Nigerian Olympic champion, Chioma Ajunwa, has blamed the decline in Nigeria’s dominance in athletics to the lack of programs to identify and nurture young talents.
“The problem is huge,” Ajunwa, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, told journalists on Saturday while attending a Justice Summit organised by the St Matthew Catholic Church, Amukoko, Lagos.
“Here in Nigeria, we have not imbibed the culture of getting them young because we know that the young shall grow. When we know the importance of going to the grassroots, then we’ll be able to get a lot of athletes to represent this country.
“It’s only Lagos State that is trying, to have competitions for children, youth, everybody, but other states are still sleeping.”
Ajunwa, a gold medal winner in Long Jump at the Atlanta 96 Olympics, said athletes who eventually switch to other countries to compete for them should not be blamed.
“The truth of the matter is this; the condition in this country is so inimical to everybody. To the extent that everybody wants to see how he or she can make it in life. And it’s difficult for me or somebody else to go and tell these athletes ‘Don’t go there.’
“When you know that when they get there, that is where they can get money to feed their families. And, again, when they are here it looks as if nothing is happening. The moment they leave this country, six months, they become world champions.
“So how then could you tell such people ‘Don’t go’?” It’s difficult. And we don’t care because we believe that we have them many. So it’s a very dicey situation.”
The Olympian said she would not dissuade any athlete from switching nationalities and participating for other countries.
“During my own time, the country (Portugal) was calling me, I refused, and another girl switched over,” she said.
“So that is the thing, if you don’t want it, I want it. Everybody wants to make it in life and Nigeria is not helping them, so they can go elsewhere. And when they start doing well, we now become envious of them.
“I didn’t regret it (not dumping Nigeria). I’m a patriotic Nigerian, but you don’t expect everybody to be patriotic.”