Okagbare, other foreign-based athletes storm Sapele for Rio Olympics tickets
For the first time in many years, over 50 foreign-based athletes, mostly from Europe and the United States, are in the country to fight for qualification tickets for Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Last year, a major controversy erupted within the athletics family when some foreign-based stars, including sprinter, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor and thrower Chinwe Okoro failed to show up for the All Nigerian Open in Warri, Delta State, which served as selection for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing and the African Games in Congo Brazzaville. The duo was given wildcard by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), a decision, which did not go down well with some athletics followers in the country.
This time around, the AFN says there is no room for excuses, declaring that it would only pick athletes for the Rio Olympics based on their current form.
The showdown at the Sapele Township Stadium, which will begin tomorrow and end on July 9, will serve a dual purpose, according to AFN President, Solomon Ogba.
Speaking with The Guardian, Ogba said the All-Nigeria Championships in Sapele would also serve as venue for this year’s Warri International Relays, where other African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, among others, will pick their final relay teams for the Rio Olympics.
The atmosphere in Sapele became charged yesterday with the arrival of Okagbare and other foreign-based athletes for the event, which is expected to be keenly-contested.
To show their zeal and determination, the athletes paid their way from their different locations, unlike past scenarios when the AFN bought flight tickets for them. Only those who meet the Rio qualification standard set by the AFN would get their ticket refunds, according to AFN.
It was learnt yesterday that all the foreign-based athletes traveled by road from Lagos to Sapele alongside the AFN president, Ogba and other AFN officials.
Among those in the country for the Rio Olympics trials are Gloria Asumnu and Seye Ogunlewe.
While the All-Nigeria Championships will hold tomorrow (Thursday and Friday), the Confederation of Africa Athletics (CAA) Grand Prix, Warri Relays, will take place on Saturday (July 9) at the same venue.