Sports enthusiasts express the fear that the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in some West Africa countries may somewhat affect sports development, especially in the affected countries including Nigeria.
They note that the withdrawal of Nigeria and Sierra Leone from the Aug. 16 to Aug. 28 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in China on the grounds that the athletes from the two countries were stigmatised attests to this observation.
Nigeria’s contingent of 12 athletes and five officials left Nigeria on Aug.11 for the competition. Nigeria was to feature in three events: Athletics, wrestling and beach volleyball.
They argue that the discrimination and subsequent quarantine of the athletes which resulted in their withdrawal are not unconnected to the Ebola virus that is ravaging some West African countries.
For instance, Mr Gbenga Elegbeleye, Director-General, National Sports Commission (NSC), alleged that Nigeria was discriminated against because of the news of Ebola in the country.
According to him, Nigeria and Sierra Leone withdrew from the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, due to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
Recent report by World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that no fewer than 1,299 persons have died of the disease in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria since the current outbreak.
Tunde Popoola, Secretary-General, Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), who commented on the treatment of Nigerian athletes in Nanjing, said the athletes were not allowed to train or associate with other athletes in China.
“When our athletes got to China, they were checked but none of them tested positive to the virus, and they were kept in a separate part of the village with athletes from Guinea.
“They carry out tests on the athletes every morning and afternoon, even when they turned negative,’’ Popoola said.
He, however, noted that the NOC did not have any problems with the measures taken by the Chinese government, but that the athletes were affected psychologically.
Popoola said that it was based on that, that the decision to come back was taken.
“ It is not as if the Chinese government was discriminatory against Nigeria; the issue is that the preventive measures affected our young athletes; we considered it unfair to subject our young athletes to this condition.
“It creates a negative impression on their mind, which will go a long way to affect their psyche,’’ Popoola said.
On his part, Musa Nimrod, Chairman, Beach Volleyball Commission of the Nigeria Volleyball Federation (NVBF), said that withdrawal from the Youth Olympic Games, was a heavy blow to the career of the young athletes.
The chairman said that the athletes had lost the opportunity of getting the needed exposure which would have enhanced Nigeria’s future performance in sports.
“It is unfortunate and very discouraging because the athletes have just lost a big opportunity to get exposed, especially for us as debutant in the beach volleyball event.
“It is the dream of every child to feature at the Youth Olympic Games before the senior Olympics, it is discouraging, considering the kind of efforts the athletes put in during the preparations,’’ Nimrod said.
Sports lovers want sports administrators to make pragmatic efforts to ensure that sports development in Africa is not undermined by the outbreak of Ebola disease.
They say that if necessary measures are not put in place, sports development in West Africa may suffer great setback.
They also recall that the 2014 ECOWAS Games scheduled to hold in Cote d’Ivoire has been postponed because of the Ebola outbreak.
Also, the latest effect of the disease on sports in Nigeria is the unwillingness of Lesotho Under-20 football team to show up for an African Youth Championship (AYC) qualifying match against Nigeria.
The match slated for Kaduna, was supposed to be the first leg of the final qualifying round of the 2015 AYC in Senegal.
Though the opponent’s absence meant automatic qualification for the Flying Eagles, they have not been able to put to test their strength ahead of the finals in Senegal.
Nonetheless, Patrick Okeke, Secretary, Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), opines that although the outbreak of the virus will cause a setback in the development of sports in Africa, the challenge will be temporary.
“It is a wise decision to postpone the games because contacts cannot be avoided in sports; but the truth is that it will cause a setback for our sports in Africa.
“However, I don’t see the setback to be long because it is better to save lives; so, it is better everything is put on hold for now pending the time there will be solution to it,’’ Okeke said.
Tony Oghuma-Eghmai, NVBF Technical Director, corroborated Okeke’s claim, insisting that it was a good decision to postpone sports events for some time to check the spread of the disease.
“Although it will cause a setback for sports in Africa particularly Nigeria, a cure for the virus is worth waiting for.
“This is a virus that spreads very fast and if we should continue holding sports events and feeling unconcerned, it will be disastrous,’’ Oghuma-Eghmai said.Bushrah Yusuf, News Agency of Nigeria