IN ASABA, NIGERIA
Whoever gave Asaba the rights to host this year’s Africa Athletics Championships must see a doctor.
Organisers at the Delta State city have conjured up an excellent manual of how not to host an international competition by throwing into motion a horrendous protocol and hospitality programme for arriving athletes, officials and media.
Scenes of hundreds of athletes stranded at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, awaiting special charters to Asaba, some 500 kilometres away, have been the worst ever advertisement for African athletics.
Clearly, despite having the resources, Asaba wasn’t ready for these championships, with freshly laid tarmac at the Asaba Airport, construction trucks, graders with engines still hot coupled with fresh paint on Asaba city pavements evidence of a last-minute rush to get ready for the competition.
Some athletes have been stranded in Lagos for as many as three days and lots of baggage lost or delayed, including that of African Athletics Confederation Vice President Vivian Gungaram who has been to Asaba five times previously on inspection visits.
Perhaps poetic justice for an official who passed Asaba as fit to host these games.
Painful delays in issuing of visas on arrival have added to the frustration of incoming guests with foreign journalists complaining about mediocre facilities at the official Media Centre at the refurbished Stephen Keshi Stadium.
The legendary “Super Eagles” (“Green Eagles” at his time) defender, whom the stadium is named after, must be turning in his grave, irked by the disturbing build-up to the 21st edition of the Africa Athletics Championships.
A workshop organised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to arm young African journalists with reporting skills has been delayed as participants from at least eight countries have been unable to get the connecting flights to Asaba in time.
On the bright side though, resources haven’t been an issue here with Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Odowa stopping at nothing to host the five-day competition.
His largesse includes, for the first time, prize money for the three medallists on the podium and free chartered flights for all athletes and officials for the 50-minute flight from Lagos to Asaba.
Never mind the delays.
“Some months ago when we were told to host this competition, I was scared. Scared in the mind. But we are ready and look forward to a very healthy and warm competition,” Governor Okowa assured at the championships’ flag-raising ceremony at the Stephen Keshi Stadium on Monday.
But, perhaps, he meant Delta State was ready in the financial sense because all else is despicable.
One wonders what the championships’ Local Organising Committee chairman, Solomon Ogba, meant when he said on Monday that Asaba organisers “have exceeded all benchmarks” in putting together these championships.
“We have over 90 percent of the athletes already in the country and we also have the largest number of foreign journalists and at the end of the championships, and so we will have information and data that the CAA (Confederation of African Athletics) can use for the future,” said Ogba.
‘IN REAL DANGER’
Should Asaba be the benchmark, then the future of African athletics competitions is in real danger.
CAA President Malboum Kalkaba, himself caught up in the travel confusion at the Murtala Mohammed Airport on Monday, seems to have turned a blind eye on the pre-competition mess.
He steered clear of the confusion and instead chose to read the riot act to foreign managers abetting in doping at the main, pre-championship press conference.
“We are putting up more controls than before and sensitizing some of the countries with top athletes,” Kalkaba said in Asaba.
“Ninety percent of the athletes’ managers are from Europe and want to use the performance of athletes, especially in the one-day competitions like the Diamond League, to make money. We are targeting these managers.”
It will be interesting to see if the programme flows once the competition gets underway at the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
With several athletes unable to get to the competition city in time leading to days of missed training, only those mentally strong will make the podium at these championships that will also pick Africa’s team to the Continental Cup to be hosted in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in September.