The 6th edition of the Commonwealth Youth Games came to a climax in the Bahamas on Sunday, July 23rd, but just as it happened with the African U20 Athletics Championships in Algeria, and the IAAF World U18 Championships held in Kenya, Team Nigeria was largely absent at the biennial tournament.
The 2017 season is one Nigerian athletes would definitely want to forget in a hurry, as it was a year of dashed hopes for so many. Asides the fact that the National Sports Federations Elections destabilized the activities of several federations, it was a season of missed championships, and by extension, missed opportunities for the country’s budding athletes.
Nigeria was to be represented by 26 athletes at the ongoing Commonwealth Youth Games which commenced on July 18th. They were to compete in seven sports namely: Swimming, Athletics, Beach Volleyball, Cycling, Boxing, Tennis and Judo.
Athletes had been camped for almost two months at the Package B Hostel of National Stadium in Abuja. Officials of the Ministry of Youths and Sports and the Nigeria Olympics Committee (NOC) were in Nassau in the Bahamas in April to inspect facilities for Team Nigeria at the Games.
But all of these was for naught as the team didn’t set foot in the Bahamas, and was denied the opportunity of competing against their counterparts from over 50 nations.
In a chat with Making of Champions, the Special Assistant on Media to the Minister of Youth and Sports, Nneka Anibeze disclosed that Team Nigeria missed the competition because they were denied visas by the British and American Embassies.
She said: “The team was to get Entry visas at the Bahamas but first needed transit visas. Only two airlines go to the Bahamas from Nigeria and they are British Airways and Delta Airlines. Our officials first decided to go with British Airways and spent almost a month trying to get the visas for the team but were turned down after so much money was collected from them.
“They then decided to use Delta Airlines and needed transit visas and went to the American Embassy but the very same thing happened. They were all rejected, perhaps because they all had virgin passports. We tried to do all we could to see if even Athletics would make it since their event was on the last day, all to no avail.
“We protested to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they tried to intervene, even the NOC as well, but nothing happened. So the athletes were paid their allowances and had to go back home.”
Only two foreign-based athletes who weren’t limited by visa issues, flew the country’s flag in the Bahamas. Sherifat Adetunji competed in the women’s Singles event in Tennis and got to the quarterfinals, while Jacinta Okorie placed 12th in the Girls’ Road Race Cycling event.
But this is a far cry from what the world’s most populous black nation is capable of. Two years ago at the last edition of the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa, Nigeria won a total of 11 medals despite sending a lean squad to the competition.
It is unfortunate that Nigerian sports men and women always have to be at the receiving end of lack of adequate planning by officials. Two years ago, the Nigerian contingent to the 2015 IAAF U18 World Championships in Cali failed to make the tournament because they were denied visas. Why should such scenarios become the norm, rather than the exception in our sport?
At least 13 athletes have qualified for the IAAF World Championships holding in London from August 4th to 13th. The National Trials ended last weekend but the list of Nigeria’s contingent to London is yet to be released. Perhaps the whole process will be fast-tracked now that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) board has been inaugurated.
Hope Nigerian sports officials will not sing the same tune when Athletics’ biggest showpiece in 2017 takes off in a fortnight.