Minister sets up panel to probe disqualification of 10 Nigerian athletes in Tokyo

• To monitor Okagbare’s temporary suspension, appeal

Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, has set up a panel to investigate the circumstances surrounding the disqualification of 10 Nigerian athletes at the just concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Team Nigeria finished in the 74th position on the overall table and sixth best in Africa with a silver and a bronze medal at the end of the Games. The country’s participation was nearly marred by controversies arising from disqualification of athletes over non-compliance with anti-doing rules and the provisional suspension placed on Nigeria’s top sprinter, Blessing Okagbare.

“I have ordered a full investigation that will not only uncover what happened, but will also recommend a process where such lapses can never occur in the future and initiate leveraging compliance monitoring technology to guardrail this,” Dare stated yesterday in a press release made available to The Guardian.

He continues: “First is the mishap resulting in 10 Team Nigeria athletes being ruled ineligible to compete for missing their mandatory Out of Competition Test (OTC). When notice of this ruling got to me, I immediately mobilised my team and the AFN leadership to see how the situation could be salvaged. We mounted a vigorous appeal process with Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) and had the team members complete the tests. However, timing became the critical issue. Despite our energetic appeal, the deciding committee made its announcement, which gave no latitude to our team members for what was only an inadvertent lapse.

“The adverse decision was painful to accept. We had prepared carefully and eagerly for the Olympics with the expectation that each person, federation, coach and athlete would also complete the necessary preparations required of them. As Minister, I ensured that all necessary approvals were done so that all requisite tests and exams could be timely completed. For me, this unfortunate incident is most painful because these athletes had prepared long and hard and also in view of the challenging circumstances due to COVID-19,” Dare stated.

Dare accepted “some institutional responsibility for this lapse,” adding, however, “I also had to depend and expect that each person, in the long and often technical chain, will perform their role expeditiously, and with precision. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line someone failed in their responsibility and as minister, I bear the responsibility and brunt of criticism. But that is not enough. I must move to ensure that Nigeria never experiences another such moment.

“I have personally apologised to the affected athletes. Here and now, I personally apologise to all Nigerians for this ineligibility episode. The AFN has also taken responsibility and apologised to the athletes and to Nigerians.

“Already, a new Medical and Anti-Doping Commission has been set up to establish a fool proof system of testing and ensure Nigeria exits the A Categorization by WADA.

“Also, Blessing Okagbare remains one of our best athletes who has served Nigeria well. We emphatise with her. Nigeria will monitor closely developments around her temporary suspension and appeal.

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