Nigerian athletics was plunged into a major controversy on Wednesday after the Athletics Federation of Nigeria distanced itself from the reported banning of multi-talented United States-based sprinter Blessing Okagbare from the Rio 2016 Olympics by the National Sports Commission.
The reports claimed the NSC had decided to omit the Commonwealth Games women’s 100m record holder from the Rio 2016 national athletics squad after the 26-year-old opted out of the 200m event of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China last month — and the All Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo.
Okagbare had claimed she was injured, hence she decided to abandon the Beijing 2015 200m race.
The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (long jump) bronze medallist stunned the NSC and her fans after she announced her withdrawal from Brazzaville 2015 days before the beginning of the Games. But the runner raised the ire of the authorities after competing in the Diamond League in Zurich, Switzerland on Thursday, finishing second in the 100m with a time of 10.98.
The NSC Director-General Al Hassan Yakmut was quoted as saying the athlete would be banned from the 2016 Olympics following the development. However, the AFN denied the reports, insisting no ban had been slammed on Okagbare.
In a statement, spokesman for the AFN Olukayode Thomas said Okagbare had not breached any of the federation’s rules to deserve a ban. “Okagbare has not done anything to warrant the NSC to ban her, but even if she did, the Director-General is a former athlete and an astute administrator, he will follow due process,” he said.
He added, “Even if Okagbare has done something and we intend to punish her, the (AFN) Secretary-General will first write her a letter inviting her to face a disciplinary committee where she will defend herself against the allegation. After a fair hearing, the disciplinary committee will make a recommendation to the board, and the board will now decide.’’
Meanwhile, Sydney 2000 Olympic Games gold medallist Enefiok Udo-Obong says the country won’t miss the sprinter much at the Olympics. “Yes. We will miss Okagbare (at the Olympics), but we can do without her,” Udo-Obong, who expressed his disappointment with the athlete’s decision to pull out of the All Africa Games, told our correspondent on the telephone on Wednesday. “It’s not the right of any athlete to consider the competitions in which they will represent the country,” he said. “Some of our athletes feel the All Africa Games is a lower competition — and prefer bigger competitions where they can increase their points. “The NSC’s directive says no All Africa Games, no Olympics.
It’s not true Okagbare was banned — judging from the reports I have read. I think the NSC has only decided to exclude her from the Olympics.” The retired sprinter added, “Okagbare claimed she was injured. Everybody sympathised with her. Everybody supported her. But days later, she ran at the Diamond League, beating those who won medals in Beijing. People will question your patriotism if, after supporting you, you run in another competition after withdrawing from the All Africa Games.
The 33-year-old urged the country to start planning for the future without Okagbare. But Okagbare has said she will stay quiet over reports of her ban from the 2016 Olympics by the NSC, supersport.com reports . “I am not saying anything now until I get to the bottom of this and their reasons,” Okagbare told supersport.com.