Qatar’s Femi Seun Ogunode (R) won the men’s 400m final at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
Losing out on champions
By Tunde Eludini
November 28, 2010
Nigerian-born Femi Ogunode is the new Asian Champion in the 400m event after winning his race in a time of 45.12 seconds. This happened last week and his wining time could have fetched Nigeria a gold medal in the same event at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in India. The winner of the Commonwealth Games 400m gold was a Kenyan, Mark Muttai, who finished with a slower time of 45.44 seconds.
Sadly, no Nigerian quarter-miler participated in that event as the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) complained that the times posted by her athletes were too pedestrian to take them to such a global championship.
Ogunode who currently competes for Qatar is just one of the numerous Nigerians doing other countries proud on and off the tracks while their country of origin complain of a dearth of world class athletes.
Currently coaching in Qatar, one of Nigeria's all time great athletes; Innocent Egbunike described the situation where the country is losing her best legs and brains to other nations as unfortunate.
"The reason our athletes compete for other countries is because the other countries seem to take better care of them than our Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) does. And this is from observation," he said.
Egbunike wondered how a country as blessed as Nigeria would not be able to adequately cater for the athletes who continually bring in honours for her.
"We have the greatest resources any country could ask for; human resources or material resources, all we need to do is take care of our athletes by establishing a system or program that works, making sure they have as good incentives as those of other countries that are doing well in track and field and also show they we care by our actions" said the former Commonwealth Games record holder in the 400m event.
Aside Ogunode, another Nigerian competing for Qatar is Samuel Francis, who currently holds the Asian record of 9.99 seconds in the 100 metres.
Francis spends about three months a year in Qatar, but does his training in other countries such as the United States and Poland.
When asked how it feels to appear for Qatar, he said, "I'm still who I am. It feels very natural." He said he is well looked after by the sporting authorities in Qatar and does not spend much time in Nigeria. "I just go to visit my parents."
Many of the athletes who spoke to NEXTSports cite the insensitivity of the national federations, poor incentives to athletes, lack of developmental programmes, lack of support from the government and non-release of training grants before major championships as major reasons why they opted to ply their trade elsewhere.
This same attitude and lack of sensitivity to athletes' needs was the reason alluded to by the former European 100 hurdles women's champion Glory Alozie for dumping Nigeria for Spain after her fiancé, 400m runner Hyginus Anugo was killed in Adelaide few weeks before the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Alozie was embittered by the shabby treatment of her late fiancé, Anugo, by Nigerian sports officials in Sydney but despite her grief, she went on to win silver in the 110m hurdles. But by then, she had decided to abandon her country of birth.
On July 6, 2001 Alozie was granted Spanish citizenship and she jumped at the offer to run under Spain's national colours.
When asked then why she decided to run for Spain, Alozie simply answered "Do you know what everyone like me would do? They will look for their future. I think my future is in Spain, I live there, I work there, my coach is there, my work and my club, and everything are there."
Down the line she has won several honours for her adopted country which includes European titles in indoor and outdoor events.
While representing Nigeria, she became African champion twice, and she still holds the African record at 100 metres hurdles. Pundits opine that Alozie would have brought more medals, fame and honour to Nigeria if she was given the right incentives to do what she knows how to do best.
With the dust raised by Alozie's defection yet to settle another report came of Francis Obikwelu's decision to run for Portugal.
Though Obikwelu chose to keep his reasons for switching his allegiance to another country to himself, many believe that being neglected for a long while and having to cater for himself after getting injured competing for Nigeria at the Sydney Olympics was the last straw.
Obikwelu who currently holds the 100m European record returned to the Athens Olympics to win a silver medal; a feat yet to be equalled by any African.
"What honour it could have been if he was in the green and white trunks competing for Nigeria at that Olympics", athletics coach Isaac Ikhaobomen asked.
Sadly but realistically, the IAAF president Lamine Diack also conceded to the fact that the trend of African athletes dumping their countries for others is not likely to stop if the right things are not put in place.
"If we don't build an elite programme to take care of the future of our best athletes in Africa, we will lose them" he said. Diack, a Senegalese has been president of the IAAF for 11 years now.
Meanwhile the Gulf countries in the Middle East has turned into a haven of sorts for most African athletes; officials there have however been quick to dismiss complaints over athletes switching nationalities, saying that European countries and the United States have long been naturalizing other countries' runners for their own good.