The month of June is set to usher in new leaders for Nigeria’s sporting federations, and that includes the Athletics Federations of Nigeria, AFN.
Already, some individuals have signified their intention to take over the reins of leadership of the AFN as there is a consensus that Nigeria deserves more than it is presently getting from the tracks.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Tunde Eludini, Deji Aliu, an accomplished ex-athlete who is now a coach, bares his mind on who and what the country needs to do to revive athletics again.
Mr. Aliu, an Olympic Games medalist, is presently a coach with Making of Champions, MoC Track Club in Lagos.
PT: As a coach, you are trying to unearth talents to return Nigeria to glory days on the tracks, how has the journey been so far?
Deji: It has been success, success, success all the way. We give glory to God, it has been a little bit rough but at least we are making progress.
PT: One of the targets you people (MoC) have for yourselves is the 2020 Olympics. When you talk about the Olympics, are you eyeing just representation or your products getting to the podium?
Deji: Personally, I don’t think representing means anything. We want to go there and make an impact. I am not going to say we are going to win gold, silver or bronze, if I can coach an athlete to be in the finals of the 100 metres at the Olympics, I think that is a pass mark on my own part and those are areas I am looking at. Whichever of my athletes is going there must make an impact, when they go there and perform even without winning a medal, people can still congratulate them for doing very well.
PT: Nigerian female athletes are doing much better than their male counterparts presently. I want to know whether it is the same case with the youngsters you are taking and why do we have the lopsidedness at the national level?
Deji: It is a different scenario I must say, because right now, more of my male athletes are doing better than the female athletes. And I don’t think if the male or the female are doing better it has to do with anything.
It is just a phase and it going to pass away. During our own time, we the male were doing better than the female, then things changed, the female started performing better. I just think it is a phase, but in MOC I think it is a balanced case, the male and the female are doing equally very well.
PT: The IAAF Diamond League and other big meets have been going on across the world but we see very little of Nigerian athletes, how do you feel knowing full well that this wasn’t the case when you were competing?
Deji: I feel really sad. I don’t feel motivated in watching Golden League anymore because if I am not going to see any Nigerian there, why am I watching? Personally, I feel sad. I think it is a trend that we can change if we have people that are professionally-inclined on the board of AFN. Hopefully, that is going to be the case very soon.
PT: What are your expectations as we wait for the emergence of a new board for Athletics Nigeria?
Deji: Well for me, my expectation is very high and I have been kind of silent over the election issue because I have a very high standard and so far, I have not seen anything that impresses me. I am just saying sport generally is a passionate game, if you don’t have the passion, you do not have any business being around sport and that is my message to all the contestants. So, we need people that are very passionate and are ready to take this country to the next level.
PT: What is your take on the erstwhile leadership of the AFN?
Deji: Laughs… A lot of the time, I don’t like criticizing Ogba because, I will be honest with you, the decay in Nigerian athletics is not something that just started yesterday. It is going to be unfair if I start telling you that the problem is Ogba. I think the problem is beyond Ogba, the decay is something that started like a decade ago. So, it is just that Ogba came in at a time that things were so bad and he doesn’t have the management ability to put it right.
PT: Do you see change coming for Nigeria Athletics now?
Deji: I’ve only heard about few names, I have not seen people on board, so right now I am not going to talk about change. A lot of people are just showing their intention, but until the board is constituted, I don’t think I can talk about that right now. Like I always tell people, sport is about passion, I am just going to tell the aspirants that if they are not passionate, they have no business being in sports environment, that is just my own message to them.
PT: But you are passionate and you are not showing interest in the board?
Deji: The thing is if you know me right from day one, you will know I am not a politically-inclined person. If I am not on the board, that doesn’t mean that I can’t contribute. I can still contribute meaningfully my own quota outside the board. I don’t have to be in the board to contribute, like what I am doing now is a positive impact, that is what I am ready to do anytime I am called upon.
PT: On a final note, Nigeria will be at the World Championships in London, do you see us doing well there?
Deji: This year, no.
PT: Thanks for the audience.
Deji: You are welcome.