N250m debt threatens athletes’ build up to Olympics

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Unless urgent steps are taken by the Federal Government, the nation’s hope of making an appreciable impact at the fast-approaching Paris 2024 Olympic Games may have wane.

This is as a ‘feud’ has allegedly erupted between the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Tonobok Okowa, and the Sports Ministry, over the latter’s failure to settle a backlog of debts totalling about N250 million.

Already, the AFN is said to be in a fix on how to raise money for some home-based athletes to join their foreign-based counterparts for the World Relays holding in the Bahamas between May 4 and 5.

None of Nigeria’s relay teams (men and women) has qualified for the Paris Olympics, and the AFN is hoping to use the event in the Caribbean Island to secure the tickets to avoid last minute rush, which could cost the nation more money and also affect the morale of the athletes.

A source close to the AFN board told The Guardian, yesterday, that their plans towards the World Relays in the Bahamas and other issues concerning the athletes’ build-up to the Paris Olympics have been ‘kept in view’ for now due to lack of funds.

According to the official, who pleaded anonymity, the AFN boss, Okowa, is unhappy with the Sports Ministry over the long delay in repaying the backlog of money (about N250million), which he lent the federation to organise some events in the last two years.

“Okowa is not happy with the way the Sports Ministry is going about the payment of money he spent in organising competitions and sponsoring athletes to championships. I learnt that some sports ministry officials even want Okowa to part with some huge amount of money before they will help him push his files and get his money. To me, that is wickedness of the highest order because the delay in paying back the money is affecting his private business. That is why Okowa doesn’t want to give money to the AFN anymore, and I won’t blame him. Look at what happened last year, when Okowa was attacked by some AFN board members for getting refund of part of the money he lent the AFN to organise competitions.

“Till now, the balance of that money is pending, and he has been sponsoring all our events since then. Now, some of our foreign-based athletes don’t have the relevant traveling documents (visa) to make the trip to the Bahamas for the World Relays, and the only option we have is to take a few home-based athletes to join the few ones who have visa over there. But where is the money to do so?”

The source lamented that some of the athletes that have secured their tickets to the Paris Olympics need training grants, which is not forthcoming because the AFN has no money.

“To worsen things, the AFN has not received any money from its sponsors since the beginning of the year. I am sensing big trouble ahead of the Paris Olympics Games,” the official stated.

Contacted on the issue, the Director of Federation of Elite Athletes Department (FEAD) at the Sports Ministry, Olumide Bamiduro, said: “I am not even aware of such debt, but I will find out what happened.” However, the Permanent Secretary in the Sports Ministry, Mrs Tinuke Watti, did not respond to a message sent to her by The Guardian on the issue.

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