Olympics: Edeh-Eze cries out over exclusion of wrestling

17.03.2013 | World News RSS

Olympics: Edeh-Eze cries out over exclusion of wrestling

Chief Austin Edeh-Eze is the President of Nigerian Wrestling Federation and since his assumption of office, he has embarked on many programmes aimed at re-positioning the mats-man game in the country. In this interview with IFEANYI EDUZOR, he expresses dissatisfaction with the recent removal of wrestling by the IOC from the 2020 Olympics.

Recently the executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), voted to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics, what do you think are the implications of such a decision on the development of the sport?

It is unfortunate and regrettable that a sport which has been part of modern day Olympics since its inception in 1896 could be dropped now that efforts are being made to develop the game in all countries of the world. Wrestling is one of the most popular sports with the freestyle and Greco-Roman styles enjoying large followership all over the world. Even at London 2012 Olympics, the sport featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman. Women’s wrestling was also added to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games because of the importance of the sport. So removing it now will affect not only the development of the sport but also young athletes who are involved in the game.

Although the IOC cited some reasons such as television ratings, ticket sales, antidoping policy, global participation and non inclusion of a qualified medical personnel on the board of wrestling world body as part of its reasons for the decision, but it is hard to believe that such a sport which has provided many of the Olympics’ memorable moments could be so discarded.

Are their hopes that this decision could be rescinded before the 2020 Olympics?

To be sincere with you, it is not likely that the decision will be rescinded before 2020 Olympics. I want to use this opportunity to tell Nigerians that wrestling is still part of 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and we will still be featuring at the Commonwealth Games. But there is the need for the IOC to bring back the sport to enable young athletes to develop their potentials in the game.

As President of NWF, what are some of the plans your Federation has put in place to develop wrestling in 2013?

The Federation has mapped out some plans to make this year a successful one for the mats-man game and I am happy to tell you that 2013 will witness a beehive of activities for wrestling in the country.

As I am talking to you, we have concluded arrangement with the government of Delta State which has agreed in principle to hold a National Open Championship in the country. You will also recall that Timi Sibi Preye National Open Championship could not hold late last year because of the 18th National Sports Festival tagged “Eko 2012,” so we shifted that to the first quarter of this year.

We are also working hard to have a championship hosted by the Federal Capital Territory and our discussion with the Minister of FCT has reached advanced stage.

Apart from this, we are reaching out to some other states like Imo to see if they will sponsor female national open wrestling championship this year to enable our female athletes be in top shape for major international competitions.

In addition to the national open championships, we also hope to participate in continental and international championships. Having said this, I want to tell you that we take serious the issue of training and retraining of our coaches and officials.

So, these are some of the activities on the way forward for 2013 and in all these, we are preparing to make sure we select the best athletes in preparation for 2016 Olympics as well as the Commonwealth wrestling championship which will be coming up later next year.

Reviewing the last National Sports Festival, would you say there was an improvement in the technical aspect of the game?

I can only judge the last festival from the perspective of my federation and all I want to say is that technically, we achieved a lot in the sense that the standard was higher than what we saw in Port Harcourt at the 17th National Sports Festival. There are reasons why we made sure that the standard was improved because very soon we will be going for Senior African Championship in May and although we may have trials for selection of wrestlers that will represent the country in that championship, we will also give consideration to those that emerged champions at the last festival because we believe they can equally compete favorably at the continental and international level.

So, I am happy and fulfilled with what happened at “Eko 2012” because every aspect of the game was of high standard and the officiating was also of international level.

What do you think contributed to our wrestlers’ poor performance at the London Olympics considering their good showings at the continental level?

You have to understand that Olympics is the highest sporting competition in the world and for you to have any meaningful impact at the Games, you must be at the topmost level. It is also on record that some of the gold medalists in Olympics has made about three or four appearances there and it is only very few athletes that make it at the first trial.

Another thing I want you to understand is that for you to qualify to participate in the Olympics, you are already a champion in your own continent and so, if one qualifies in Africa to represent his country at the Olympics, he is already a champion in his own ranks. Having said this, I want to say that what is important is monitoring the athletes to ensure they are fit to challenge the best from other parts of the world. In doing this, we must make sure that even those that have participated once at the Games are put in good shape for the second trial.

So, some of our athletes have made it to the national and continental levels but on getting to the Olympics for one reason or the other, their standard could not match the best from other parts of the world. So, for them to do very well at competitions of that nature; they have to be exposed at various competitions. You do not wake up from the bed one day and expect to perform miracle at the Olympics. You must participate in some continental and international competitions so that by the time you get to the Olympics, the people you are meeting will be those you have met before.

As a seasoned sports administrator, what do you think is the best way to reposition the country’s sports?

The best approach is developing sports at the grassroots and that is why the Nigerian Wrestling Federation is hoping to organise zonal championships as a way of developing the game.

At zonal championships, there are people who out of fear or out of lack of funds may not participate in national championships. We discover them at the zonal championships, from there we invite them for national championships and if they perform well, they become part of the national team which enables them to participate in other competitions to get more exposure.

However, one thing is to develop the athletes, and another thing is to retain them. We have the Armed Forces, Police, Federal Road Safety, Civil Defense and so many sister organisations and we have told them that whenever they are doing recruitment, they should give us slots. We have people who are doing something for the country, but they are unemployed.

I am happy they are listening to us because when you provide the athletes with meaningful means of livelihood, they will give you what you want. It is wrong to use them for festivals and after which they are paid for the medals won and later became unemployed till another festival.

For us in wrestling Federation, in as much as we are planning to improve their welfare, we want to make sure they are gainfully employed and that is why we are making such approaches.

What is your take on allowing elite athletes to participate in future sports festivals?

What I have said is that if we make it open, let us also have a National Youth Sports Festival because in Olympics, we have Youth Olympics and you don’t expect elite athletes to compete favourably with the youths. So, it should be open because by closing it, you close the entire sports. If you close some sports at festival, where will majority of the youths participate, is it at independence celebration or where? If you close a sport, you have closed opportunities for a whole lot of people.

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