By FRED EDOREH
Despite the initial flight connection difficulties she experienced, alongside some other athletes, on arrival in Lagos for the Asaba 2018 African Senior Athletics Championships, women 100 and 200 meters champion, Marie Josse Tah Lou, returned to Côte d’Ivoire a very happy lady. She took to her Facebook page on Monday to express her joy.
“Dear all,” she wrote, “I’m proud to know that all the work that has been shot for years is paying. I’m happy to announce that I come back from these African Championships with 3 medals, including 2 Gold and silver. I asked God, he told me that I will go from glory to glory and his graces on my life surabondent of such fate that I can only say thank him.”
Tah Lou’s joy certainly derives from the platform presented by Asaba 2018, a venue that provided leverage for other record-breaking performances by other athletes. Here, Caster Semenya found the tracks comfortable for her to smash the legendary Maria Mutola’s 25-year old 800m championship and 18 years old South African national record in 400m.
Her countryman, Ruswahi Samaai also took advantage to set a new mark in the Long Jump retaining his gold medal from Durban 2016, just as Nigeria’s Chukwuebuka Enekwechi set a new record in the men’s Shot Put while his countrywoman, Temilola Ogunrinde, produced a new national record in the Hammer Throw, even with a silver finish. These things happen when athletes find the competition condition conducive.
But, in expressing her joy, Tah Lou made a most significant comment that aptly describes the spirit of Asaba 2018 and the “Big Heart” with which Governor Ifeanyi Okowa stepped out host the event when Nigeria seemed to be failing over the hosting right.
“In this environment,” she continued, “I understand that we do not grow when things are easy but we grow when we face challenges. And in life in general, we will have obstacles, we will have doubts, we will have to make mistakes too, but if we work hard, let’s keep faith, and still believe that God can make the absolute miracle in our life then there will be no limit. Finally, I give you the secrets of my success: hard work, a rage to defeat but above all a solid and proven faith.”
Asaba 2018 had challenges, obstacles, which the host, under the able and resilient leadership of Governor Okowa surmounted. First was the provision of the sports facility, the Stephen Keshi Stadium, abandoned for a little short of two decades after its foundation was laid in 2001. The main bowl completed was good enough to host the championships as the Confederation of Africa Athletics approved, while work on other sections of the complex is still ongoing. Noteworthy is that the state never declared that the stadium has been fully, finally completed.
That in place, the main challenge was the situation of the aviation industry in Nigeria.
As a state known for its high contributions to the national economy and with various oil companies in operation in the area, one would have thought that the Federal Government would have deemed it fit to provide it with an international airport. With that not being the case through decades of the exploitation of its oil resources, the state has been grappling with setting up befitting airports at Osubi and Asaba.
Side by side with funding the stadium construction, Okowa indeed went to work, to correct the faults at the Asaba Airport which, unfortunately, was left with just two commercial flights a day and with small aircrafts, into the commencement of the event.
This created a bottleneck, coupled, admittedly, with a lapse on the protocol department of the Local Organising Committee, for the timely evacuation of athletes to Asaba on arrival in Lagos. While that was regrettable, the Delta State Government responded well by providing chattered flights, at huge cost, by which all the affected athletes got to Asaba in the morning of the opening ceremony.
The CAA understood and rescheduled a few of the opening events and after that the games went on smoothly to a glisteningly glorious end with lessons quickly learnt from the opening experience now applied in the coordination of the return trip of various country delegations.
Thus, Reuben Abati’s outburst describing the event as a disgrace, is not only far from truth, sobriety and good judgment, his collation of snide comments made by a few foreign athletes just in the face of the initial hitches is most puerile, unpatriotic and unsportsmanlike.
His abrasive employment of such words as “stupid” “silly” “nonsense” “dim-wit” to describe the sweet experience of Asaba 2018, suggesting that “Okowa failed Nigeria” and bringing PDP into the matter, no matter how subtle and veiled, suggests he was on a politically commissioned hatchet job, a disservice to not only sports, the virtue of courage with which Delta delivered the games but also a dishonor to his person and conscience.
It really is a pity to see men fall to such low to mortgage themselves, but his case may be understandable because, through his career in journalism (or just writing), it is doubtful if he ever covered major sporting events, otherwise, he would have learnt, as Callum Davies of The Telegraph, UK, once noted, that glitches do occur.
“Regardless of the thousands of hours dedicated to perfecting the performance, history shows us that no amount of meticulous planning and practice can prepare for the inevitable malfunctions that have ruined many an opening ceremony in the past,” he wrote in an exposie in 2016.
So also observed Elizabeth Levantin Spaid of the Christian Science Monitor who examined every aspect of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, pointing out that “each Olympic Games experiences snags and Kinks, especially during the beginning.”
In Atlanta 1996, transportation was also a major problem, with failures or delays in conveying the athletes to competition venue, such that many were stranded, leading some to completely relocate from the Games Village. Spectators also suffered several hours of delays of designated buses on dedicated routes for the games, with many missing their events after they had bought tickets. The organisers did not help matters with explanations that there was a problem of miscommunication as some of the drivers recruited from outside the city and the state did not know their way around.
The media also suffered hitches, with journalists, including Broadcast Right Holder, the European Broadcast Union, protesting the malfunction of the computer information system that delivers scores, non-provision of lists of competing athletes and up-to-date results.
The worse was that after expending about $300m on security and boasting the event would be the safest Olympics ever, the officials couldn’t explain how a man with a loaded gun sneaked into the stadium on the opening ceremony.
But, as Spaid reported, “the glitches are fairly typical during the first several days of an Olympics as journalists and spectators scrutinize the city and get their bearings, (while) Olympic officials try to smoothen over the difficulties and hope for more attention to be put on the athletes and their dramatic moments. And many spectators seem to be oblivious to the problems. Everyone seems to be in a good mood.”
The story is much the same with Asaba 2018. Despite the regrettable mix up in the arrivals, the championship proceeded in a blaze of glory to provide both athletes and spectators a pleasantly memorable experience.
For families and their children, the event provided a life time holiday experience in the long vacation. Asaba and its environs bubbled with huge commerce for hoteliers, food vendors, transporters, tourism and hospitality service operators and others. With the provision of the stadium, sporting life in the state capital has been rekindled, especially as the Nigeria Football Federation is now considering bringing the national teams to its lush grass pitch. The benefits will continue to spiral.
The closing ceremony with the glittering stadium lights, the huge dance party, the fireworks, the joy and pleasure in the faces of athletes and spectators and Governor Okowa taking that lap of honour across the stadium with everyone singing in unison to the sounds of Buchi’s “Mma mma,” will forever linger in many memories.
It all reminded me of Whoopi Goldberg’s line in Sarafina: “I love happy endings.” Asaba 2018 ended on a happy climax, as all efforts went to unleash the energy of the people to attain greater heights and reckoning. Their challenges and shortcomings they quickly learn from, to pursue even bigger dreams. It is from this that progress is made.