Some athletes participating in the All Nigeria Athletics Championships at Abuja National Stadium on Sunday protested against poor welfare.
The athletics event, which started on Saturday and is expected to end on Monday, was organised as a National Trials to select Nigeria’s contingent for the All African Athletics Championships in Asaba this August.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the protesters also accused the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) of insensitivity to their plight.
Some of the athletes who spoke exclusively to NAN decried the harsh welfare conditions with which they competed at any event organised by the AFN.
They also criticised the athletes’ representative on the AFN board for failing to accord them adequate representation.
Part of their grievances was that another board member, who felt concerned about the plight of the athletes and provided them with some assistance, was arrested on Saturday by some members of the AFN board.
Isa Abdulwaheed, one of the athletes, said: “What happened is that the person who represents us at the AFN board is not doing his job.
“Another person who has been assisting us was arrested yesterday for providing shelter for us. So we want to ask them why they arrested the guy. They didn’t have an answer to it.
“Also, we asked the athletes’ representative what his responsibility to us and he could not give us an answer either.
“We can’t be working and be suffering and nobody cares about us. So since he doesn’t represent our interest, we are demanding to see the other board members,” Abdulwaheed said.
Nifrege Samuel, another athlete who spoke with NAN, alleged that the AFN owed some athletes outstanding allowances: “We have not been rewarded for participating in the Golden League.
“This particular event being National Trials, we are entitled to allowances, accommodation, feeding and transportation, but nothing is being provided.
“The AFN technical director was telling us that he has been spending his personal money to finance athletics. I don’t have an issue with that but he should let us understand what is happening.
“If you invite athletes from 36 states and you expect them to finance their stay in Abuja while competing to fly Nigeria’s flag, then we are not serious.
“Let the board members come and explain this to us by themselves,” Samuel demanded.
“You want the best from athletes but their welfare means nothing to you,” said Ifeanyi Augustine, who pointed out that expectations from athletes were always not matched by adequate welfare.
“You set high standards but many of us are sleeping inside the stadium while competing for Nigeria. Yesterday, they couldn’t provide adequate facilities with which to compete.
“Look at the way we look haggard,” he said.
However, the Technical Director of AFN, Sunday Adeleye, has denied the allegations levelled against him by some of the protesting athletes.
Adeleye, who doubles as the athletes’ representative on the board of the AFN, told NAN that the protesting athletes misunderstood the objective of the National Trials.
“Some athletes were protesting not being adequately taken care of. Of course, they always requested more competitions and we’ve been able to organise more competitions than before.
“However, they want athletics to be as lucrative as football, so that they can live on what they do as athletes.
“Also, they complained about some board members not contributing to the board. But we are trying to resolve it.
“However, the allegations against me are untrue. We’ve been able to take care of athletes in the little capacity we can.
“This is a National Trials. So if one is not well informed; the mind ends up being poisoned.
“We call it All Nigeria Championships but we cannot take care of over 600 athletes by ourselves as a federation.
“How do we put over 600 athletes in hotels? It is called trials, where you come and try to be selected. If you are selected, then we will take care of you.
“Hopefully, we will resolve this quickly and resume proceedings,” Adeleye said. (NAN)