Athletics coach Tobias Igwe and ex-athlete Deji Aliu have lamented the poor showing of Nigeria at the ongoing IAAF World Championships in London.
Nigeria have yet to win any medal in the competition, which ends on Sunday.
Medal hopeful, Blessing Okagbare, failed to make the 100m final while the other female athletes struggled to reach the semifinals of their events at the London Olympic Stadium. Glory Nathaniel was disqualified from the women’s 400m hurdles semifinal after finishing fifth while the trio Margaret Bamgbose, Patience Okon-George and Yinka Ajayi crashed out in the semifinals of the women’s 400m.
The four male athletes on the team also did not exceed the preliminary rounds of their events. Tosin Oke, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, Samson Nathaniel and Edose Ibadin all crashed out in the first rounds of the men’s triple jump, shot put, 400m and 800m respectively.
The country however, will hope to make a podium finish in the women’s 4x100m and 4x400m relays, which start today.
Igwe, who is popularly called Toblow, and Olympic bronze medallist Aliu told our correspondent that the country has failed to do the right things, which would enable athletes to win medals at major competitions.
Aliu said, “We have not done anything different over the years, so why are we expecting anything different in terms of results? Back in our time, a lot was done by the athletes to train adequately and attend competitions.
“There were competitions back then to assess your level of preparedness for any event; competitions that will test what you have really done in training as an athlete. Personal efforts can only materialise where the terrain is good and favourable. Currently the competitions are not there anymore.
“In a year, we could have up to eight meets in the country – both indoor and outdoor – which prepared us for international events. But now, the competitions – both national and international – have disappeared. When the athletes struggle to train and get in shape, there are no competitions to test their readiness. This year, a World Championships year, Nigeria had only three competitions, where athletes struggled to meet the standards.
“So it is not really surprising that we aren’t winning any medal in London. And sadly it will continue till the right things are done.”
Toblow said, “The problem didn’t start today, it is a culmination of many years of neglect and poor planning. For instance, we have just one home-based male athlete in London – out of the thousands domiciled in Nigeria – but the athletes cannot be blamed because there is little they can do about it. The condition is not right for them to train and when they struggle to train, there are no competitions to measure their achievements and when they even meet standards, they are left out of the team for others who are not even better than they are.”
Aliu said the problem of the country’s athletics is not with the quality of the coaches training the athletes but the administrative failures which had accumulated over the years.
“Nigeria failed to plan effectively for today. What we are seeing now didn’t start today. It is an accumulation of the failure of over 10 years. Back then, there was a programme which ensured that as the aged athletes retire, there were younger ones to take over from them,” he said.
“When the aged sprinters left, people like me and the others of our time took over but before our retirement, no concise effort was made to train athletes to take over from us. Hence when we left, the vacuum became visible.
“Except for the occasional brilliance of one or two athletes in recent times, who were not even supported, there is no plan to end this present debacle we are in.”
Toblow lamented the athletics dominance by other African countries, due to Nigeria’s inability to consolidate on her earlier control.
He said, “South Africa began planning for their present success over the years and they left the areas they saw as comfort zones to encroach on ours. Now they are dominating the middle distance and the sprints on the continental and world scenes.
“In the field events, South Africa and Kenya – who used to be known for the long distance races – are now dominating the scene. For example, South Africa won gold and bronze in the men’s long jump while Kenya are now a force to reckon with in men’s javelin. Nigeria needs to go back to the basics and identify the problems with systematic ways to solving it before we can get back to the top.”
However, Aliu believes the passion for the sport will return Nigeria to its enviable position in athletics.
He added, “It is sad that the athletes are so frustrated that we now have very old athletes struggling to make the youth team so that they can be relevant. In London, there are more Nigerian officials than athletes – while some of the athletes are even at home.
“The way forward for Nigerian athletics is a return to the carefully planned and structured running of the sport by people who are passionate about the sport. Athletics should be seen as business and run as such.”
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