Yet Again, Nigerian Swimming Returns To Infamous Lane

Swimmers-2-ok-pg-60-9-09-12_copyThe 11th African Senior Swimming Championships begin in Nairobi, Kenya tomorrow. Paucity of funds may ensure that Nigeria fields only two athletes in an event that is seen as a veritable opportunity for African swimmers to gain exposure. President of the Nigeria Swimming Federation (NSF), Babatunde Fatayi-William, in interview with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY lamented the country’s inability to field a full team at the championships despite abundance of talents. He also spoke on attempt by the Honorary Life President of the federation, Olatokunbo Thomas’s bid to take the Presidency of the African Swimming Confederation (CANA).

WHEN Shiwen Ye, a mere 16-year-old took the world by storm with her splendid display at the 2012 London Olympic Games, a handful of fellow competitors and their countries as well as veteran swimmers were divided in their assessment of the Chinese.

While some watchers were confounded with the ease with which she beat other contenders to take two gold medals, others alleged that her victories were drug enhanced, yet another group, which was simply shell-shocked by her clinical finishing, preferred to keep mum.

Shiwen later still the storm by attributing her success to extreme hard work having taken to the sport at age six and preparing herself over the years with innumerable competitions both within and outside her native China.

Her father, Ye Qingsong, also rose in her defence, accusing the Western media of being “arrogant and suspicious of Chinese people and their achievements“ at the Games.

Qingsong told the Chinese news portal Tencent that the swimming team had gone through an especially rigorous anti-doping regime and attributed Shiwen’s victory to a combination of hard work and guidance from Chinese coaches.

However, for Shiwen, the first female swimmer to win two gold medals in her events, the numerous competitions she took part in en route to the Olympics, gave her the needed exposure and cast her confidence in concrete, thereby helping her to break a world record and an Olympic record. At the end of the Olympics, China won a total of 10 medals in diving and swimming.

Nigeria was not represented at the swimming event of the London Games even after the sport’s world governing body, Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), availed her two wild card entries. The National Sports Commission (NSC), which reasoned that the two swimmers picked on account of points they garnered from FINA-sanctioned events would perform below expectations, struck the sport off the list of events that the country was fielding athletes in.

Barely one month after the Olympics Games ended, specifically tomorrow, the 11TH African Senior Swimming Championship will get underway in Nairobi, Kenya and Nigeria is set to field only two athletes in the event, which is seen as a great avenue for the swimmers to gain immense exposure.

According to President of the Nigeria Swimming Federation (NSF), Babatunde Fatayi-William, Nigeria’s participation in the championships, a week to its commencement was not 100 per cent certain, owing to funding concerns.

“At the moment, we are looking for funds that would facilitate our attendance at the championships, which will also feature an elective session. We will know by Friday (last Friday) know if we are going to take part in the event. That is the situation we have found ourselves in,” Fatayi-William lamented.

“However, if we go at all, we will go with a very small team of about two swimmers, that is Samson Opuaku and Rachael Tonjor. It is really sad that we cannot use this medium to give most of our young talents the exposure they deserve due to funding challenges.

“Championships like these are basically very good platforms for home-based swimmers to be exposed as the foreign-based ones are about this time back in schools abroad. For instance, countries like South Africa that have many swimmers based abroad, will only field home-based athletes in this event, but here we are trying to source for funds to attend the event.”

This development sad as it is, is a classic case of the manner in which lack of sponsorship has continued to militate against the realisation of the lofty dreams that the current Board of the NSF has put in place to better the sport in the midst of the abundant human potentials and aquatic endowments.

Fatayi-William said Nigeria, like most of the 52 African Swimming Confederation (CANA) members, Nigeria was still plagued by inadequate funding, which has made it impossible for the country to make any serious impact in the sport internationally.

“Inadequate funding has been a very big problem for the development of swimming on the continent. For a start, the sport is an expensive sport as it costs a lot of money to build and maintain the facilities. Added to that, you also have to run all-year round training programmes for the swimmers to improve their skills and time. In addition to these, funds must also be made available for organising competitions. The other issue plaguing the development of swimming is the fact that most of our coaches need to be trained and re-trained because their knowledge of the sport, has a lot to do with the improvement of the swimmers.”

While the championships lasts, the Honorary Life President of NSF and Board member of FINA, Olatokunbo Thomas, would be vying for CANA’s Presidency. The election is billed for September 13th, a day set aside to allow member countries attend the CANA General Assembly.

Thomas, who is currently serving as one of the three vice presidents of the CANA as well as chair of the Legal Commission of FINA, will be bidding to succeed Algeria’s Mustapha Larfaoui, the current President, who will be stepping down.

According to Fatayi-William, “at the championships, which happens every four years, Nigeria’s Olatokunbo Thomas, who is vice president of CANA, will be vying for the presidency of the body and it would be a great leap for Nigeria if his ambition of leading the continental body was realised. It is only when we get there that we would know, who is vying and what posts they are vying for.”

Asked to fancy the Nigerian flag bearer’s chances of making the CANA presidency, he said “it is difficult to say exactly what his chances are right from here (Nigeria) as everything boils down to how many countries will be available for the congress.

“But on a broad basis, whatever would happen there would depend on, who is contesting and who shows up to vote. Mind you, it is only those, who are present at the championships that can vote. However, you are aware of the funding challenges that most of the 50-member nations of CANA experience.”

He stressed the need for the candidature of the veteran swimming administrator to be availed the needed support because he would be the country’s eye in the continental body as “you cannot have more than one person in the CANA bureau at a time. But after the elections, people would be nominated into the various sub-committees.”

“It would be helpful if the Nigerian government, through the National Sports Commission (NSC) support candidates going for continental positions in all sports. Unfortunately, it does not always happen as the candidates are most times left on their own.”

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Yet Again, Nigerian Swimming Returns To Infamous Lane