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Naija's Flop

Chinedu Ezeike
Ever since it was announced that the World Track and Field Championships will be held in Edmonton, Canada

Tuesday August 14, 2001

Ever since it was announced that the World Track and Field Championships will be held in Edmonton, Canada I have been looking forward to the event since it was right at my own back yard.

Judging form our performance at the Sydney Olympics I expected our national sports contingent to raise the ante and prove that they are still a force to reckon with at the world stage.

The event has come and gone and I must say that this might be Nigeria's worst showing ever. What happened?

One would think that as a result of the status of the event, there would be much fanfare to mark the days leading up to the event and the meet itself. However, it seemed like nobody cared about our contingent, as the press (Nigerian) was almost silent about the Championships and our athletes. After reading reports and observing Nigeria's horrible showing at Edmonton, I was left with the feeling that the press actually knew what was going to happen and deliberately refused to bother themselves with the event.

Nigerian sports atmosphere has always been riddled with bad administration and disgruntled athletes do not hesitate to speak out against the powers that be. Often times we take their concerns and complaints for granted thinking that after all is said and done, they will go out there and run their butts off for the country.

Soon after the 2000 Sydney Olympic event, the complaints started. Nobody listened. Now we are paying the price for our nonchalance and lackadaisical attitude.

We have lost our top guns - Gloria Alozie and Francis Obikwelu. Two of our brightest track stars have defected to European countries. Alozie has rendered her services to Spain while Obikwelu found his way all the way to Portugal. The defection of these two promising athletes from the male and female arena has ultimately marked the death of Nigerian Track and Field as we know it (well at least for now).

These were our brightest stars at the Sydney Olympics and consistently put up good numbers in events leading up to Edmonton 2001. Now Europe has snatched them from our motherland - forever. Yeah, just like they stole our artifacts (I had to throw in a little conspiracy there).

The main reason these defections can be alluded to as the death of Track and Field in Nigeria is chiefly because of our inability to produce track stars. The fact that the legendary Ezinwa brothers were our fastest male track stars until they couldn't compete effectively at the world stage shows that we still have a long way to go. I happened to attend the same school with these track stars and they were legends at my school (the legendary Nsukka High School, Nsukka). By the time I started JS1 they already finished secondary school and were running for the country. This was donkey years ago.

After eons Francis Obikwelu emerges and is set to sit on the throne of fastest man in Nigerian and whole of Africa. But now they are telling me he is Portuguese. Tufiakwa!

The same goes for Gloria Alozie. Mary Onyali has dominated the female scene again for eons. After getting married and having kids, she was still powerful enough to qualify for Edmonton 2001 (yes she was there) as one of the fastest in Nigeria. Just like Obikwelu Gloria was set to be crowned the queen of Nigerian Track and Field especially after her historic silver medal performance at Sydney. But wait - she is now Spanish. Tufiakwa!

This week saw reports coming out that 16 boxers have defected to other countries. While few have turned professionals, others are planning or have already joined the national teams of other countries. Those said to have completed their papers which will enable them represent their country of choice from next year are, Kabiru Uzobo, Enahoro Albert (Canada) Ndubuisi Maribe, Roger Izonrintei (Australia) and Ochuko Ideh (England).

In addition to that another promising Nigerian athlete, Endurance Ojokolo has hinted she may change her nationality in order to enhance her chances at international championships. She further shed light on our bad showing at Edmonton by stressing that the Nigerian trials (Mobil/NNPC Track and Field) did not allow them much time to train for Edmonton 2001 as they went straight from Mobil/NNPC to World Athletics Championships without camping.

The truth is that was planning to offer our beloved 'rockers' exclusives on Nigeria's performance at Edmonton, Canada. But as these events started unfolding, we realized we had nothing, nothing but bad news. The Nigerian press obviously did not bother themselves with exclusively reporting the event too.

I actually do not blame these athletes for defecting because this is a result of a culmination of things. I was a sportsman myself in Nigeria and in all the competitions I attended, we were treated like cow dung. However, I am not saying that defection is the answer. But I doubt if these sportsmen and women will be waiting for Nigeria sports administrators to show them the respect they deserve. They realize that they make money with their bodies and once one is in their early thirties, things are not looking so good. Panic and impatience sets in and they are off, scoping the planet for a more conducive environment

I guess at this point we can only fold our arms and await the coming of another Nigerian track star. If na man or woman we jus somebody. Judging by how long we had to wait for the Spanish and the Portuguese, I might be married with children by the time someone comes along. Now that's scary...


Some materials from the Vanguard were used for this piece.


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