Nigeria barely survived a global ban from the governing athletics body, the IAAF, in March this year after it was revealed that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria failed to account for $150,000 grant by the IAAF.
The IAAF had erroneously paid the AFN the said sum rather than the stipulated part payment of $15,000 annual training grants to member nations. However, all efforts to retrieve the difference proved abortive and this led to the world body withholding further payments to the AFN, while considering further options to ensure they retrieved the excess payment.
Despite the excess windfall received by the AFN, Nigeria like many other African countries struggled to make a meaningful impact at Athletics championships in 2018.
Team Nigeria yet again failed to win a medal at the 17th IAAF World Indoor Championships held in Birmingham, United Kingdom. The Athletes not only had to battle with the psychological stress of poor preparations, but were also left stranded to their fate as officials of the AFN where nowhere to be found when required to assist with documentation in Birmingham.
Nigeria fared slightly better at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, winning a gold medal in the 110m hurdles through Tobi Amusan’s effort in the women’s category, while the women’s 4 x 400m relay team and Chukwuebuka Enekwechi won silver medals, added to the women’s 4 x 100m relay teams bronze medal.
However, despite the challenges associated with funding of African athletes, with the elite stars not totally exempted from this disturbing feature, a few of them still had a memorable 2018, with or without the required support from their local associations.
Nigeria’s queen of the tracks, Blessing Okagbare broke a 22-year 200m African record, setting a new time of 22.04secs at the Wes Kittley Invitational at the Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, USA.
That feat together with her 4 x 100m relay gold medal at the 2018 African Senior Athletics Championship in Asaba, where the high points of a year which saw the top rated athlete reportedly have a massive fallout with the AFN on issues surrounding sponsorship, a situation which led to her opting out of the individual events in Asaba.
Other African stars to have enjoyed success in 2018 are South Africa’s Akani Simbine, who won the 100m gold medal at both the Commonwealth Games and African Senior Athletics Championship. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei came out tops in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games, while East Africa generally dominated the long distance events at the Games.
While football continues to remain the leading sports in Africa, athletics has the potential to win more medals for the continent at global championships with an array of categories in both the track and field events.
However, success can’t be achieved without the necessary financial support and training grants for the athletes.
World class potential abound in Africa, but if adequate preparation, motivation and more importantly funding are consistently neglected, then the continents top stars will continue their massive exodus to switch allegiance and compete for other nations, notably in Europe, North America and Asia.