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Lesson from hosting the African Athletics Championships

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By Yemi Olus

If there is one lesson Nigerians can take away from the hosting of the 21st African Senior Athletics Championships, which took place in Asaba, Delta State, it is the fact that we will not always get away with our default modus  operandi of cutting corners, or adopting the fire brigade approach in our dealings as a nation.

Trying Times… Nigerian athletes (from left) Divine Oduduru, Tega Odele, Obinna Metu and Ogho-Oghene Egwero asking questions about the future of athletics in Nigeria.

In as much as the processes involved in the organization and hosting of a tournament are never hitch-free, seeing countries pull off such huge projects successfully, gives an indication of the months and years of painstaking planning and deliberations that must have been invested into the execution of such a championship.

Weeks ago in my piece titled ‘Examining the fire-brigade approach in Nigerian Track and Field’, I had pointed out the need for us to stop waiting until the last minute to get things done. I know I am no prophetess, but I could already foresee that a lot would go wrong, knowing that in Nigeria, things never change.

I had ended the piece with this statement: “This is one moment Nigeria ought to have taken advantage of, and demonstrated to the rest of the continent and the world, that we mean serious business. What sort of legacy are we leaving for the coming generation of athletes? We need to as a matter of urgency, nip this syndrome in the bud, or else we will continue to be the butt of the jokes of our rivals. This is hoping that all goes well at the Asaba Championships”.

It’s sad to admit that we indeed became the butt of jokes to a large extent. A lot has been said about Asaba stepping in to host the championships and only receiving a go-ahead from the Confederation of Africa Athletics (CAA) in November 2017, after initial hosts Lagos, pulled out of hosting the championships.

While they must be commended for trying to bridge that gap, there were just too many lapses that occurred, which had less to do with the short notice the organisers had to execute the championships, and more to do with our lack of foresight, lack of adequate planning, and our fire brigade approach as a people.

For instance for the first time in my years of covering an African Championships (Asaba 2018 is my fourth), I actually covered a championship without any media accreditation, despite having filled an online accreditation form weeks before the championship commenced. It was expected that the accreditation tags would be waiting for us in Asaba, but the reverse was the case. The first set of journalists who got their accreditation tags only did so at the end of Day 1 of the championship, yet people like myself still couldn’t find their tags.

I do not want to dwell too much on the lack of organization at the mixed zone, which became more like a war zone since there were no officials to maintain order for journalists to get their interviews done. It became a survival of the fittest in terms of trying to get interviews from the athletes, many of whom opted out of the interviews due to the chaos and disorganization in the mixed zone.

Most of the time results weren’t readily available and then there were several embarrassing errors as well. Some athletes weren’t listed in the results of events they competed in, while others were given a wrong status. For instance Kenya’s Fancy Cherono who won Bronze in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase, was listed as a Did Not Finish (DNF) in the initial results. What about athletes who had 2018 listed as their year of birth, or the fact that Team Nigeria’s kit only arrived three days into championship, or how there was no flag at hand for Nigerian athletes to do the victory lap? Was it that we didn’t expect Nigerian athletes to win any event? And although the organisers and officials of Asaba 2018 have apologized for the lapses that occurred, it must be said that prevention is always better than cure.

Asaba was brimming with World, Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions and medallists, as well as world leaders in their respective events. These athletes had conquered the world, yet it was important for them to compete in their continental championships, and rightly so. In terms of the turnout of Africa’s high profile athletes, Asaba 2018 was it. I remember that most of the continent’s star athletes had boycotted Durban 2016, and CAA President Kalkaba Malboum had talked about sanctioning such athletes in future. However, they turned up in Nigeria en mass, and shouldn’t be made to regret that decision.

I believe that a lot of these things happen because the athletes aren’t considered a priority when most of these decisions are being made. We must always remember that there would be no sports for us to watch and enjoy if there are no athletes to compete. For many of these athletes, the African Championships was one of their major targets for the year, especially because it served as the qualifiers of the IAAF Continental Cup. These athletes give their all just to compete and make a name for themselves and their nations. We must always ensure that we make it worth their while and not allow their efforts be in vain.

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