By Victor Okoye
Festus Porbeni, President of Nigeria Rowing, Canoe and Sailing Federation, has decried the delay of the boats meant for the 1st Olympic Qualifying tournament in the country at the ports.
Porbeni, however, told newsmen, on Tuesday in Abuja, that the boats which were expected to be used for the tournament were yet to arrive in Abuja as they had not been unduly held by officers of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
“As I speak to you, our equipment are still been held up at the ports, even though the Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs, has instructed them to be released to us.
“But somebody felt ‘since Admiral Porbeni is involved, there must be guns in those boats’ and ordered them to be brought down for inspection.
“So, the boats have been there at the ports since on Friday.
Here we are, we have no boats for a tournament expected to start on Wednesday.
“This is despite the fact that the International Canoe Federation chose to give them to us free of charge to use for the tournament,” he said.
He also recalled how some boats earlier sent by the International Canoe Federation were also held at the Nigerian ports for 11 years before he came on board as the president of the federation.
He noted that the non-availability of boats for the federation’s athletes to practice had to a large extent hampered the growth and development of the sport in the country.
“Before I came on board, in all the international competitions we participated in, in Tunisia and other countries, we were always finishing in the last position because we had no boats.
“Our athletes were only taught the theoretical part of the sport without the equipment to practice.
“I was very upset about the situation and insisted that the boats must be released to us.
“We rallied round and met with the relevant authorities, including Customs and had to pay a demurrage of about N1 million before the boats were finally released to us,” he said.
He noted that it was only when the boats were released that the federation began to record some successes.
He said the athletes who represented the country afterwards won a silver medal in Maputo, followed by four gold medals in Rabat.
“So, you can see that the talents abound in the country but without the necessary equipment and facilities to practice we cannot make progress.
“How can a container full of boats given to you free of charge still be lying at the ports up till now for God’s sake?
“The Minister of Sports, the CG Customs as well as the Minister of Finance have all been pleading on our behalf.
“But somebody somewhere is hell bent on frustrating us and has been given us sleepless nights,” he said.
He stressed that the situation was an embarrassment to the nation, the tournament’s organisers and especially to the President, Confederation of Africa Canoe, who had been of immense support to the federation.
“This is so bad and makes us look so disorganised.
“Now, that individual who felt that he/she has done her job is trying to ruin the whole nation’s reputation,” he said.
He also called on all well meaning individuals, philanthropists as well as private and corporate organisations to come on board and help sponsor the event, adding that government could not do it alone.
The President, Confederation of Africa Canoe, Joao Manuel Da Costa Alegre Afonso, said a total of six events were to be competed for by the 16 participating countries.
He added that only the gold medalists from each of the events would qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“The participating countries include; hosts Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, São Tomé, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda.
“They will be competing in the 100m, 200m, 500m, 1000m in Canoe and Kayak events,” he said.
Edited by Salif Atojoko