IN ASABA, NIGERIA
Council officials of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) were Tuesday night frantically fighting to salvage the 21st Africa Athletics Championships with poor organisation seriously threatening the start of the five-day competition.
An overhaul of the programme, prompted by the late arrival of teams, was being worked on last night with the fact that the competition venue at the Stephen Keshi Stadium has no functioning floodlights also leading to the scrapping of the evening programme.
By press time, the pre-event technical meeting was being held at the Stephen Keshi Stadium with delegations and journalists alike eagerly waiting for the start lists of the day one competition.
Unconfirmed reports last nights claimed that the Moroccan team had withdrawn from the championships due to the poor organization with Athletics Kenya (AK) President Jack Tuwei saying the competition delegate seemed to have given up altogether.
"Sad indeed. We have tried with the Local Organising Committee here in Asaba with a lot of frustrations and lack of decision," Tuwei said. "The competition delegate seems to have given up. Now the case has been presented to the CAA Council."
Kenyan athletes still stranded at Lagos airport
Tuwei said AK's priority was now the safety and comfort of Kenyan athletes and getting them to Asaba.
With local officials struggling to accommodate delegations on special charter flights from Lagos' Murtala Mohammed International Airport to the Asaba Airport, a route with no scheduled flights, scores of athletes, officials and journalists have been stranded for days in Lagos. The Kenyan team was affected too with a group of 22 athletes, just one third of the party, finally departing Lagos for Asaba at about 4pm yesterday after a 24-hour wait.
Delegations unable to travel are being accommodated at airport hotels that are also struggling with the numbers.
Another Team Kenya group was hoping to travel at 6pm local time Tuesday (8pm Kenyan time), which was highly unlikely as the Asaba Airport is, bizarrely, apparently not equipped for night landings and take-offs.
"Twenty two athletes have travelled to Asaba," Kenya's assistant team manager Peter Angwenyi updated Tuesday evening.
"Seventy other Team Kenya athletes and officials are still here in Lagos hoping to get the connecting flight to Asaba. Team Kenya is not alone with more than 10 countries affected, including South Africa, Egypt Burkina Faso and Botswana."
On Monday, Athletics Kenya vice president Paul Mutwii indicated that the pressure on the transit accommodation saw some of the Kenyan delegation forced to share a bed between three people.
"Everybody is tired now. We are still waiting for the flight," said Kenya's head coach Stephen Mwaniki before the initial party of 22 departed for Asaba.
"Let's wait and see what next when we eventually get to Asaba," the Kenya Prisons Service coach, a sprints specialist, added with frustration evident in his voice.
"It's total chaos here," sports journalist Muigai Kiguru of The Star newspaper, who is travelling in the Kenyan party, chipped in.
The terrible organisation has seen scores of athletes, officials and journalists stranded at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport with transfers to Asaba being handled on a first-come-first-served basis.
And with the backlog running as much as three days back, the chartered flights have been unable to meet demand with luggage either lost or misplaced in the ensuing melee.
The Ethiopian delegation was contemplating an alternative route that would see them travel on a scheduled flight to Enugu and then connect via a two-hour road journey to Asaba.
But with locals describing the Ebugu-Asaba road as "terrible", it remained unclear whether the Ethiopians would make it as planned.
"Enugu is closer (to Asaba) than Benin, but with the bad road, it could take more hours to Asaba than from Benin," Raymond Yomi, a digital journalist covering these championships said.
On paper, competition on Wednesday would have started at 9am with the decathlon's 100 metres race where Kenya is represented by policeman Gilbert Koech.
The evening programme's first medal event was indicated as the men's 10,000 metres final from 6pm local time (8pm Kenyan time) where Kenya has entered Vincent Rono, Josephat Bett and Kipsang Temoi.
Also in the evening programme was the men's 800m opening round where Jonathan Kitilit, Ferguson Rotich and Emmanuel Korir are entered.
But in reality, with the confusion, all this will change as officials of the Local Organising Committee working frenetically to salvage one of the most poorly organised high profile track and field competitions.