By Amaechi Agbo
Nigeria’s only female Olympic gold medallist at Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games in USA, Chioma Ajunwa, has lauded the plan by the minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare to begin payment of monthly stipend and pension to active and retired Nigeria athletes, respectively, Bestchoicesports.com.ng can report.
Mrs Ajunwa made the commendation on Wednesday in the wake of the ministry’s plan to begin to pay monthly stipend to active athletes as well as pension for retired ones.
The Minister had last month expressed his desire and plan to establish various trust funds where the ministry can give grants or stipend to athletes and also take care of retired ones who had served the country very well.
Mr Dare noted that the idea behind such plans is to encourage and motivate athletes especially when during free windows when they do not take part in events.
Mrs Ajunwa who won Gold in Long Jump at the 1996 Olympics said with such structure on ground, Nigeria will be reaping from her athletes noting that lack of motivation has been the bane of athletes’ performance in the country.
“It is good enough for both the ex and upcoming athletes and those who are still participating. If such a thing can be done here in Nigeria, you will see that every stadium in the country will be filled to the brim because everybody will be encouraged to participate in sports.
“I could remember when I came back from the Olympics, because they heard that I was given one million, when you come to the national stadium everybody then wanted to be a sports man or woman so that they can win and get such motivation. If our new minister is bringing this to Nigeria, the heaven will just be the starting point of our athletes.
“There is nothing that when you see an athlete working, you motivate him or her. When you do this, you are not just encouraging the ones involved to do more but you are also attracting other onlookers to come and join sports. Why we have not been able to replicate more Chioma Ajunwas in the country since 1996 is because there was not motivation.
“There was no support from anywhere during and after the Olympics 24 years ago. If you assess me based on the glory I have brought to this nation, you will know that I am nobody. The ex-internationals are treated the same way, it is not just about me. So when other young ones see us, despite our service to our fatherland, they feel there is no need to serve the country through sports.
“For instance, when I travel to Abuja, I stay in a hotel. I do not have a house there. But if it where in other countries, all the athletes that won Olympic medals, not just gold, are well taking care of.
“That is why you see Jamaicans keep on improving, Trinidad and Tobago, the Americans, Russia and Kenya and Ethiopia in Africa here also. These people are doing well because there is a structure for their athletes both for when they are active or retired. They will still be living fine. Private companies will still be using them in various ways making them to be relevant. So I thank God that a minister who knows what sport is all about, knows what a sacrifice it is for one to have represented his country at international events, has recognised this value. If he can do this, kudos to him,” she said.