Administrative lapses by the Lagos State government has frustrated the sporting ambitions of dozens of young athletes and their coaches despite months of preparation.
Few weeks after the third edition of the National Youth Games, which held from September 7 to 17, many of the Lagos athletes and their coaches who were denied the opportunity of being part of the event are still lamenting the situation.
After months of intense preparations, the Lagos athletes were victorious at the South-west elimination series and were primed for the main national sporting spectacle in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. But they received a bombshell at the point of departure as they were told that due to ‘administrative lapses’, Governor Akinwumi Ambode had not approved funds for the participation of the state’s contingent at the event.
Aside from disrupting their movement up the ladder, the situation may have put paid to the ambition of some athletes as the National Youth Games is meant to open doors for the younger athletes to showcase their talents and expose their potentials.
“We slept on the basketball court at Rove Park for two nights hoping that they will find a way around it, but it all ended in disappointment,” one of the embittered coaches told PREMIUM TIMES after requesting not to be identified.
“We learnt that the Special Assistant that was supposed to take the file to the governor locked it up in his office and travelled to London to see his son, while jeopardising the future other children.”
As explained by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, one of the objectives of the youth games is to be a platform for the discovery of new talents to be nurtured for future competitions.
Winners at the Games will also form the bulk of those that will represent Nigeria at the forthcoming Youth Olympics and World Youth games. This means all the Lagos athletes will not take part at the Youth Olympics due to no fault of theirs.
Some of the coaches of the young athletes lamented being denied a chance to showcase the world beaters she said she had been grooming over the months.
“As a coach, I have sacrificed a lot for my athletes. We were eagerly counting down to the Youth Games so we can show all what we can do,” one of the coaches, Lawal Olopade, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“But see how things ended up? If I was able to raise funds, I would have taken my athletes to Ilorin under my club since Lagos was not willing to send us there.”
One of the athletes Ms. Olopade was aiming to show to the world is Anita Taviore who emerged as the overall best Lagos State Secondary School Track and Field athlete at the pilot edition of Heritage Bank Skoolimpics held late last year.
Miss Taviore towered above her peers all through the Skoolimpics; staying unbeaten and running the fastest times in all her events throughout the competition.
The senior student of Ipakodo Senior High School won gold in the 200m, 100m and 4x100m races.
“She (Taviore) was just crying when she saw who won in Ilorin because she was very sure it ought to have been her,” said Ms. Olopade.
“But some people have just denied her a golden opportunity.”
The coach wondered why Lagos would be organising competitions for schools but would fail to do the needful when the time comes to showcase the talents discovered comes.
“Are we just meant to discover talents and that is all? When the time comes for athletes to be showcased on the big platform you begin to hear stories. We were not there (Youth Games) also last year and the first edition.
“Is it about giving foreigners money in the so-called marathon that is sports development? We have to take the grassroots more serious than we are presently,” she said.
Also, Adenuga Adegboyega, a Lagos State athletics coach, expressed displeasure over Team Lagos’ absence at the Youth Games in Ilorin.
Mr. Adegboyega said the athletes were disappointed over the sad news because of their commitment and high hopes for the Games.
“It’s a shame that a whole Lagos State, the heart of grassroots’ sport is not participating in the NYG. Honestly, we are not happy with the sports authorities in the state.
“We played our part by training and went the extra mile to qualify for the Games, most of us slept at Rowe Park Sports Complex on Friday to depart on Saturday.
“It is sad that on Saturday morning, we were told that the proposal for the Games was not approved and that the trip had been cancelled due to lack of funds.
“It’s like we are in a mourning mood. Lagos State athletes were pained, especially when they saw their peers exhibiting their skills in the competitions.”
The coach said that the athletes had since not been turning up for training because their morale is low as a result of the disappointment.
“The pain is that some of them will be over age by next year and will not have the opportunity of participating in the Games again.”
An official of the Lagos State Sports Commission who only offered to talk off record claimed that the governor was very angry with this latest miss.
“The miss was due to some administrative lapses actually and the governor did not take it lightly” the source said.
In his reaction, the Lagos State Sports Commission boss, Deji Tinubu, also expressed disappointment.
“We are very disappointed for the athletes,” he said on a television programme. “But there is a grand plan and there are subtle reforms going on in Lagos state that would be made public in the very near future.”
“As much as we are disappointed that they did not go, we are excited about what is going to happen to them in the near future.
“We will be talking to them; explaining the issues; explaining what they have ahead of them.
“If in the last couple of months, we are doing much in schools sport and majoring in grassroots initiatives, obviously then you know there is an end point we are looking at.
“We are trying to create some processes where once you are discovered there is pathway to greatness.
“We are putting all that in place, once we start doing that, there are somethings that would have to shift, there are some that will have to give way for the bigger picture.”
A total of 2,934 athletes competed in 135 events in Ilorin, which was the third edition of the National Youth Games.
Delta State emerged overall winner of the third edition of the National Youth Games, amassing 60 medals, including 21 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze, to confirm its superiority at the games.
Akwa-Ibom State finished second in the table with 16 gold, 15 silver and 15 bronze medals, while Ondo State came third with 12 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze.
The host state, Kwara, ended the championship in fourth with 29 medals, including 10 gold, 10 silver and nine bronze.