Sports minister deploys damage control tactics after disqualified Nigerian athletes protest in Tokyo

MINISTER of Youth and Sports Development Sunday Dare is making frantic moves to restore the country’s image battered by the disqualification of 10 Nigerian athletes from participating in the Olympic Games brought about by the negligence by sports officials.

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announced on Wednesday that 10 out of the 23 athletes from Nigeria will not be allowed to take part in the Olympic Games, for failing to meet the minimum testing requirements under Rule 15 of the Anti-doping Rules.

Those affected are Ruth Usoro, Favour Ofili, Annette Echikunwoke, Chioma Onyekwere, Glory Patrick, Chidi Okezie, Tima Godbless, Rosemary Chukwuma, Yinka Ajayi, and Knowledge Omovoh.

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While the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) took responsibility for the disqualification of the athletes on Thursday, the Ministry in a statement merely expressed regret at the development, adding that “the 10 athletes are principally alternate and foreign student athletes, whose tests did not meet with WADA sample collection and analysis standards”.

The statement further “requested” all athletes in the Games Village to remain focused and to make the country proud.

However, disqualified athletes were not pleased with the reaction from the Nigerian government and took up placards in protest on Friday insisting they were not just alternatives, but potential medalists and should not be made to “suffer because of someone else’s negligence”.

“We need someone to speak to our athletes and answer all our questions. The 10 of us will not be competing, but it won’t stop us from speaking up on how we feel robbed from this experience,” Chioma Onyekwere said.

The Captain of the Nigeria Team to Tokyo Quadri Aruna, slammed sports officials over the shabby treatment meted out to athletes and accused them of shortchanging them.

Aruna who lost to Tsuboi Gustavo of Brazil in the third round of the men’s table tennis singles on Tuesday, also lost his cool on Friday and took to social media to express his displeasure at the fact that no provision was made for his Coach to be with him in Tokyo Olympic Games.

Venting on his official instagram account, he wrote: “You all wanted me to perform well, but you removed my coach from coming to Tokyo Olympics. You can remove me from national team, but please explain to the whole world reason the coach who qualified me for the quarterfinal in Rio is not in Tokyo. Athletes were been short paid and nobody should complain?”

He urged the minister to urgently address the dispirited athletes to prevent things from worsening.

Hours later, Aruna deleted these posts, providing an update that the athletes were now “relaxed” after the Minister reached out to the them with assurances that allayed their fears.

“I have just had a fruitful meeting with the Honourable Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, based on my position as General Team Captain to resolve the issues surrounding the training grants of Nigerian athletes based overseas.

“The meeting initiated by the Minister has allayed our fears and was very reassuring. The athletes are now relaxed with the assurances and action taken by the Honourable Minister. We will do our utmost best to make our dear country proud in the Games,” Aruna wrote.

    Efforts to reach the Minister on Thursday and Friday to find out whether any official will be sanctioned for this avoidable incident among other enquiries proved abortive; his phone number remained switched off.

    Meanwhile, in another statement released on Friday, the Ministry said it is abreast of the situation on the ground and efforts are ongoing to address them.

    “The Honourable Minister on Thursday morning in a meeting spoke directly with the 10 track and field athletes who will not be competing and assured them of their welfare.

    “He apologised to them for the unfortunate development that led to their exclusion and promised that it would be fully investigated, ” the statement said.

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