When the curtain was drawn on the 21st Africa Athletics Championships at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Nigeria’s Delta State on Sunday, the host city Asaba was the biggest winner.
The five-day championships exposed the organisational ineptitude of the African Athletics Confederation that left serious calls for the resignation of CAA President Malboum Kalkaba, whose nation of Cameroon managed just one medal from the August 1-5 action.
But it left a rich legacy for the people of Asaba, principally the new Stephen Keshi Stadium that will help nurture talent.
Also on the bright side, the five days of competition recorded full house attendances and the Delta State security was impressive with no reports of theft or crime meted on visiting delegations.
But the delays in transfers from the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos to Asaba meant scores of athletes’ pre-championship form dipped due to the lengthy periods of inactivity in Lagos.
Even on Tuesday, some delegations missed their connecting flights out of Lagos owing to transfer inadequacies in Asaba.
Kenya topped the medal standings with 11 gold, six silver and two bronze medals after enduring a two-day lay over in Lagos ahead of the competition with some athletes forced to share three a bed at Lagos Ibis Hotel as organisers hadn’t made sufficient provision for such eventualities.
The Team Kenya, managed by Abraham Mutai with Stephen Mwaniki as head coach, endured such gremlins to outperform the rest of the continent demonstrated the discipline and fighting spirit among this crop of athletes who deserve state honours.
Speculation is rife that the Delta State organiser were using the championships as a money laundering scheme to build a war chest for Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s re-election campaign at next year’s elections, claims Asaba 2018 Local Organising Committee chairman Solomon Ogba vehemently denies. The All Progressives Party (APC) governor footed the entire bill for the continental championships from Delta State resources, including chartering aircraft to transfer all the delegations from Lagos to Asaba with the federal government in Abuja disinterested.
In fact, federal sports minister Solomon Dalung was roundly booed when he spoke at the opening ceremony to welcome "invited and uninvited" guests to Asaba 2018.
On the field of competition, Asaba 2018 attracted the cream of African star athletes who were also fighting for tickets to compete in Africa colours at the Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on September 8 and 9.
But the athletes were let down by poor organisation that saw events delayed for incoherent medal ceremonies, technical blunders affect results and an unreliable results service cause chaos.
For instance, a false start in the men’s 800 metres left most of the field bewildered, hoping for a recall, but the race went ahead, amid fierce Kenyan protests, with Botswana’s Nigel Amos winning gold in one minute, 45.20 seconds and Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir taking silver in 1:45.65.
Journalists too battled to file copy in a disorganised media centre that initially had no seats and whose internet connection was irritatingly slow.
That Nigeria has shown interest in hosting the 2025 senior IAAF World Championships in Athletics is a huge joke! The colourless Kalkaba claims the CAA doesn’t have the means to put up facilities, but it is under his leadership that the continent’s management of the sport has sunk to its lowest ebb.
The Cameroonian soldier seemed unperturbed by athletes’ protests over the transport crisis, instead hiding under the excuse that initial hosts Lagos pulled out two years ago with Asaba stepping in as a face-saver for Nigeria, hence not all could have been achieved in terms of preparations within 24 months.
"We are a developing continent, everything cannot be perfect, each person here cannot say everything is in best condition at home, so we must be tolerant, understand the situation," Kalkaba mitigated with International Association of Athletics Federations President Seb Coe pledging more IAAF interest in the continental competitions.
"The international federation can see what role it can play in helping continents organise championships, so I am delighted to be here and let me also thank the governor of delta state," Coe said.
"If the governor had not stepped up to things, we would definitely not have held the regional championships."
With Kenya having successfully hosted the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, the 2017 IAAF World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi, and having been handed hosting rights for the 2020 IAAF World Under-20 Championships, many track and field insiders feel Nairobi is almost the automatic choice for the 2025 senior global championships following Coe’s statement that Africa should be given a chance.
Doha will host next year’s senior world championships that will then move to Eugene, Oregon, in USA in 2021 before going back to Europe in 2023, probably in Budapest or Barcelona.
It is fitting, therefore, that Kenyan officials play more prominent roles in the CAA, including taking over the presidency of the below par federation.
Athletics Kenya may not be perfect, but it’s leadership, headed by Jack Tuwei with Susan Kamau as chief executive, has shown it can deliver where it matters most - on the track and field. And on the roads too.
Head coach Stephen Mwaniki and his assistant Julius Kirwa, who led the technical bench in Asaba, delivered beyond expectation, including bagging medals in the relays, leading to calls of Mwaniki tano tena! as fans seek to have the tacticians retained.