Okagbare, a victim of Russian politics – Ogba

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President of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria, Solomon Ogba, reveals to KAZEEM BUSARI Nigeria’s plans to be among the best in the sport

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Blessing Okagbare
Will there be any official reception for Blessing Okagbare after her feat at the IAAF World Championships?

I’m not sure if the Ministry of Sport has any plan to honour Okagbare. I don’t know if there’s any plan for a reception. It could be that the ministry wants to wait for her to finish with the IAAF Diamond League in Zurich and in Brussels next week. She’s competing in two finals, that is, the long jump and the 100m; she has technically pulled out of the 200m contest. I know the Delta State Government is planning an official reception for Okagbare and Regina George and a few of them. But Delta will not do anything until the Federal Government has officially received the athletes.

It appears there’s a special concentration of funds on Okagbare

It’s not true that there is more concentration on Okagbare than the other athletes. We only gave her a training grant for being in the world’s top ten, and at that time, we gave grants to three other athletes. But she gets a lot of support from the Delta State government.

Can’t there be up to four athletes like her?

We cannot have four Okagbares at a time, athletes like that come once in an era. I don’t think it’s fair when people compare her with the likes of Mary Onyali and Gloria Alozie. In two years, Okagbare has run under 11 seconds about nine times. All other athletes she has been compared with were never this consistent. Onyali ran under 11 seconds once and Alozie ran under 11 seconds once in her entire career. No other person has run under 11 seconds since then. If we have four athletes running 10 seconds at a time, we’ll compete well with the USA team. But we’re doing things to have athletes who can support her by running 10 seconds and complement her.

What went wrong for Nigeria at the World Championships in Moscow?

The IAAF technical team tipped Okagbare for three medals – in the 100m, 200m and the long jump – but the politics of the game robbed her of the medal in the 100m.

The ideal schedule at competitions is to have the 100m and 200m in the first three days of the world championships, and then the long jump events hold about three days to the end of the competition. But the Russians wanted to win the long jump hence they played the politics and brought long jump in between the 100m timetable. Eventually, the Russian lady, who had been jumping seven metres this year, did not win the event. If the politics had affected an American athlete, they wouldn’t have allowed the Russians to have their way. But we don’t have anybody in the IAAF council to fight for us so we take whatever is dished out to us.

Our men were nowhere near finishing strong?

We’re trying to boost the athletics squad, especially in the men’s category. We’ve been having problems with the men. Since the exit of Olusoji Fasuba, who was the only star in his time, we’ve not had anyone to fill his shoes. We’ve been struggling since then. One of the things we’re doing to solve this problem is to have truly young athletes compete in the junior competitions. In the junior team that is currently in Mauritius for the African Junior Championships, we reduced the athletes from 35 to 26 because of age cheat problems.

We discovered that some of them had falsified their ages. Some athletes could be 34 years old but were claiming to be 20. In athletics, there are some training regimes meant specifically for youths, so if a full grown man undergoes such training, it would be counterproductive. Some athletes discovered during the National Sports Festival in 2004 are still claiming to be juniors. We removed these athletes from the team because we’re not desperate to win at the championships. I believe it is better not to win at the junior level than nurture a team that will not yield anything in the future. I’d rather have a junior run 11.70 now and lose and hope to have him run 11.10 in the next two years.

It is possible to have some of the age cheats winning at the junior level, but that will give us false hope that we’re improving. In two years, we’ll get the result of the decisions we’re taking now. Also, the high-performance centre being set up in Abuja and the IAAF programme in Port Harcourt will definitely yield results in the next two years.

Any plan to have Nigerian-born athletes abroad in the team?

We’re into an aggressive recruitment of Nigerian athletes anywhere in the world. I’m not bothered by people in the United Kingdom, if they come fine. I’m focussing on athletes in America. Some of them have been contacting me and showing interest in competing for Nigeria. There’s a 19-year old running 11.40, which I think is a good time. If I have three athletes running 11.10 complementing Okagbare, we’ll win medals any day, whether America or Jamaica are in that relay.

The world junior champion is Nigerian-born Jennifer Madu, just as the current USA junior 100m champion, Morolake Akinosun. There’s also Ahmed Sulaiman who jumped 7.91 in the long jump this year in his college. He also jumped 16.27 in the triple jump. He is likely going to jump eight metres in the long jump and 17 in the triple jump. There are so many of them we’re trying to get back. I believe America is still the best in track and field hence the reason I’m focussing on the Nigerian-born athletes there. The Jamaicans are up there, but they can’t compare with the number of American athletes in the world’s top 200.

I think Okagbare’s feat on the world stage has spurred many Nigerian-born athletes in the Diaspora to reconsider competing for Nigeria. They now know that we’re can be up there with a little push.

America and Britain can recruit any athlete from anywhere in the world to run for them. We can also recruit athletes. Samuel Samson, running for Qatar, was recruited right from under our noses in Nigeria.

The Nigerian constitutions says if any of your parents, grandparents or great grandparents was born on or before 1960, then you’re a Nigerian. America has a lot of them running 10 seconds and we’re working on having them run for Nigeria.

Any training grants for athletes?

There’s money in athletics but our athletes must show they deserve to get it. They don’t need to wait for grants from the government before they train. You first invest in yourself before others will bring their money to help you. Any athlete who blames Nigeria for his woes is a lazy one. Nigeria cannot make you what you want to be; you have to desire to be a professional athlete and work towards it.

What’s the plan for the grassroots?

We’ve succeeded in organising the under-18 athletics championships, now we’re planning for the under-15. If the school sports are running the way we expect, we can reintroduce the under-13 and hope to get talent from the secondary schools.

For the Commonwealth Games

We’re making arrangements to have only athletes that meet the standard to compete for Nigeria. If we have impressive results at the national trials, these further challenge the foreign-based athletes to do more in order not to be beaten by their counterparts at home.

If what we’re trying to do work out, I think we can win seven gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. We’re trying to get the private sector to support our programmes geared towards athletes’ improvement before the Games.

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