Athletics at the World University Games in Naples, Italy started today! Look who arrived in Italy yesterday…two of Nigeria’s top University Athletes, Jeremiah Jakpa, Nigeria’s 2nd fastest man in the world in the 200m this year, and Joy Udo Gabriel, Nigeria’s 2nd fastest female student-athlete in the world in the 100m this year, both ready to compete in Europe for the very first time ever!
Incredibly, their arrival in Italy on Sunday actually has absolutely nothing to do with the ongoing World University Games, since Nigeria will NOT be represented at the biennial ‘Summer Universiade’ in any sport – as at the start of the Games on Wednesday 3rd of July, the Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA), was still attempting to make late visa applications for the Nigerian Athletes and Officials to enter Italy.
Rather, the arrival of Jakpa and Udo-Gabriel in Italy is the culmination of a near 1-year process of planning and preparation by themselves and by Making of Champions (MoC) Track Club, of hitting the required standards, finding a good manager in Europe, applying for visas at the right time, requesting the necessary exeats from the University of Lagos where they are Students, paying for flights, travel expenses, feeding and the list goes on.
Suffice it to say, NUGA’s late visa applications to Italy were not granted, and sadly Nigeria’s Athletes weren’t even entered into the competition before the entry deadline, usually well over a month before the event. This means that even though Jakpa and Udo-Gabriel have independently secured their visas and travel to Italy, there is no way they can actually go to Naples and compete for Nigeria in the Athletics events, which started today, at the world’s biggest competition for University Students.
Shame because, Jakpa’s 200m Personal Best (PB) of 20.59s from last week in Abuja would have won the GOLD medal at the last edition of the Games in Taipei in 2017, and Udo-Gabriel’s 100m PB of 11.42s would have bagged Silver in the previous edition in Gwanju in 2015. In both Taipei and Gwanju, Team Nigeria embarrassingly arrived late at the World University Games, with some of our Athletes arriving after their events had already taken place, and now as a nation we have reached a new low, of not even being able to secure visas to Italy, nor even registering Athletes who are in Italy after securing their own visas!
The consolation for Jakpa and Udo-Gabriel, though they will not be able to contest for the titles of the Fastest University Students in the world, is that they are actually in Europe, and will have some other competitions there ahead of the African Games in August. Though I use their story as a point of contact, since they are physically in Italy right now but can’t compete in the World Uni Athletics starting tomorrow, this story is not really about them. This is a story of how Nigeria as a nation is wasting away our most talented generation of Athletes.
Indeed, the fastest University Student in the world right now is Divine Oduduru – he is the joint 2nd fastest man in the world this year in the 100m, and 3rd fastest man in the 200m, and could have become only the 2nd men’s double sprint Champion at the Games in 40 years, after South Africa’s Anaso Jobodwana in 2013. Nigeria’s current roster of Student-Athletes also includes the likes of Raymond Ekevwo and Enoch Adegoke, who have run 100m PBs of 10.02 and 10.12s respectively this year – surely they would have contested for medals in the 100m, and also combined with Oduduru and Jakpa to make a world class 4x100m Relay Team!
On the women’s side, Aniekeme Alphonsus, who has run a 100m PB of 11.30s this year, would surely have been a Gold Medal contender, and could have combined with the likes of Udo-Gabriel, Praise Idamadudu and Ruth Usoro, who have all run 11.60s or faster this year, for a 4x100m Relay medal. What about the incredible Favour Ofili, who has run 200m & 400m PBs of 23.24s and 52.28s respectively this year? All these Athletes are at University either in Nigeria or abroad, and perhaps aside from Oduduru who is about to go pro, they need these global competitions for exposure, to develop and for improved career opportunities!
Let’s not forget that these are just the Track & Field Athletes – there are 18 different sports contested at the Summer Universiade (including key sports in Nigeria such as Football, Basketball and Table Tennis), so every 2 years, Nigerian Student-Athletes across several sports are given false hope that they will have a chance to make a meaningful contribution to the World Games. It wasn’t always this way – Nigeria won 33 Medals across 9 World University Games from 1983 to 1999, but has not won a single medal in the last 20 years, a record that is now guaranteed to stretch to 10 consecutive editions of the biennial Games!
Those 33 Medals were all won in Track & Field, so what hope of tangible representation does any other sport at the Universiade hold for Nigeria, if we cannot get back to medal-winning ways in Track & Field, where our best chances still clearly lie? Without any meaningful reform of NUGA, I believe it would be best to simply not raise the hopes of Nigeria’s Student-Athletes unnecessarily by telling them we have any intention of taking them to the World University Games in the first place. After all it is not by force to attend. Just let everyone know from the beginning that Nigeria no longer participates in the World University Games.