in the world this year after she won the women’s 100 meters at the Oregon Relays in 10.97 seconds, beating Allyson Felix, a six-time Olympic champion and 13-time world champion, in the process.
In February this year, Okagbare obliterated the field in the final with a new lifetime best of 7.10s to clinch top spot at the third leg of the American Track League event in Fayetteville, Arkansas, ahead of Jamaica’s Christiana Williams (7.14s) and Teahna Daniels of the United States (7.17s).
Okagbare carried her fine form to the 200m event at Fayetteville, blazing to another lifetime best of 23.01s.
On the other hand, Divine Oduduru emerged as the third fastest runner this year with a time of 9.86 seconds at a 100 meters race, and 19.7 seconds in the 200 meters. This double victory gave him worldwide acclaim.
Meanwhile, embattled AFN President, Ibrahim Shehu Gusau has appealed to the sports ministry and his fellow board members to reconsider their stance on the Puma kits.
“It will be sad for Team Nigeria to abandon the Puma kits as our athletes prepare for the Tokyo Olympics Games. Even if we offend God, we beg for forgiveness. We are humans. Let us put behind what happened in the past and work towards the progress of our great country. Puma gave Nigeria kits worth over $2.5 million for four years and we should make use of them, especially now that there is no money in the country. I have instructed the Technical Director to release the Puma kits for our athletes so that they will appear in uniform at the U.S. Relays and at the Tokyo Olympics. I am ready to work with them,” Gusau told The Guardian yesterday.
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