Vanguard (Lagos)

2 May 2012

Nigeria: This Is Discrimination - Local Athletes Cry Out in U.S.

Her elegance warmed up the cold weather. How? It was generally cold in Philadelphia last Saturday, the final day of the Penn Relays.

The athletes had provided a lot to cheer although credit should be given to the track and field tradition in the old American city. Americans were there in their thousands but Jamaicans slightly appeared to have outnumbered them in an American city. It speaks volumes of what track and field is to Jamaica.

The dancing to musical tunes outside the stadium as fans queued up to enter the arena, the stakes the competition drew on the tracks and attendant reactions simply gave out a picture of exciting carnival typical of the long tradition that has become the Penn Relays.

But it was cold and only a non stop action could keep people warm. And an event had just ended and break before another could be announced was already sending cold to the fans. But a relief came when the presence of Prime Minister of Jamaica was announced and the large screens at the stadium captured her elegant steps as she walked the stage to present medals.

The stadium burst into cheers and the steps of Portia Simpson and her charming smiles dazzled all to cheer more. They screamed ecstatically. The stadium stood and Mexican waves followed. She did not only warm up the place but was also a great inspiration to the Jamaican athletes whom she would support from here to the Olympics in London.

It was not the same story for the Nigerian athletes. People know our level in sports and nobody expected President Goodluck Jonathan at the Penn Relays. He may not even be in London. But his government is expected to help our sports. they are not doing so at the moment based on the poor support to Nigerian athletes. The NSC lacks money to prosecute programmes.

His government has not done well for Nigerian athletes even from afar. Nigerian athletes camped here in Atlanta for six weeks without a kobo paid them as allowances. Hear one of them:

"It is really disappointing. Nigeria has disappointed us. Not a kobo has been paid us since we started camping in Atlanta. Nobody can buy anything for personal use.

They say that our federation has not been given money. The same thing happened before the World Championships last year. Nothing was paid to us while in training. Could this have happened to footballers?

There's no doubt that there is discrimination in our sports. We are meant to be preparing for the Olympics but this is not how to prepare for the Olympics. It is sad."

Nigeria has Innocent Egbunike as the head track and field coach. Egbunike is one who lacks the character to raise alarm even when danger is looming. He is gentle to a fault and may face failure than speak up against the system.

We gathered that out of the N40 million approved for the federation, N20m was just released last week and the athletes were only to be paid some token this week.

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