ATHLETICS: Carry Your Cross, Sports Ministry Abandons Nigeria’s Athletics Contingent To U20 African Championship In Ivory Coast

Nigeria’s 96 athlete contingent to the 14th African Athletics Confederation U18 and U20 African Championships holding in Ivory Coast between the 16th and 20th of April have been told that they will receive no financial support from the Ministry of Sports ahead of the competition.

The development means that the athletes will receive no camping, traveling or competition allowance from the Ministry for participating at the meet.

Furthermore, their travel logistics and other exigencies have been left solely in the hands of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) who themselves have complained about a paucity of funds to adequately cater for the athletes.

The news was broken to the distraught athletes by the AFN President Ibrahim Shehu Gusau and the federation’s Technical Director, Sunday Adeleye after training on Thursday at the Gateway International Stadium hostel in Ijebu Ode where they have been camping in preparation for the meet.

Busybuddiesng.com learnt that the news was not well received by the athletes and many threatened initially to boycott the meet. They were however prevailed upon to change their mind according to an athlete who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, in order “to save our sport and careers”. We gathered that many athletes broke down in tears and resorted to prayers “for God’s intervention” on hearing the news.

Whilst it appears that it isn’t standard practice for the Sports Ministry to support athletes financially for Junior competitions, (allowances were provided for the contingents to the African Youth Games and the ECOWAS U20 Championships last year but none were made for the country’s representatives to the 2015 edition of this championship) the timing of this announcement – two days before they were due to depart for Ivory Coast – raises a lot of questions not least how it affects the motivation of the athletes.  Most Nigerian athletes essentially cater for themselves and rely on the allowances they get on national assignments for their upkeep and self-development especially as Junior athletics championships usually have no prize monies attached to them.

Nigeria has always struggled with funding athletes for international competitions and is making a return to the championships after being forced to miss the last edition held in Algeria in 2017 due to the inability of the Sports Ministry or the AFN to find the necessary finances to participate.

Athletes reacting to news of no funding from the Sports Ministry

The AFN had always intended to send a team to this year’s edition and in fact, the team of 96 athletes is the highest ever selected for this meet. It is unclear however why despite knowing that they would be sending a team to the championships and having many months to prepare for this championship, the AFN failed to get sponsors or make other alternative funding arrangements.

The technical director of the AFN, Sunday Adeleye told busybuddiesng.com that the situation is “a very difficult one for the Federation” as they’ve been practically abandoned by the Sports Ministry to “carry our cross”. He wondered why despite the fact that the athletes would be competing on behalf of the country, “the government is not helping us out”. He, however, said that the board members of the federation will “put our heads together” to stump up the “little we can afford” for the competition and for the athletes.

“Of course this is a very, very difficult one for the Federation, we don’t have any funds coming from anywhere. We are fending for ourselves as a federation, [the] government is not helping us out, there’s nobody giving us anything. So we’ve been in camp by ourselves and we are also going to take care of ourselves.

“We as board members put our heads together to see how we can fund these athletes and go for these competitions. We are not going to these competitions in our own names, we are going in the name of the country and these athletes are going to put on the uniform of Nigeria to do Nigeria proud.

“The allowances – the little we can afford as individuals like the president, myself and the board members is what we will give to the athletes,” he said.

Adeleye also said while the AFN will continue to seek out partnerships with corporate organisations for athletes, it is essential for the government to continue funding sports. He also called on private corporations to channel funds into sports as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

“We’ve been talking to corporate organisations, Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) is a brand so we’ve been talking to individuals and we also continue to beg, in as much as people say they want government to stay away from funding sports, it’s not easy.

“There’s what they call the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), we want all the corporate organisations to look into that and say look, we want to tag along with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria because they have athletes that are brands that will be the face of Nigeria, the face of those companies and so on. So we are asking well-meaning Nigerians and corporate organisations to partner with us to support us and let’s put our hands together to build the pride of Nigeria.”