Yomi Omogbeja is the award-winning publisher of Africa’s number one Athletics news website – AthleticsAfrica.com. An award-winning journalism innovator, trainer, sports and digital media evangelist. He was pioneer Planning/Online editor for NEXT Newspapers and was awarded the Telkom/SABC Highway Africa new media award for innovation in 2011. A graduate of the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom where he received an MA in Web Journalism in 2004, Yomi was a Finalist in the 2004 Press Gazette UK student online journalist of the year award.
We have just heard that Nigeria’s relay team has been disqualified for drugs. Do you think this will further demoralise the contingent?
I am not sure how this will play out with the contingent as a whole to be honest. However, this is just one more layer in our chaotic buildup to the games. The girls who are building their medal hopes on this event, will no doubt be completely shattered by the news. One has to feel for Regina George for instance who had gone to great lengths to raise about US$4,100 on GoFundMe.com for her tickets to Rio solely as a member of the 4x400m quartet. The other three girls would still be going to Rio to run the 400m flat but not sure they would even be able to give their best knowing full well their best chance of a medal has been taken away from them. To clarify your question though, technically Nigeria was not disqualified because of drugs, but because our aggregate point put us out of the top 16 nations invited to Rio by the IAAF. No member of this Olympic team is implicated in doping whatsoever. This problem arose because all the times achieved in 2015, which put us in 9th position on the relay ranking list, were annulled because an athlete Tosin Adeloye who ran the third leg on that team in 2015 tested positive to banned substances after the Warri Grand Prix in July 2015. Her ban was announced early this year for 8 years and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) have had enough time to get this new team to run two fast times to qualify among the top 16 nations by time for the Olympics, but as usual they were sleeping on the job.
Up till last week, some of our athletes were crowdsourcing funds to go to Rio. Have you been in touch with any of them lately?
Yes. Nwanneka Okwelogu, the 2016 African Discus champion, just updated her page. Apparently the tickets the sports minister said they are buying for the athletes do not make any provision for their coaches and support team. And we all know that many people that will be accredited in those support positions on Team Nigeria won’t be actual professionals who know what they are doing in Rio. So Okwelogu has asked her funders and supporters for their permission to use the donated funds to purchase the ticket and to meet other expenses of her coach in Rio.
Which five African countries do you think will do best at Rio and why?
South Africa, Morocco, Kenya, Ethiopia and Botswana in no particular order because I believe these are the few African countries with the right structure and adequate preparations going to Rio.
You have covered major athletes championships across the world. In what ways will Rio be different?
Nothing beats the Olympic games. The atmosphere, the ambience and the competition is second to none. I’m confident that the Brazilians will put up a good show. I am sure all the organisational and administrative troubles will be put aside once the games start. Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city with its history, cultural heritage, the beaches and the carnivals. One can expect a wonderful experience in and outside the Olympic village.
If you were Nigeria’s sports minister, what would you do differently now?
The focus now should be on 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The minister can build a legacy by making sure that career jobbers and politicians are no longer able to hijack the sports associations to gain relevance. We need to restructure our sport organisations to attract the right people with the qualifications and passion to run the federations as viable businesses. We need to scrutinise persons seeking elections to these bodies to bar unscrupulous persons from being able to get in and to improve the governance and transparency in these national sports federations. The minister needs to launch a Talent to Podium programme for Tokyo 2020 in conjunction with the Ministry of Education immediately after the Rio Olympics. We also need to create regional development centres in the six geopolitical zones with state coordinators tasked with fishing out genuinely young talents from the secondary schools for the talent to podium programme for the 2020 Olympics. Basically we need to stop playing politics with sports and treat sport as a crucial development and youth empowerment issue in Nigeria.