Normally, each of the 18 runners from a county should have received at least US$150 or its equivalent L$18,900 as a "sign-up or endorsement fee" to represent the county in the County Meet, intended to settle their tuition or other obligations. But the athletes' hopes were dashed five days to the kick-off of the County Meet with the cancellation of the track and field component of this year's Annual County Meet.
The most-likely 18 athletes (males and females), accordingly, would have represented a county to participate in 10 track and field events, including 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m. The other events are 1500m, 5000m, 4x100m, 4x400m relay, shot put and long jump.
The dying-minute cancellation of track and field from the County Meet sparked a protest of over 50 athletes, accusing the Ministry of Youths and Sports of being "insensitive and wicked" to their welfare, arguing that their participation would not have only helped them financially, but would have also helped them keep fit and enhance their skills as they challenge each other competitively.
The spokesperson of the "Angry Athletes," Marcox Sackie, who was supposed to be the captain of Bong County's track and field team, told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview that the "Ministry which is supposed to care for the youth and encourage youth into sporting activities are backstabbing the youth to be bad products in the society."
"We have been here since this morning to tell the Ministry to put track and field back in the County Meet," Sackie said. "Track and field was left out of the County Meet since 2013 with the excuse that the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex was under renovation. After its completion, we were told by the Ministry that track and field will be included in this year's County Meet, and because of that, we started intensive training."
"Wickedly, the same Ministry, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, with five days to the County Meet, has told the Liberia Athletics Federation (LAF) that track and field has been dropped; that's nonsense."
A very upset Sackie said: "What is the objective of the County Meet if the youth are not participating."
Liberia Athletics Federation
The newly installed president of the Liberia Athletics Federation (LAF), Mulbah Zaza, told the Daily Observer that when the Ministry of Youth and Sports informed the LAF about including track and field in this yea's County Meet after the discipline had been left out since 2013, the federation thanked the Ministry and indicated that it hopes they wouldn't waver in their decision.
"We would like to extend our thanks and appreciations to the Ministry of Youth and Sports for the inclusion of Athletics in this year's county meet," Mr. Zaza had written to Youth and Sports Minister Charles Saah N'tow.
"Disappointingly, after we were ensured of the inclusion of track and field, on Monday, December 4, Deputy Sports Minister Henry Yonton told me that athletics has been dropped. If l had high blood pressure, l would have dropped dead because of the preparations by the athletics, including their enthusiasm and passion to once more compete in the County Meet; I was shocked," he told the Daily Observer.
Ministry of Youth and Sports
In August, the Ministry announced that it will feature football, kickball and athletics, but dropping volleyball and basketball. But on Monday, December 4, the Ministry revealed it has also dropped athletics.
When contacted, Assistant Minister Murphy Gray neither consented to nor denied this, but promised to call back. "Call me back in 10 minutes, I'm in a workshop." Since then he has failed to answer his phone after several calls; the same scenario when this journalist called Deputy Sports Minister Henry Yonton.
Meanwhile, the County Meet will kickoff on Saturday, December 9.
According to the Ministry, Group C matches will be played at the Nancy B. Doe stadium in Kakata, Margibi County.
That venue will host matches involving defending champions, Montserrado County, host Margibi County, as well as Grand Bassa and Rivercess counties.
The venue was changed from Buchanan to Kakata after a reservation from Grand Bassa County authorities. At the same time, the National Organizing Committee has concluded inspections of the other venues.
Greenville, Sinoe County will play host to Group A activities, where Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee and Sinoe counties will battle against each other.
Group B games will take place in Gbarnga, Bong County, where the host will face Nimba, Lofa and Grand Gedeh counties.
Robert Sports will host Group D games, where Cape Mount will battle Gbarpolu and Bomi counties.
The sports meets are organized by the Sports Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs.