Nigeria’s failure to win a medal at the London 2017 IAAF World Championships makes it the third consecutive year without a medal at a World Championship; and there have been several reactions to this from different angles. However, the current Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) board have put the blame at the doorstep of the previous board for Nigeria’s failure at the London Championships. Aclsports.com’s SOLA OYENIYI went to Abeokuta to see Falilat Ogunkoya – a member of the previous AFN board and an ex-Nigerian athlete.
Falilat Ogunkoya was not only surprised by the allegation, she also made some revelations to counter the accusations of the present board. “If they say they want to blame the former board, some of the athletes on the London 2017 team were junior athletes we discovered and took to the 2015 Ethiopia African Junior Championships. Yinka Ajayi won gold in 4X400m, Ese Brume won three gold medals, Nathaniel Glory won one bronze, Samson Nathaniel and Amusan Tobi won one gold,” she said.
She also mentioned the part she played as a board member in camping the 2015 Ethiopia African Junior Championship athletes who made it to London. “As a board member in 2015, I camped them and their other team mates who attended the Championship, in Sagamu for almost 6 weeks training for the African Junior Championship. Two years later, five of them were in the team for the IAAF Championship in London. This was the work we were doing, grooming the athletes from youth to junior and then to the senior level,” Ogunloya said.
“You don’t have to be the president to help the athletes. Every board member can contribute their quota in whichever way to help the athletes,” she added.
There were also allegations that the previous AFN board didn’t organise meets for athletes to emerge for the London 2017 IAAF Championships. On hearing this, Falilat Ogunkoya leapt in defence of the board which she served on, saying “there were five golden meets last year. There was one in Sagamu, Warri, Lagos, Abuja and Ondo last year. Amusan Tobi, Divine Oduduru who won two gold medals in Ethiopia and Ese Brume were at the 2016 Olympics. The likes of Praise Idamadudu who also won two gold medals started from my 400m meet. Some of them were from my foundation and others from other grassroots events.”
Ogunkoya continues “but this year, because of elections the board was dissolved in May and the ministry said nobody should do or say anything that we should leave everything to the secretary of the federation. They left the athletes worrying about elections and when the elections were done, it was time for London. They forgot the athletes and now they are trying to pass the buck.”
Ogunkoya was however not insinuating that she served in a perfect board as she did agree that there were financial challenges. “When government promises you funds, you won’t get it the same day and the funds might not even be enough because athletics isn’t the only sport they have to fund. And to be fair, Solomon Ogba (the immediate past President of the AFN) did what he could to source for funds and we tried regarding participation in competitions.”
Moving forward, she said “we need to be truthful to ourselves. This sport is something we all love. For example, I was groomed from youth to junior and then to senior level. Everybody is talking about grassroots. I was in 1988 team for World Cup of Athletics and I came back 10 years later to win gold. When secondary school and age grade competitions are organised, they need to put someone that is passionate about the sport in charge of the athletes to monitor them because they are still at the junior level and need to go to school.”
Finally, she called the attention of the federation to what needs to be done to get the best out of our athletes. “We need to monitor the young athletes we discover and groom them. Even some of the athletes you see in competitions are being housed by their coaches who sacrifice a lot just to get them to attend competitions. If we don’t want to lose them to other countries, we need to appreciate and take care of our athletes. We need to prepare them through training for Commonwealth games, World Championships and then the Olympics. It is important to attend the first two to compete and gauge the level of training to prepare better for the Olympics but Nigeria concentrates only on Olympics.”