BY SALIFU USMAN, Abuja
Nigeria’s para-athletes have outshone their able-bodied counter- parts over the years at international competitions. Yet, these athletes face such challenges as lack of proper care, training facilities and inadequate funding.
Para-paddler, Alaba Metelewawon (popularly known as Ferrari) is training hard for the para-canoe competition for the forthcoming Tokyo Paralympic Games in Japan, not minding the daunting challenges confronting
The Tokyo Olympics-bound athlete alleged that para-athletes are being treated as second-class sportsmen and women, getting little or no funding compared to their able-bodied counterparts in the country.
He said despite his athletic prowess and medal prospect in Tokyo, he is left alone to train and prepare himself for the Games without any support from anywhere including the supervising Ministry of Sports.
Alaba, in an interview with LEADERSHIP Sports, said the achievements of successful Nigerian athletes at the international competitions over the years were due to their personal sacrifices and fighting spirits, stating that he is determined to make do with what’s available to achieve his dream of becoming a world champion.
He said he would not allow the illtreatment he is being subjected to by the handlers of Nigeria’s sports industry to deny him of his dream of being a world champion, saying he is training twice daily on an empty
stomach to actualise his dream.
“I train twice every day for the Tokyo Games but the challenge is lack of equipment. I have begged our president to help provide the facilities but nothing has been done about it.
“I’m training in Lekki every day without food because I don’t have money and nobody is taking care of us. I take garri every day at the training (na gari without sugar I dey chop). Please, I beg our coach and the president to give us food so that we can have strength to train and make Nigeria proud in Tokyo.
“I don’t know why they like to treat us like second-class athletes. We always get less attention compared to able-athletes who are not even as productive as we, who are disabled.
“It is on record that most of the paralympians’ achievements are the result of their personal sacrifices and fighting spirits. So, I’ll not let ill-treatment affect my dream of becoming Olympic champion,” Alaba stated.
However, the Delta-born athlete appealed to the minister of youth and sports development, Mr Sunday Dare, to address some of the problems facing them. “No support from anywhere. I have complained to our coach and he said he will tell the minister but we are yet to hear from the minister. The minister should please help address some of the issues because we are going to face better prepared athletes in the Olympics.”
Alaba gave his fans what to expect in Tokyo by winning most of the medals at the just-concluded 2021 Annual Admiral Porbeni Boat Race held in Jabi Lake, Abuja. He beat the likes of Olasupo Temitope and Olowoniyi Adeniyi from Kwara and Oyo states respectively in the para 500m K1 final. He also won gold in the para 200m KI final, mixed double 500m Kl and mixed double 200m kl.
The sports minister recently gave a marching order to the Nigerian Rowing Canoe Sailing Federation
(NRCSF) to win at least two gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, saying the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development will support their training anywhere in the country so that the dream can become a reality.
He gave the directive during the final of the just-concluded 2021 Annual Admiral Porbeni Boat Race at the Jabi Lake, Abuja.
“With what I have seen, we can now compete with the best in the world. I have already marked the boat race to win two gold medals for us at the Olympics. We shall support your training anywhere in the country so that this dream can become a reality,” the minister said.
While Alaba may not be the only athlete facing an uphill task to make his participation at the forthcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics count, his revelation of his training on an empty stomach and without food, brings to the fore the depiction of sports as slave labour in Nigeria. Most athletes in the Nigerian domestic sports landscape are living in poverty. The evidence is everywhere: in the level of respect they enjoy in society and in the poor treatment they receive in their clubs, and their status in public.
Unlike what happens in more advanced climes, local Nigerian athletes may be heroes in their community, but only a handful are celebrated as national role models and accorded the kind of respect they get when they move to Europe, America or somewhere else, become globally famous, make their fortune and re- turn home.
Here in Nigeria, there is no fortune to be made, and local heroes hardly become role models anymore. You do
not need to look far to know how badly the present system demeans local athletes across all sports in Nigeria,
including footballers. They are used without adequate financial compensation, dumped, neglected and left to rot on the plateau of the forgotten, in abject poverty.
Sport in Nigeria at present is not fair to the athletes, because there is no system in place, and a mature industry to drive change and make the local athletes success stories again.
That’s why there is an endless stream of young talented boys and girls in sports joining the mass migration to East, in recent years.
Read the Source post on Leadership Newspaper.