Nigerian athletes will prove that the country still is “the giant of Africa” at the 14th African Athletics Confederation U18 and U20 African Championships which began yesterday in Abidjan the capital of Ivory Coast according to the technical director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Sunday Adeleye.
Nigeria’s team of 96 athletes is the largest of any country in Ivory Coast and represents the largest ever number to represent Nigeria at the U18 and U20 African Championships.
Adeleye told busybuddiesng.com that the AFN, despite being plagued by financial difficulty (the sports ministry refused to fund Nigeria’s participation at this championship and Nigeria’s contingent made the journey to Ivory Coast by bus), made the decision to send a record number of athletes to the championships in order expose them to conditions that will help accelerate their development.
Nigeria missed out on the last U18 and U20 African Championships held in Algeria in 2017 because of financial constraints and Adeleye using the excuse of lack for not competing at these age-grade meets would mean the AFN will be shortchanging the athletes at a vital stage of their development especially as many of them will never get another opportunity to compete at this level.
“We are actually doing this [sending 96 athletes] because you can go to senior competitions as many times as you can but you can’t always go for junior [competitions] because you surpass the age and then the generation,” Adeleye said.
“If this generation misses this one again because the Nigerian team we have been losing out in the Junior competitions we’ve not attended the Juniors in about two series because of lack of funds. Even now we still have the issue of lack of funds so are we going to continue saying there’s lack of funds for almost a decade saying we are not going for this competition? No.
“So we came about agreeing that let’s go with these athletes let’s expose them because they need exposure. This is the bedrock of Nigerian track and field athletes’ performance this is where we must start from. If we don’t expose these athletes, then when do we expose them?”
“A lot of them will never be eighteen again after this year, a lot of them will never be eighteen again after next month. So that is why we’ve said we are going with this large pool to expose these athletes because [it helps us for the Olympics in] 2020, then give them that confidence.”
With Nigeria returning to the competition with such a large number of athletes, Adeleye says it is time once again for that Nigeria still is “the giant of Africa” in athletics.
“Our target is to go there and of course do Nigeria proud and do ourselves proud and of course to show our dominance in Africa: that we are still the giant of Africa and that, of course, we are still good in what we know how to do best which is sports.”