The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) President, Chief Solomon Ogba has promised that Nigerian athletes coming for the 22nd Nigeria/Cross River/NNPC/ExxonMobil Track & Field Championship will get a boost as the federation is reviewing medal packages for them.
Chief Ogba in interview yesterday with Oke Oluku also revealed the details of the recently signed deal by the AFN and Cross Rivers government, the Golden League and preparations for the All Africa Games.
Oluku: The Athletics Federation of Nigeria and the Cross River state government just signed a 5 year deal in respect of the national trials; can you throw more light on the significance of the deal?
Ogba: Well, the deal is a five year partnership between the Athletics Federation of Nigeria and the Cross River State government; it has to do with the hosting of the national championship.
Before now it use to be called the Mobil Track and Field but with the coming in of the Cross River State government, it will now be known as the Nigeria/Cross River/NNPC/ExxonMobil Track Championship and we are going to run it for 5years.
For every year, they are to give us 50million naira to support us and they are of the view too that the event should become bigger as the year goes by.
Oluku: How will the athletes benefit from this deal?
Ogba: The athletes will benefit tremendously because we are going to increase the prize money because it is part of the deal. Mobil used to pay the athletes N50, 000 par gold medal which we think is too small.
The minimum reward for gold prize should not be less than $1000, so we are going to increase the prize money.
Also Calabar is a very friendly and hospitable destination and I think the athletes too will like to unwind there because the crime rate there is low and the environment for competition is friendly, particularly with the enthusiasm of the state government.
I think the athletes will love it especially those coming from outside the country.
We expect that better times will be returned in the championship because once the environment is conducive, everything is okay, everybody will be relax to run and better times will be made.
Oluku: The AFN has been consistent with its programs even when money hardly comes from the National Sports Commission, how has the federation been able to cope with all these?
Ogba: Well I have to look for the money. I tell a lot of people at this point that my name is at stake and the excuses of no money from the Sports Commission cannot really derail us at this point.
We need to run our programmes and once the programmes run consistently, its going to do two things.
The first is the building of confidence in the athletes, even for sponsors and the second one is the athletes know that there is something to look up to so they will train and look up to competitions and by doing that, the good times will starts coming in.
Oluku: Talking about the time, there seems to be an improvement on performance of Nigeria athletes this season. What will you say contributed to this trend?
Ogba: First we have a lot of competitions this year and we had to change our strategies. We technically did something differently, putting them through a lot of endurance in preparation and speed work.
We all know that athletics is science and sport generally is science and when you apply a little bit of science, you are likely going to get better results and that is what we are seeing, it is going to be better next year and as the years come by.
Oluku: During the Lagos leg of the Golden League in Lagos recently, the time put in by athletes dropped. What went wrong?
Ogba: It was because we had a break, we where suppose to do it weekly but we had a break due to the Presidential inauguration and of course you know, some athletes after doing very well they think they have arrived. And they might not have trained very well, but if we had done it the next week preceding Abuja leg, it would have been better
We are going to see what will happen in Warri, now they are saying their time were slow and they are all going back to the drawing board. Warri is going to be better, the times will be faster and the distance will be longer.
Oluku: The Golden League final will take place in Warri on the 15th June, what should Nigerians expect?
Ogba: First Warri has the best track in the country right now, it has a brand new fast track and fast track is athletes friendly. The athletes will love it because it will make them run faster.
Also, we all know that Warri is a sport loving city and we are likely going to find more crowd than anywhere we have been in the country, we are trying to see if we can bring some side attractions that will bring the crowd to the stadium.
Oluku: Calabar will be the next stop for the AFN for the National trials from 23 to 25 June, how prepared is the AFN?
Ogba: We are getting fully ready, we have a committee set up to put things in other, as you can see, am trying to tidy up the final list of athletes coming in from the USA.
We are having about 40 of them coming in. The only problem we have now is that the Calabar airport is closed, so we will be flying them to Uyo and go to Calabar by road but the roads from Uyo to Calabar are good.
I think we will be fine; we are going to have a better championship.
Oluku: The World Championships is drawing closer, what should Nigerians expect from the athletes?
Ogba: From what people are running in the world today, we will just make our presence felt.
We are in the process of rebuilding and we will try and get ourselves into most semi and finals in championships and what I know is that there is no way we will go to the championship and not come back with a medal.
Oluku: Any medals target for the All Africa Games?
Ogba: There is no specific target but our intention is to win the championship and to win, we are looking at 10 to 12 gold medals which I think is achievable based on the current form of our athletes right now.
If we get the support from the Sports Commission and the requisite training and programming, we should be able to win.
Oluku: The issue of drug use by athletes keep reoccurring, is there anything the AFN or the NSC is going to do in terms of testing the athletes before championships?
Ogba: If you test athletes before championships and they take something two days before championships, what will happen?
The issue is that we most pay attention to athlete's welfare; we must understand that the athletes need money to take care of themselves because most of them are bread winners of their family.
Now if they believe it is the only thing to do to get anything, they will want to remain because if they run and win 30, 000, it goes a long way in helping the family. If they are not in the shape to run and there is something you want to take, those are the issues.
It is not just to say don't take drugs. Yes, drug is not good because if they catch you, you are out and it will destroy the image of the country.
Oluku: What do you think should be done to cub this trend?
Ogba: We have the elite athletes program by the Sports Commission and it should come out with a definite program of our athletes, the program should be clear and states what they want to do.
The elite program ought to take care of our athlete's welfare; it should be an all-encompassing thing that will look into all the various needs of the athletes.
You see, I don't believe we take drugs in this country, they are abusing drugs because, you say you are taking drugs yet you have not broken the World record. They are just taking some cheap chemicals.
Government agencies like the NDLEA should go after those touts selling these things.