As athletes battle it out at the season-opening National U18 and U20 trials currently taking place at the Gateway International Stadium in Ilaro, Ogun State for the opportunity to represent Nigeria at the African U18 and U20 Championships in Ivory Coast in April, African record holder in the 100m hurdles Gloria Alozie says not enough is being done to identify and harness promising athletes from an early age.
Alozie won silver for Nigeria at the Sydney Olympics in the 100m hurdles before switching nationality to Spain for whom she won a gold medal at the 2002 European championship and she told busybuddiesng.com that Nigeria’s lack of world beaters in athletics can be traced to the gradual dwindling of the sort of grassroots age-grade competitions that served to nurture her and other greats like Mary Onyali and Falilat Ogunkoya.
“The problem with Nigerian athletics has been what we had before that are no more now,” the 41-year old two-time African champion told busybuddiesng.com.
“When we were little, I remember there were lots of competitions: there were national school sports; there were national Under-15 and before the national Under-15 maybe there were local, zonal [and] then state before national. So people were being developed from different parts of the country and now all those things I can’t see them again.”
Having a plethora of grassroots athletics competition for young athletes would, according to Alozie, ensure that young athletes have multiple avenues and opportunities to test their craft and harness their talents just as it was back in her time.
“Now we have the Under-18 but in my time there was the Under-15, the Under-20 then classic school sports. There were many competitions [so] that if you [couldn’t] make one you’d be able to make the other and those things are no more there and there is no sport that can grow without the grassroots. So the grassroots is what is really important because if we neglect the grassroots and believe we can make it from the top it’s very difficult.”
Alozie’s switch to representing Spain after obtaining Spanish citizenship in 2001 was viewed by many Nigerians at the time as evidence of the decay in Nigeria’s athletics administration in particular with a lack of basic welfare forcing athletes to switch nationalities in order to truly maximize their careers. While that may have been the case with her back in 2001, Alozie points out other pragmatic considerations that led her to switch nationalities.
“Before changing my nationality, I was already living in Spain and I had my club and coach there and there were certain things I wasn’t really enjoying as a Nigerian,” she told busybuddiesng.com.
“For instance at my club there were a number of foreign athletes that could run for the club and for me to really fit in since my job and career was there, I really needed to get that nationality because it really helped me a lot in my career. For example in some competitions, maybe we had many foreign athletes and being Spanish, I had all the opportunity to compete anywhere whereas you could be asked as a foreigner not to compete in the finals where you ordinarily would have competed or maybe they don’t give you medals when you are the best. There were many things that made me to change because as a Nigerian there was something really missing so I had to obtain the nationality for my career to really flow very well.”
Alozie returned to Nigeria to take up a position as hurdles coach at Making of Champions (MoC) Track Club, and she believes the structure the Track Club – which identifies and nurtures talented young athletes from all over the country – offers its athletes is comparable to what she had in Spain and would help more athletes compete for rather than dump Nigeria for other climes like she once did.
“With MoC, everything is perfect because unlike when we here and when I moved to Spain, all the support everything I was getting there is exactly what the athletes are getting now, because [in Spain] they had accommodation, they had sponsors and they were really being taken good care of and they had good coaches.
“I had a good coach so here I believe these athletes cannot ask for more because having somebody like Coach Deji Aliu and my humble self, we have been into the game and we’ve lived in the sports for long and I think we know everything about athletics and they have this opportunity to work with us and they also are being sponsored, there’s a physiotherapist they don’t have any reason to complain because they are being taken care of.”