Nigeria Out of World Relays Due to Infighting

Athletics field.

The rival AFN boards are trading blames over this avoidable setback for Nigeria.

Nigeria will not be represented at the Athletics World Relays that would be taking place this weekend in Silesia, Poland. While different reasons are being adduced by the 'rival boards' of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), the common conclusion is that Nigerian athletes will not be exchanging batons in Poland because of infighting between officials.

In a press statement issued on Thursday, Ibrahim Gusau whose leadership of the AFN is being tagged 'illegitimate' by a rival faction led by Olamide George, blamed sports ministry officials for Nigeria's impending miss of the global showpiece.

According to the statement by Gusau, the Ministry of Youth and Sports opted to take the athletes to a training tour in the United States for the same relays they are yet to qualify for, instead of the pre-Olympic Games qualification in Poland.

This development means the initial joy that greeted Nigeria's ability to beat the deadline for registration of athletes for the important competition which also doubles as an Olympic qualifier has now been eroded.

"The information at our disposal is that athletes who were supposed to represent Nigeria at the World Athletics Relays in Silesia, Poland, were taken to the USA Embassy to obtain visas for a training tour of an event they were yet to qualify for.

"The scheduled relays in Poland were meant to enable Nigeria to secure qualification for the Olympic Games in Tokyo but to our disbelief, the athletes' passports were diverted to the USA Embassy to secure visas for a training camp for an event they are yet to qualify for. How can a qualification competition in Poland which was our best bet be ignored for a training camp in the USA? "This is one of the numerous reasons why sports in Nigeria should be allowed to be administered according to international best practices," Gusau said.

However, Joshua Akanji, Senior Adviser on Media to the Sports Minister, told PREMIUM TIMES that Gusau has no locus standi to issue a press statement as AFN President.

"Gusau is not the president of the AFN so you cannot say the AFN President issued a press statement, you are fully aware of the position of the World Athletics and CAA in their fact-finding mission, they insist that they recognise the 2017 AFN Constitution," the minister's aide said while promising to issue a statement on the new development soon.

Akanji kept his promise in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES stating reasons why Nigeria will not be in Poland. He berated Gusau for allegedly putting his personal interest ahead of 200 million Nigerians.

Visa denial

Akanji explained that it was following the refusal of the Polish Embassy in Nigeria to issue entry visas to Nigeria's contingent to the World Relays that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) moved to ensure Nigeria qualifies for the five relay events at the Tokyo Olympics.

The statement read in part: "To this end, a number of athletics meetings have been secured in the United States of America while a five-nation relay meeting is also on the card to hold in Nigeria before the window for qualification closes on June 29, 2021.

"It must be noted that only the top 16 relay teams/ times will participate at the Tokyo Olympics. The Ministry is properly guided and Team Nigeria is not in any jeopardy."

Both the Sports Ministry and the AFN said they had anticipated that Gusau would block the registration of Nigerian athletes for the event as he is still in the custody of the official password of the federation and moved to organise a few meetings in the USA to ensure the teams get the chance to still qualify for the Olympics.

"The AFN led by the acting president, Olamide George, was only availed the opportunity to register the team following the intervention of the two-man Confederation of African Athletics team that came to Abuja last week to resolve the conflict within the AFN.

'We did not get to officially register the team until Thursday last week and apply for entry visas at the Polish Embassy. Upon our application, the Polish Embassy insisted it would take two weeks to process the visa applications and all entreaties for a quick consideration were ignored," said Niyi Beyioku, the AFN Secretary-General.

Plan B

'The Sports Minister, Sunday Dare had to involve the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure we get the team visas to Poland but the embassy stood its ground and we, after consultations with the Sports Ministry decided to switch to our second plan which was to convert a pre-arranged training tour to include qualification for the five relay events. The AFN wants to assure Nigerians that our relay teams will be in Tokyo come this July," said Beyioku.

"The World Relay does not close the qualification window for the Tokyo Olympics. We have other events that we have mentioned and also the African Athletics Championships holding in June in Algiers, Algeria.

"So, we have quite a number of opportunities to achieve our aim of getting Nigerian relay teams to the Olympics," Beyioku added.

Nigeria's relay teams have been performing well in global events since 1984 when the men's 4x400m won the first medal in track and field for Nigeria. The relay teams have won eight of the 13 medals Nigerian has won at the Olympics from track and field events.

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