Nigeria won’t make its athletes pay for their own flights to the Olympics, thanks to social media outrage

Jumping through hoops.
Jumping through hoops.
Image: Reuters/Phil Noble
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Going to the Olympics is every athlete’s dream. For Nigerian athletes, it is sometimes a nightmare.

From experience, few Nigerians expected preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics to be smooth. But even fewer thought it would get as bad as athletes being asked to pay for their own flights to Brazil.

The request came via email from an official at the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), confirmed by Seye Ogunlewe, Nigeria’s fastest man, who kicked off a Twitter campaign to draw attention to the plight of athletes.

After receiving the email, athletes turned to social media to crowdfund the cash to pay for tickets to to the Olympics. “After working so hard to throw the Olympic standard and to place first at Nigerian Olympic trials, it would be a shame to not go on the account of political and financial reasons,” Nikki Okwelogu, who will compete in the shot put, wrote on her GoFundMe page.

The subsequent scorn on social media forced the federation to backtrack.

Over the years, Nigerian athletics has been plagued by poor administration. Athletes have complained about substandard facilities and a lack of support after injuries. In the past, this has even pushed athletes to switch nationalities. Francis Obikwelu is a sprinter who represented Nigeria until 2000, when the AFN refused to cover medical bills for an injury sustained at the Sydney Games. Fed up, Obikwelu switched to Portugal and helped the country win its first-ever medal in a sprint event, a silver in the 100 meters at Athens in 2004.

Judging by the haphazard handling of preparations for Rio, little has changed. Solomon Dalung, the country’s sports minister, has set a target of 10 medals at the Games. To win any, though, the athletes need to get there first.