Medal blow blamed on migration

With only six gold medals, five less than the Paris haul in 2003, Africa’s poor showing at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) world championships in Helsinki, Finland, has incensed sports administrators and athletes alike.

The president of the Confederation of African Athletics, Hamad Kalkaba, is bitter that rules allowing athletes to change nationality has negatively affected the continent.

Class African athletes including Nigerian sprinter Francis Obikwelu (now Portugal) and hurdler Glory Alozie (Spain), former Kenyan distance runner Lornah Kiplagat (Netherlands), 3 000m steeplechase champion Steven Cherono (Qatar) and Benard Lagat (United States) as well as former Zimbabwean Philemon Hanneck (US) have forsaken their birthrights for more lucrative sporting ventures.

“We are concerned about the migration of African athletes to other nations. It is a drawback to our development and performances.
This scenario let us down at the world championships in Helsinki,” Kalkaba fumed.

The Cameroonian is lobbying for the IAAF to put more stringent conditions in place to curb the growing trend. He said he favours a five-year restriction on switching countries.

South African administrators, irked by its no-medal return, lambasted athletes for “lacking passion”. In Nigeria, former 100m champion Chidi Imoh told a local radio station his country’s performance was woeful. “It’s shameful and annoying that Nigeria could not pick up a single medal,” he said.

Athletes were equally scathing of their national athletics federations and governments. Former world 10 000m champion Moses Tanui led the charge calling on Athletics Kenya to be disbanded despite his country’s solitary gold, two silver and four bronze tally.

South Africa’s marathon runner Hendrik Ramaala — a lawyer by profession — warned administrators “to wake up, invest and support the development of athletes” or face further defections.

In what epitomised Africa’s nightmarish Helsinki sojourn, Tanzanians did not even have a national flag on hand to drape over Christopher Isengu after he claimed silver in the marathon, depriving him of a lap of honour. Officials apparently did not think they were medal contenders in any of the events and had left their flag at the games village.

On the bright side, however, Uganda’s Dorcus Inzikuru was treated to a hero’s welcome on her return to Kampala with a gold in the inaugural women’s steeplechase event and a championship record, breaking her country’s 33-year medal drought.

But the toast of the continent, if not the world championship, was Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba who became the first athlete to triumph in both the 5 000m and 10 000m. Her achievements somewhat overshadowed what is nonetheless an amazing feat by her compatriots, who completed the clean sweep of the medals in both events.

Ghana also gave West Africa something to cheer about when long jumper Ignacios Gaizah snatched silver and the only field event medal for the continent. This confirms that Africans are slipping dramatically in the rigours of the jumps and throws.

Hard work and tough decisions lie ahead for Africa’s athletes and administrators ahead of the 2007 world championships in Osaka, Japan.

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