Whatever spirit that propelled Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to agree to shoulder the responsibility of this year’s edition is a good spirit.
The African Senior Athletics Championship which held in Asaba,Delta State, (branded Asaba 2018) has come and gone but it has continued to create a resonance across diverse divides on the continent, especially in Delta State. And this is no surprise. Sports is Africa’s spice for social life. It galvanizes the continent, enchants the people, unites the populace and has over the years liberated poor, ordinary folks to extraordinary heights with opulence as one of its rewards.
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I do not have much details of why Delta State opted to host the championship which began 39 years ago. But whatever spirit that propelled Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to agree to shoulder the responsibility of this year’s edition upon being approached for the project in 2017 by representatives of AFN and CAA is a good spirit. It served Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria and Africa well. Every African city or province should take similar responsibility not only to challenge itself but to attract development and engender competition and friendship among a people that often find themselves in needless conflicts.
African nations have seen more internecine wars – ethnic wars, ethno-religious upheavals, border conflicts, land ownership uprisings, minerals sharing/ownership battles – among several others. Worse yet, intra-Africa trade, commerce and economic integration have been hard to achieve. The inability of all African nations to sign the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) strongly underscores the suspicions and barriers that still exist within the people of a continent that tails the world.
Yet, Africa ought to unite. Africa should integrate. The continent’s diversity and expansiveness ought to be her strength not a weakness. Needless repeating the darkling truth that politics and social rivalry have dismembered Africa. The continent is split along very grave primordial lines into discrete entities that do nothing but fuel the destitution of ideas in leadership and ideals in followership.
But in sports, the continent finds a glue, albeit a very strong one, to stitch up the patches and cracks. Sports binds the continent, her people. In sports, Africans take a flight away from fratricidal and patricidal tendencies. In sports, we are our brother’s keeper not killer; in sports there are no ethnic lines, no religious fault lines. Africans in spite of nationalities cheers African nations at world sporting competitions including the World Cup. Nigerians, for instance, bury their differences when a national relay team steps into the field in a global athletic competition. They simply cheer the team. Nobody asks whether federal character was considered in assembling the team. It is even more so when the team wins. Quota dies. Only merit counts. The nation fuses into one joyous concourse.
When any of Nigerian national teams triumphs in world football at any age category, it is the whole of Nigeria, nay Africa, that bursts into a rhapsody of celebration. Ethnicity, religion and other silly sentiments that often encumber us pale into zilch. They count no more. Sports unites; sports binds, sports rewards too.
This is the contest in which the Asaba 2018 athletics competition should be seen as a win-win both for Delta State and for the continent at large. Those who have elected to play politics with such spectacle miss the point. And it is sheer idiocy verging on asininity and crass duplicity that for a tournament scored high by Sebastian Coe, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), President Muhammadu Buhari and other respected sport icons and dignitaries, all some persons see is the collapse of water tank a good 100 metres away from the stadium. But we are all witnesses to a whole stadium collapsing in Europe, South America and elsewhere during a sporting event.
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Those who point to stranded athletes and delegates at airports also forget that whole teams have been lost in air crashes in other parts of the world on their way to a sporting competition. When such happened what the world offered was empathy, support and solidarity. Nobody reduced the shortcomings and fatalities to banal local politics. Global media even in its constructive logic to make sense of the chaos did not deploy words that tend to ridicule both the organisers and the competition itself.
Delegates to any international event get stranded at various airports around the globe for reasons far beyond the control of the organisers of such events. This writer and scores of other editors from around the world were stranded in The Netherlands in 2008 enroute Sweden to attend the World Editors Forum (WEF) holding in Gothenburg because the flight crew of Royal Dutch Airline (KLM) downed tools. Editors from Chile, Brazil who said they had been living in the air in the past 24 hours were in our midst. After much delay, KLM officials arranged another aircraft of a different airline which flew us to Norway and then to Sweden. That wasn’t our scheduled route. We were simply to fly from The Netherlands to Sweden. Such travel hiccups do pop up in the course of an international event. The organisers of WEF were oblivious of our plight and grief.
This is why the Asaba spectacle should not be reduced to filthy local politics. The championship now in its 21st edition scored some landmarks worth celebrating. With about 800 athletes in attendance, the highest in the history of the event, 46 events competed and a record 52 countries in attendance, the highest in its 39 years history, there is a suffusion of reasons to twang the guitar and not march the organisers to the guillotine.
Aside giving Asaba a befitting status of a state capital with a stadium of modern lustre, the political economics of Asaba 2018 should never be dragged into the cesspit of rabid politics. The stadium itself will now stimulate the gradually fading culture of sporting excellence among Deltans. It will henceforth be the breeding ground of future Okagbares, Austin Jay-Jay Okochas, Keshis, among other greats.
For the one week that visitors thronged the rustic Asaba community, there was unprecedented buzz of socio-economic activities. Hotel owners, food vendors, transporters and sundry merchants and service providers attest to this and even demand an encore. Besides, it has integrated Nigeria into the global politics and government of athletics.
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The presence of IAAF president at the event adds more cream to the cake especially when we analyse his statements. He said: “I am not just here for the ceremony, I brought a big team with me from our headquarters to understand the challenges countries face in delivering athletics events like this even at the regional level. My team is also here to look to address and observe to see how they can be more helpful in delivering more opportunities.” This is how great leaders and administrators talk. They know challenges must arise and they sure-footedly work out the solution. This is far more ennobling than the reductio ad absurdum which critics of the championship have laboured vaingloriously to make of it
The organisers of the event and relevant athletic administrators in Nigeria should take advantage of IAAF presence in Asaba to give Nigeria a stronger voice and wider berth on the global circuit. Besides, Delta State deserves kind words for its courage to host at a short notice.