By Pat Muo
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) rose in defence of Blessing Okagbare at the weekend, insisting that the Common wealth double gold medalist and Africa’s fastest lady put up a poor showing in the 2015 World Athletics Championships due to an hamstring injury.Okagbare posted her worst performance in the past two years when she took the last position in the grand finale of the 2015 World Championships holding in Beijing, China. The event was 100 metres finals for women.
Okagbare’s loss was a disgrace for Nigeria. Before now, she was one lady whose performance represented hope for Nigerian athletics. Her performance in the last common welth Games saw Nigeria’s flag hoisted twice as Common Wealth champions in the 100 metres and 4 x 100 metres events.
She brought so much pride to Nigeria’s athletics in the past four years that Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s former president, lavished millions of Naira on her as rewards for excellence. Okagbare had risen so much in status and fame that officials of the AFN and the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) could not consider appearing in a competition without her.
Her poor showing in China was hugely mourned by the AFN and NOC to the extent that officials of both bodies rose in her defence after she took the last position in the 200 metres event of the World Athletics Championships in Beijing last week.
Solomon Ogba, President of the AFN, who reacted immediately Okagbare’s race was concluded, said the athlete did her best.
Ogba said journalists who critised Okagbare should always weigh the sociological implications of their stories before going to the press.
“Sports journalists are the biggest stakeholders in sports,” Ogba stated. “Without them, sports will not thrive. We have seen what television money has done for football. As stakeholders, we beg that they positively continue their contributions in developing athletics.”
“Part of the sacrifice they will make is to ensure that they are mindful of the sociological implications of their stories. We, in the AFN beg them. We shall continue to beg.”
“Imagine this scenario: a journalist was not anywhere in China, not to talk of Beijing. But in his report of the race done by Okagbare, he claimed that AFN officials were shocked when Okagbare chickened out of the 200 metres’ race in Beijing. That, to a very large extent, is total falsehood.”
Said he: “Okagbare had an hamstring. We all saw it. Immediately the race was concluded, we invited our medical team to assess her injury. We also simultaneously brought in the IAAF medical team. The IAAF team quickly took her away and carried out a scan and confirmed her injury. To authentic their claim, the team advised that she should withdraw from the remaining races due to the hamstring injury.”
Okagbare herself, was unperturbed about her performance. Walking out of the medical centre of the Beijing International Stadium, the Warri lady said she owed explanations to only those who mattered to her career:
“I really owe plenty of explanations for this woeful performance,” she intoned. “But they will only be given to those who matter. Those who wish my downfall should hide their faces in shame. They call me Warri instead of Nigeria when I don’t win. For all of those people and other haters, I owe no apology.”
“But my apology goes to all those who prayed for me before this race, before this competition. I am extremely grateful. In all your endeavours, my God will see you through.”
Olusoji Fasuba, obviously the current fastest man in Africa, also reacted to Okagbare’s outing.
He said the Delta woman was Nigeria’s pride and must not be murdered because of the latest result of the World Athletics Championships.
“People that say Blessing Okagbare is a flop should refrain from using such words. Instead, they should ask themselves what they have contributed to the development of Nigerian athletics. Okagbare is a blessing to Nigeria. She is a blessing for us at this time when athletics is at its lowest ebb.