Nigeria’s hope of salvaging a poor outing at the Tokyo Olympic Games through athletics may have diminished considerably following the recent disqualification of 10 Team Nigeria’s athletes for anti-doping negligence.
The affected athletes include Knowledge Omovoh, Ruth Usoro, Favor Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma, Glory Patrick, Yinka Ajayi, Tima Godbless, Chidi Okezie, Chioma Onyekwere and Annette Echikunwoke.
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They have been disqualified from representing Nigeria at Tokyo Olympics for failing to meet the minimum testing requirements under Rule 15 of the Anti-doping Rules.
Bahrain is the only nation among the seven Category A (‘High risk’) countries that did not have at least one athlete disqualified. Belarus had three; Ethiopia, one; Kenya two; Morocco one, and Ukraine three disqualified athletes. Nigeria is, therefore, the most affected with 10 disqualified athletes.
It is now an open secret that this unfortunate situation that has upset most Nigerian sports stakeholders was triggered by the endless altercation between the Sports Ministry and the faction of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) led by Hon. Ibrahim Shehu-Gusau.
Indeed, the first casualty of the lingering crisis was the women’s 4x400m team whose qualification for Tokyo Olympics was renounced by the World Athletics (WA) over technical errors by the organizers.
The team, which consists of Nse Imaobong, Favour Ofili, Knowledge Omovoh, and Patience Okon-George had ran a season’s best 3:26.83 at the Lagos Open Athletics Championships on June 24 to book a berth at the games.
But the WA cited technical errors in the race and consequently announced that the result of the event organized by the Sport Ministry backed AFN won’t count.
Sadly, the technical error that led to the rejection of the result was the absence of any form of demarcations between the track and the field while the race was ongoing.
Against the backdrop of the latest decision by the Integrity unit of World Athletics which has effectively sealed the fate of the budding athletes as far as the Tokyo Olympics is concerned, so many questions bothering on why such humiliation was allowed to befall Nigeria are being asked left, right and centre.
Consequently, the parties involved in the saga are doing everything to shift the blame. In what many may consider as medicine after death, the Tonobok Okowa led Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) has announced the appointment of Professor Ken Anugweje as the federation’s head of Medical and Anti- Doping Commission.
Apart from stating reasons for the appointment of Prof. Anugweje, he also explained why the 10 athletes failed to comply with the anti-doping regulations.
“The federation has taken this proactive step to avoid future occurrences by appointing Professor Ken Anugweje as the head of the Medical and Anti- Doping Commission of the Federation.
“A few athletes in the American collegiate system were tested, but those tests were deemed not to have complied with WADA sample collection and analysis standards. It must be noted that no Nigerian athlete tested positive to prohibited substances.’’
And in an attempt to pacify angry Nigerians, Okowa added assured that the 12 athletes cleared are in high spirit and will strive to rewrite the unwanted records at the last two Olympics when the team failed to win any medal.
Meanwhile, when Trust Sports contacted the factional vice-president of the AFN, Sunday Adeleye, he laid the blame squarely at the doorstep of the Sports Ministry.
He accused the ministry of hijacking the process while failing to ensure the mandatory tests were conducted.
Adeleye also exonerated the athletes as he said it was not their responsibility to ensure that they were tested.
He lamented that despite repeated reminders, the Ministry of Sports refused to wake up to the responsibility it had arrogated to itself.
“It is painful that the players one has discovered are being disqualified. The ministry hijacked the AFN, Nigerian Olympics Committee (NOC) and National Anti-Doping Organization (NADO) which are supposed to be independent.
“The leadership of the NOC has sold the rights of the federations to the ministry. We told them a year ago about the tests but we were accused of seeking relevance. We asked them stop what they were doing for the sake of the athletes but our pleas fell on deaf ears.
“The athletes can’t do anything other than wait for next Olympics. Look at Annette, she is a gold medal prospect and is attending the Olympics for the first time. It is not the responsibility of the athletes but the federation,” he said.
In the same vein, a two-term member of the House of Representatives and former chairman, House OF Reps Committee on sport, Hon. Godfrey Ali Gaiya in a chat with Trust Sports blamed the ministry, the NOC and medical department for the ordeal of the athletes.
“It is very unfortunate and we are used to taking things lightly and carelessly. Unfortunately, we are in a country that is trivial in whatever they do. We were non-challant not to have conducted the necessary tests as required. I think the ministry of sports and NOC as well as department of sports medicine must be held responsible.
“When preparing for major competitions, you are not talking about the level of performance but fitness and health situations before and after to ensure the athletes have not taken any banned substance,” he said.
Speaking further, Gaiya blamed the sad development on the friction between the Sports Ministry and the AFN led by Gusau.
“There is no harmony between the ministry and federations and we can even see factional leadership in the federation where one is holding onto athletes and the other holding on to kits,” he concluded.
In her reaction, Nigeria’s queen of the tracks, Blessing Okagbare on her Facebook page criticized the administrators for fighting over power and kits instead of taking care of the athletes.
“I have said it before and I will say it again. If you do not know the sport, not passionate about it/Us (the athletes), then you have no business there as an administrator. The sport system in Nigeria is so flaw and we athletes, are always at the receiving end of the damages.
“They were busy fighting over power, exercising their pride over puma contract/ kits forgetting their major responsibility “THE ATHLETES”. It’s sad that this cycle keeps repeating its self and some people will come out to say I am arrogant for speaking my truth. It is my CAREER,” she wrote.
Similarly, one of the affected athletes, Chidi Okezie wrote on his Instagram page saying his colleagues in Tokyo are suffering in silence while sharing the message he sent to a WhatsApp group created for the athletes in Tokyo.
“The country of Nigeria is crying out for help. The athletes are suffering in silences. If we never had a shot, how we gonna take it.
“We just want to know what is going on. We are in this hotel stressing out. My mental health is in danger. Please do not think this is a joke. I am close to a breakdown because they told me that I will not be able to compete,” he wrote.
As at the time of press, Nigeria was not close to winning a medal as Team Nigeria athletes in badminton, table tennis, gymnastics, taekwondo, swimming and rowing had fallen by the way side.
However, with the start of athletics, Nigerians are waiting with bated breath to see how the likes of Blessing Okagbare, Grace Nwokocha, Ese Brume, Tobi Amusan, Ese Brume, Divine Oduduru, Enoch Adegoke and others will salvage the bad situation.