Amidst government’s usual ‘no money syndrome’ due to budgetary constraints and failed promises from some senior government officials and presumptive sponsors, Team Liberia has safely arrived in Rio, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympic Games on borrowed money.
Chief of Mission Malcolm Joseph told okayafrica.com over the weekend that the Liberia National Olympic Committee (LNOC) had to take a loan of US$75,000 from the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) to enable the athletes and officials to make it to the games.
He did not say how the money would be repaid, but pundits believe that it would be refunded through their annual US$5,000 budgetary allotment and grants from the International Olympic Committee.
Mr. Joseph said the pair of US based Liberian athletes, Emmanuel Matadi and Mariam Kromah, were successfully processed and registered and accredited to represent the county.
“The Liberia National Olympic Committee took a loan from LBDI bank and I (Chief of Mission) transferred the funds for their tickets to them. That’s how they arrived in Rio on Thursday. I in fact picked them up from the airport. Each of the athletes and technical staff received a very satisfactory per-diem provided by the LNOC,” Mr. Joseph said.
Mariam Kromah, 22, will compete in the Women’s 400 meters track and field race. Ms. Kromah holds a Southern Mississippi outdoor record title in the 400 meters, with a season and personal best time of 24.87 in the 200 meters in 2015, according to Southernmiss.com. She competed for two seasons straight at New Mexico Junior College where she was named most outstanding athlete during the indoor and outdoor season as a sophomore.
Emmanuel Matadi, 25, will compete in Men’s 100 meters. Matadi has won several titles for Minnesota State University and for his native Liberia. He won National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA division) 2 national titles in the 100 and 200 meters for Minnesota State.
Matadi also won a bronze medal in the 200 meters at the just ended 2016 African championships. He has won NJCAA all American Honors capturing the 100 Jayhawk Conference title. Matadi has also won every race in the 100 meters category as a senior under Coach Mike Knox, according to the Louisville Cardinals profile of the athlete.
According to Mr. Joseph, Matadi carries the hope of the nation on his shoulders: “He’s a top-notch athlete and we’re looking forward to him winning medals.”
He told okayafrica.com “As I speak to you, the Government of Liberia did not provide a dime for the games. Ironically, this is a government who provided money to a private football club owned by the President’s son,” he claimed.
“They used government money to support BYC (Barrack Young Controllers) to play an international match in Tunisia but they can’t support an international team for the biggest sporting event in the world,” he added.
Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, Henry Yonton confirmed to Okayafrica that the government could not provide funding for the Rio games, blaming it on budgetary constraints faced by the country due to the impact of last year’s Ebola outbreak.
“I’m saying to you, the government did not have the money to fund the team to Rio,” said Yonton.
“The Government of Liberia has supported other teams that have qualified before, why is he stressing on BYC? Is it because you want to politicize it, or simply because BYC is owned by the President’s son? Any team that qualifies to represent Liberia and fly the flag of Liberia is supported by the government of Liberia,” Yonton said.
Mr. Yonton stated that the Ministry of Youth and Sports made efforts by requesting funding for the games but the Ministry of Finance told them that the money is not available.