Calabar — Only 348 Nigerian athletes would participate in this year's All Nigeria Athletics Championship, which begins at the UJ Esuene Sports Stadium Calabar today, Athletic Federation of Nigeria President, Solomon Ogba has said.
He said this is because the federation has raised the bar for this year's meet, thereby scaring away many more, including the local-based and those from abroad that would have been interested in competing.
Speaking in Calabar at a press conference to declare the 6th edition of the national athletic championship open, Ogba said a large number of the athletes have come in from abroad and that the federation has so far spent over N26 million for their air tickets.
"This year's edition, we are going to have less number of athletes owing to the fact that we have necessarily raised the standard in order to meet with the IAAF requirements. For this reason, we have 348 athletes already in camp because many have not been able to meet up; but we have many from abroad of which we have already spent N26m to bring them in", Ogba said.
He promised that the athletes that would meet the standard set will be rewarded with prize money of $2,500, in addition to being selected for the upcoming Olympic Games in London.
He confirmed that the event would be timed by the 'best timing device' provided by the IAAF who, he said, strongly insisted on world standards during the Calabar meet.
Also speaking, the Cross River State commissioner for Youth and Sports, Patrick Ugbe said the state government signed a five year collaborative pact with the AFN last year to host the annual championship, adding that the partnership with the federation has been of great benefit to the state.
He said having hosted many other national sporting meets in the last few months, the state hopes to use the ongoing 6th edition of AFN championship to prepare for the 2014 national sports festival billed to hold in the state, stressing that the state government has acquired state-of-the-arts equipments to make the 2014 sports fiesta a success..
"The government of Senator Liyel Imoke has since imported state-of-the-art sporting equipment preparatory for the 2014 National Sports Festival billed to hold in the state, and we shall use this athletic championship to test-run some of these machines.
"We hosted this championship last year where we kicked off our five year cooperation with the AFN. I am certain that we were successful and shall improve during this second year", Ugbe said.