As the curtain falls on the 2019 World University Games in Napoli, Italy, it would be on record that Nigeria did not send a team to the biennial championship, which is in its 30th edition. This is what happens when no form of accountability is required from our administrators, neither are sanctions meted out to erring officials who time and time again, bungle Nigeria’s participation in international competitions.Nigeria’s forward Odion Ighalo (L) celebrates his goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) football match between Nigeria and Burundi at Alexandria Stadium on June 22, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)
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The World University Games, which kicked off on July 3rd, is an international multi-sport event, organized for university athletes by the International University Sports Federation (FISU). Also known as the Universiade, the event holds every two years, which means that countries that have plans of attending this competition, have a timeline of two years to set the ball rolling and put a plan in place. The body that oversees Nigeria’s participation at the Universiade is the Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA).
Over the years, Nigeria has won a total of 34 medals at the Games. Incidentally, all 34 medals were gotten in Track and Field. Nigeria’s first medallist at the Universiade was Timo Ogunjimi, who won a Bronze medal in the men’s 400m Hurdles at the 1975 edition in Italy.
The country’s best ever performance at the World University Games was the 1983 edition in Edmonton, Canada, where we secured five Gold medals and finished third on the Athletics medals table.
Chidi Imoh won the men’s 100m (10.33s), while Innocent Egbunike Egbunike won the 200m in 20.42s. Sunday Uti won the 400m (45.32s) as Yusuf Alli claimed the men’s Long Jump title with a leap of 8.21m. It was at this competition that Ajayi Agbebaku set a National Record (NR) of 17.26m to win the men’s Triple Jump. 36 years later, that record still stands! Now imagine that Nigeria had failed to send a team to Edmonton at the time, would the likes of Agbebaku have gotten the opportunity to set such outstanding feats?
For two decades now, Nigeria has been unable to replicate similar feats at the Games as the last time we got to the podium was exactly 20 years ago, when Doris Jacob took a Bronze medal in the women’s 400m. How do we expect to win medals when our officials continue to treat Nigeria’s participation at the Games with such levity?
At the past two editions of the Games held in Gwanju (2015) and Taipei (2017) respectively, the country’s representatives arrived the venue embarrassingly late, with some of them eventually missing their events as a result. Others were entered for the wrong events and as such, couldn’t really pull their weight at the end of the day.
However, unlike the above-mentioned scenario, this time around, the Nigerian contingent wasn’t even registered for the Games to begin with. NUGA failed to enter the athletes for the competition before the entry deadline, which is usually well over a month before the event.
If they had no plans of sending a team to the World University Games, what was the purpose of organizing the FISU Trials at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) back in April? To make matters worse, as at the start of the Games on Wednesday, 3rd of July, NUGA was still attempting to make late visa applications for the Nigerian athletes and officials to enter Italy. Suffice it to say, their late visa applications to Italy were not granted, dashing the hopes of these athletes who had to make sacrifices to leave their respective schools to attend the Trials in Osun State.
This is a big shame when we consider that some of Nigeria’s Student-Athletes are in the form of their lives right now. After all, the fastest University Student in the world right now is Divine Oduduru – he is the joint second fastest man in the world this year in the 100m, and third fastest man in the 200m, and could have become only the second men’s double sprint Champion at the Games in 40 years, after South Africa’s Anaso Jobodwana in 2013.
How about the likes of University of Florida’s Raymond Ekevwo (10.02sec) and OAU’s Enoch Adegoke (10.12sec), whose Personal Bests (PB) clocked this season, surpass the winning time for the men’s 100m in Taipei two years ago where Yang Chun-han struck Gold with a time of 10.22sec?
Looking at the men’s 200m, UNILAG’s Jerry Jakpa stormed to a PB of 20.59sec in Abuja two weeks ago, which betters the winning time of 20.93sec from Taipei. The quartet (Oduduru, Adegoke, Ekevwo and Jakpa) would have formed a lethal combination in the men’s 4x100m relay.
On the women’s side, athletes like Aniekeme Alphonsus (11.30sec), Joy Udo-Gabriel (11.56sec), Favour Ofili (23.24sec, 52.28sec), Praise Idamadudu and Ruth Usoro could have contested for medals, both individually and in the relays.
It is a shame that we continue to fail our athletes in this manner. Things have got to change!