Evans has trained with Nigerian athletes since 1975.
Former Olympic 400m champion and renowned American coach, Lee Evans, is back in Nigeria and currently running a grassroots programme in conjunction with the Lagos State government after the huge success achieved in the same project with the Cross Rivers government
The 67-year-old coach, who is also a social activist, first came to Nigeria in 1975 and was instrumental to the rise of some of Nigeria greats.
In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES in Lagos, Evans slams former Nigerian athletes for not doing enough to help track and field, noting that they are always about money which is not good.
PT: Why have you lately stuck to grassroots coaching?
If I was trying to coach some elite athletes there might be some problems so I just stay with the grassroots and that’s what I’m happy with. You know I did the same in Calabar for three years and you see Cross Rivers has the best youth team in the country by far. They won the last two school sports championships and I’m trying to do same in Lagos.
PT: For how long has your programme in Lagos been on?
I think eleven months but I actually started serious work let’s say, for three months.
PT: How many athletes are you grooming presently?
About 25 but it grows every day. Coach (Uruemu) Adu and I, we visit the high schools in Surulere and we try to work with the games masters/mistresses and work with the children after school hours.
PT: How long have been in Nigeria?
I have been here for like four and a half years this time; I spent three and half years in Cross Rivers and I have been here (Lagos) just short of a year. Before I came in 2009, I think I was also here, briefly, in 2006 to do some seminars and deliver a lecture in Delta State. I went to some schools and did some clinics. It was the then Delta States Sports Commissioner, Chief Solomon Ogba, that invited me over, that should be 2005 or 2006.
PT: Going by the talents that abound here, how can Nigeria occupy its rightful place in athletics?
It has to be a holistic programme. Right now, everyone gives Jamaica as an example. You see, I have been to the Jamaican high schools championships; all their referees are volunteers. Even, maybe like 150 referee/officials will get turned away for lack of space. But in Nigeria, if you don’t pay them, they won’t come. To me, that is the biggest problem. There must be an attitudinal change by the former athletes because most of the officials are former athletes. They have to start giving up some of their time instead of demanding money. I have gone to some competitions that could not hold because officials want to get paid their monies first. Now, look at Jamaica; everything is volunteer. Even in America, officiating is voluntary. Nigeria needs an attitudinal change that has to come about and that will transform into the children. More children will start to come out because there will be more competitions. To have like this competition (Eko Grand Prix), the Commissioner had to pass to the State Athletics Association I think N1 million; although I don’t think all the money will be spent only on this but if it were volunteer we won’t need such money.
PT: What is your take on the recent drug test controversies that has hit the international world of athletics?
From what I have read, I think the said athletes took stimulants because (they) are now smarter and know that drugs can inhibit their machines. So, now, they take some sort of stimulants before their races to get extra zip, I think that was what (Sherone) Simpson, (Asafa) Powell and (Tyson) Gay did. It is not a steroid but some sort of stimulants. They might get one year or even 6 months for that, it’s not a heavy drug.
PT: Would you advocate straight life-bans for steroid users?
I would say give them a second chance because sometimes it’s by mistake.