The 2018 African Senior Athletics Championship kicked off at the newly refurbished Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Delta State, on Wednesday. Nigeria hosts the continental athletics event, which is in its fourth edition, with athletes from 52 countries vying for honours. Nigeria won the first edition held in Port Novo, Benin Republic, while South Africa won the last two editions.
We commend the Delta State government and its good people for hosting the event on behalf of the country. Going by its antecedents, it is not a surprise that the state is hosting the momentous continental sporting event. Delta State, as part of the old Midwest Region, and later Bendel State, has been a veritable source of sporting talents who have put the country on the world map on several occasions. The current African women 100m and 200m sprint champion, Blessing Okagbare and world famous football maestros such as Jay Jay Okocha and the late Stephen Keshi hailed from Delta State.
It is pertinent to recall that all the approving authorities of the Confederation of African Athletics commended the Delta State government for delivering a venue for the sporting event that they can be proud of. The Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, spoke in glowing terms when he led a delegation to inspect the stadium before the championship commenced.
We are glad that the championship has taken off, despite initial hiccups. The late arrival of some of the athletes on the eve of the competition led to the postponement of some activities earlier scheduled for the first day. The induction of athletes into the Confederation of African Athletics Hall of Fame planned for the eve of the championship was poorly attended as many of the athletes had not arrived Asaba at the scheduled time for the ceremony due to some problems.
Nevertheless, the induction ceremony went on. Of the 16 inductees listed for the occasion, only two: Blessing Okagbare and African’s men 100m record holder, Olusoji Fasuba, were present. Those, who were inducted in absentia, include men’s Olympic and World 400m record holder, Wayde Van Niekerk and Caster Semenya both of South Africa; Ethiopia’s Tirumesh Dibaba (women 5000m outdoor record holder), Mesert Defar and Genzebe Dibaba (2000m record holder). Others are Kenenisa Bekele (Olympic and World men’s 5000m and 10,000m record holder), Almaz Ayana, David Rudisha, Ezekiel Kemboi and Vivian Cheruyoit.
Apart from the two Nigerians earlier mentioned, other Nigerian inductees are Christy Udoh, Regina George, Dominique Duncan and Tosin Oke. It was indeed a big night for the country, as Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, the governor of Delta State, was not left out.
As a past winner of the competition, Nigeria should strive to win it for the second time. The rich pool of talents in the country is legendary and we believe that the athletics confederation has adequately prepared our participants for a stellar outing. Already, the results from the first day of the competition are very encouraging, as Seye Ogunlewe and Egwero Ogho-Oghene both finished second in their respective 100m heats and qualified for the semi-finals.
We call on the sports authorities, particularly the Athletes Federation of Nigeria (AFN) to harness the talents that will be discovered from the competition for the optimal benefit of the country. As in other areas of life, continuity is very important and all the stakeholders should deploy the gains of hosting this continental competition to the development of our sports. We wish our athletes a successful outing at the competition.