By Amaechi Agbo
Former Nigeria sprinter and 1996 Olympics bronze medalist, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi has offered explanations on why Team Nigeria at 2018 Commonwealth Games performed below expectations.
Called the Queen of the Tracks, Onyali attributed Nigeria able-bodied athletes unenviable performance at the games to lack of proper planning as all the federations that produced athletes had new leadership that came on board last year and were not settled at the time the competition started.
Speaking in an exclusive interview, the 1994 Commonwealth Games 100 metres gold medalist however, commended the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN for taking the bull by the horn in exposing young athletes to an international event of the Commonwealth status stressing that with the feat, the future of Nigeria athletics is secured
“Well, it is very obvious that we did not perform to the expectations we wanted to. The idea was to top our performance this year with what happened last four years in Glasgow but that did not happen due to obvious reasons because we have new federations. They are still getting themselves together, they are fine-tuning and retuning a lot of programmes they found shaky when they got into the office,
“Another reason is that a bunch of our athletes that went to Gold Coast are juniors. That is to show you that the federation is rebuilding the future in the areas that they feel that they are lacking and that is replacing the old ones and giving the young ones opportunities to expose their talents. Unlike before, you will be told you are too young, you don’t have the experience. How do you get experience if you don’t compete in the higher level?
“So the AFN (Athletics Federation of Nigeria) was bold enough this time around to give chances to the younger athletes and you can see they won a medal on the relay. That is a morale booster for all the junior athletes that went to the games; they had their personal best in the game – some got medals. The truth is that you cannot put a figure in the exposure,” she said.
Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Onyali, who got a national award, Member Federal Republic, MFR for her heroics in the tracks, said her team is working assiduously to take 90 athletes to Tokyo irrespective of federal government’s support. Adding that her programme would not clash with the federal government’s sponsorship of the athletes as government alone cannot fund and develop sports in Nigeria and in the world.
According to her, “Concerning the African Senior Championship in August, the athletes, after performing in international competitions will feel they are at home to do their best. It is going to take while to build the AFN back to the way we want it and that is why we are having the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Grant Drive with participation of N200 from 4.5 million Nigerians between now and end of July.
“Our plan is to send 90 athletes to Tokyo through the grants in 2020. Give them everything they will need and require to train properly and compete favourably both internationally and locally. Coaches will also be taking care of because all of them will be given N10 million which will be broken down as to how they are going to use it for because we are going to monitor it. It is not something we will give to them in one swoop, no. we will release the money as need be for proper accounting. I believe we can do it.
“There is nowhere in the world that government has ever been the sole sponsor of sports. What government does everywhere else in the world, for instance in USA, they don’t have anything to do with sports. They only build infrastructures. and make sure that every school, primary, secondary and even university has a stadium and all the sporting facilities that the school chooses to participate in. there is no way these athletes will lack where to channel their energy in becoming good athletes while they are going to school.
“On the financial aspect of it, the government does not bring money as Nigeria does where you go to the Ministry of Sports, submit your file, and will be waiting for them to approve your budget for whatever competition you are embarking on. Over there, sponsors take care of that.
“The US Olympics Associations are the ones who control everything sports and they raise their money through fund drive to all the companies in the States. The only thing I know that the federal government does is that when they come back, they get hosted. That is the way it should be and we need to key into it. The government can participate in the development of sports but they may not have the time to look into the grassroots and the implementation of whatever it is that they have put in money for. So it is people like us, ex internationals, who have been there, that need to help out.
“We are going to raise the money, get the coaches, send them to different schools, and domicile their trainings in their schools. The coaches should go to the athletes and not the athletes coming to the coach; that is on the primary and secondary schools.
“But on the elite level, we are setting up our first national athletic development centre in Ondo State. The Governor graciously launched it on the 20th of April and the project has taken its wings. We are raising the fund through community lottery. The same N200 grant we are asking for the Olympics grant for the 90 elite athletes, we are also doing the same thing at the local level in Ondo. Ondo being the centre for the project, whatever money we raise their domiciles in the state,” she concluded.
Nigeria was ranked 9th in the 2018 Commonwealth Games with 9 gold, 9 silver and 6 bronze medals making a total of 24 medals. However, majority of the medals came from para-athletic events.