Nigerian Government Reverses Self, Says Athletes Will Now Get Flight Tickets to Rio Olympics

Nigerian sports authorities on Saturday withdrew a memo which asked athletes billed to participate in the 2016 Olympic Games to source funds for plane tickets to Brazil themselves.

The Federal Ministry of Sports said in a new statement Saturday afternoon that the Olympians should disregard the controversial advice previously given to them, saying government would now “issue ticket to you to travel to Rio for the Olympic Games from your location accordingly.”

The government backed down on the decision after a storm of online protests by Nigerians placed the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, on the defensive.

Mr. Dalung’s office had in a Friday email to the athletes, most of whom are based overseas, said the government was having difficulties purchasing flight tickets and urged them to pay their way to Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian city where the event would hold.

“I am directed to find out from you, the possibility of purchasing your air ticket to Rio,” the letter by Bamiduro Olumide, a deputy director in the ministry, said.

Athletes copied in the email included Seme Okagbare, Seye Ogunlewe, Gloria Asumnu, Regina George, Tosin Oke, Miles Ukaoma, Stephen Mozia, Uhunoma Osazuwa, Margaret Bamgbose and Chinwe Doreen-Amata

Others were, Olumide Olamigoke Jr., Nwanneka Okwelogu, Jennifer Madu, Tobi Amusan, Antwon Hicks and Ekundayo Sogbesan.

Mr. Olumide, however, said the government planned to refund all the athletes once they were able to provide details of each ticket they purchased.

“This development is as a result of challenges faced in buying ticket please,” Mr. Olumide said.

Few hours after they received the notice, some of the athletes took to the social media to solicit financial support for their journey to the Olympics, which is expected to be the biggest event of 2016.

The athletes announced that they were accepting donations through GoFundMe, an online crowdsourcing platform.

Regina George, a sprinter, was amongst the first to launch the fundraising campaign.

“Help get me to the Olympics,” read an appeal she posted with a link to her GoFundMe page on her Twitter handle at 6:15 p.m. Friday.

As at 8:42 p.m. Saturday, Ms. George’s tweet had earned her over 1,800 retweets and she had raised $3, 249, with only $731 from her total appeal of $4,000.

Track and field athlete, Nwanneka Okwelogu, was also seen raising funds online through GoFundMe.

The news of the disturbing development circulated quickly on social media, prompting Nigerians to direct a barrage of insults at those in authorities whom they blamed for being responsible for the “international embarrassment.”

Social media user, Mukhtar Dan’Iyan, was amongst the vocal critics who laid the blame on the government, accusing President Buhari of failing to get budgeting priorities right.

“In an olympic year, Sports Ministry budgeted N181 million for furniture. Misguided priorities is the hallmark of President Buhari’s administration,” Mr. Dan’Iyan said via his Twitter handle, @MrAyeDee early Friday.

But in a post on his Facebook page Saturday morning, Mr. Dalung denied knowledge of the email that “does not represent our stand concerning movement of athletes”, adding that he would pursue detailed investigation to unravel the motive and identity of the sender.

Not up to three hours after the denial, Mr. Olumide fired another email to the athletes, saying the government would buy their air tickets and that the earlier message was “apparently misconstrued.”

“I am directed, therefore, to inform you to discountenance the previous letter?,” Mr. Olumide said. “The Federal Ministry of Youth and sports will issue ticket to you to travel to Rio for the Olympic Games from your location accordingly.”

The positive notice was welcomed by the athletes, with track and field hurdler, Antwon Hicks, telling PREMIUM TIMES he was “very relieved” to receive it.

Funding had remained a major concern for Nigerian team preparing for the Olympics this year, with many athletes complaining of being abandoned and unable to get adequate training ahead of the event.

On June 16, Mr. Buhari ordered immediate release of funds for the team after a meeting win the country’s Olympic committee in the State House.

Source: Premium Times.