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I had opportunities to dump Nigerian nationality – Mary Onyali

*Why I am going for AFN Vice President

*Defection: I won’t blame Francis Obikwelu, Gloria Alozie 

By Oluwole Francis

Mary Onyali...doing her thing with pride for Nigeria
Mary Onyali…doing her thing with pride for Nigeria

Nigeria’s sensational sprint queen, Mary Onyali, has revealed that she found it extremely difficult to have changed nationality despite France, Sweden and America offering her the opportunity but blamed bad administrators for those who changed.

Chief Mary Onyali was guest of Nigeria Television Authority (NTA)’s Sports Parliament on Thursday where she fielded all the questions thrown at her by five parliamentarians as presided by Chief Olusegun Odegbami.

The much improved programme had the likes of Mumini Alao, Shola Akinsola, Barrister Dudu Orumen, Yinusa Tanko Abdullahi and Enefiok Udo-Obong.

Reviewing the final of one of the 4x100m where she ran the anchor leg to give Nigeria a well celebrated bronze medal in the Olympics, Onyali said, “the odds were against us before the final. When we saw the Jamaicans falter, we took the opportunity. I got the baton from the fifth place and we ended up third.

“Before the race, three of us were already injured. We ran for the passion and love for the sport. Unlike today, modern athletes have re-ordered the priority line. Now, its money, passion, education.”

Reviewing the role of government, the African 200m champion pointed out that, “talent is what coaches work on in an athlete, if there are infrastructure, good environment then the athletes will emerge. If the infrastructures are not there, nothing works. Give us facilities in the

Mary Onyali...doing the winning of a medal in a unique way
Mary Onyali…doing the winning of a medal in a unique way

communities and see the hordes of talents will flow. Sports anywhere in the world is community-based.

Sharing the Atlanta 96 experience, she gave Falilat Ogunkoya who she called ‘my Siamese twin’ the kudos. She had won her own medal earlier and her’s inspired me to go for a medal in the final of the 200m.

“Atlanta was one Olympics I was well prepared for. It was a focused period. I really worked so hard for the Games. I was damn happy I got the second bronze and my individual in the city of Atlanta.”

One of the best All African Games medal I got was that of the Nairobi 1987 Games in Nairobi-Kenya. The Kenyans had six strong quarter-milers and we had four. Four of the Kenyan lasses had sprint endurance and two came down from 800m so they had the staying power. They were primed to pick the gold medal on current form.

Mary Onyali...working out in Swedish colour but did not run for the country
Mary Onyali…working out in Swedish colour but did not run for the country

“Thanks to coach Lee Evans. He urged us to run our own race. Some minutes to the race, Maria Usifo asked we switched roles. I conceded. That brought me to the anchor leg. The crowd was fired to their feet. Here was this Kenyan right behind me. In the last 150m, I fired up drawing my energies and experience. I got to the tape, won, passed out, exit by the ambulance and emerged in the hostel but with the gold medal.”

On the forthcoming elections into the sports federations, she told the nation, “when I win the election as Vice President into the board of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), a position I had been yawning for to make a difference in our sport, then it will be left for us to implement all in our manifesto and if then fail, we would be held responsible.”

Mary Onyali...young, cerebral, beautiful
Mary Onyali…young, cerebral, beautiful

Asked about the defection of athletes to other nations, like Francis Obikwelu and Gloria Alozie, Mary Onyali opined that, “you can’t wholly blame these athletes. No. defection is first a state of the mind. Welfare constitutes of self-respect, self recognition, athlete support system, bad or non existing administrators, bad or non existent facilities, bad or inadequate coaching. These factors cause defection.”

Raising the defence for the duo, the former Commonwealth double sprint champion said, “in their own cases, they had very bad and dismal experiences which informed their decisions. Issue is, defection boils down to where you are on the receiving end. Its about the individual athlete.

Mary Onyali...crossing the line of victory again for Nigeria
Mary Onyali…crossing the line of victory again for Nigeria

She told her 60million audience, “I was offered the opportunities to change nationality. France, Sweden and America

offered me. I can’t do it. My heart won’t let me despite that I never had anything rosy back from my country.”

Distinguished parliamentarian Dudu Orumen moved the motion for adjournment and the Speaker, Odegbami did a voice vote which was unanimously agreed to close the session. The programme will be aired agains next week Tuesday at 11:00am.

In his closing remarks, Mumini Alao said, “I like the fact that she is so confident of winning the AFN Vice Presidency. She used the word, “when I win.” Those who wear the shoes know where it pinches. They should be allowed to come on board. I’m rooting for you, Ebefiok and all former internationals to get to the sports federations.”

Dudu Orumen saw, “I saw you in Ilorin 85, followed you to the World junior championships and five Olympics. You are a great athlete.”

Enefiok Udo-Obong said: “She’s always remained an inspiration for me anytime. She is one of the few who have kept her head level. We want to put our sport in a better stead, that’s why we are clamouring for former internationals to be allowed to populate the administrative aspect.

Tanko Abdullahi: I have not seen a Nigerian athlete so technically sound, articulate and confident like Chief Mary Onyali. We owe you so much respect.”

Shola Akinwale: “For me, I believe strongly that former international athletes should be allowed to occupy various positions in the administration of their sports. They will be in a better position to drive the vehicle to a higher level. For me, I wish Chief Mary Onyali success in the AFN election.”

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