Liberia: The Lesson from Rio Olympics

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By now the Liberian delegation to the XXXI Olympiad – the 2016 Summer Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is back home and we must commend Liberia National Olympic Committee president Phillibert Browne for being able to ‘secure money’ from a local bank to honor Liberia’s presence in Rio.

The two athletes, Emmanuel Matadi and Mariam Kromah competed in the 100m and 400m heats but did not progress much. There were other Liberians athletes who could not qualify for the Olympics. These athletes included Kou Luogan (400m hurdles), Jangy Addy (Decathlon) and Raasin Mcintosh (400m hurdles).

One Liberian athlete who is also based in the United States, Phobay Kutu-Akoi and could not qualify due to a harrowing experience she went through in South Africa, explained her ordeal, published on www.athleticsafrica.com, blaming track and field officials for their insensitivity to her plight as she made extreme effort to have qualified to represent Liberia.

Ms. Kutu-Akoi holds the national 100m sprint but before going into her ordeal, which was also republished in the Daily Observer, we expect track and field officials to tell the Liberian people their version of their story. While Liberian athletes were expected to be in Rio in full that the government’s claim there was no money for the games evidently showed a level cruelty to the athletes whose duty to represent their country like the rest of the world.

But for four years before the Rio Olympics, nothing much was heard about Liberia’s preparation; there were no reports about Liberian athletes’ engagement in continental games and the worst of what Phobay Kutu-Akoi experienced in South Africa.

It is reported that Liberia National Olympic Committee provided support to the athletes abroad for their preparation but the results of their performances should tell the careful reader that they did do some kind preparation but not in the level that justified the ‘kind’ of support provided by the LNOC.

Though it is a painful recollection, Liberia’s disgraceful participation at the 2012 London Olympics in which a wrong athlete was sent to represent the country is a bad administrative inefficiency that is yet to be addressed by the Ministry of Youth & Sports and the LNOC. Perhaps the government’s unwillingness to have supported the LNOC’s Rio campaign could have been because the LNOC has not been able to convince the government while Liberia must be in Rio.

An LNOC official, after spending few weeks in Rio, Brazil before the games, observed that the 2016 Olympics could be described as “Political Olympics,” and therefore it was necessary for Liberia to be there. But was Liberia prepared like others to have better represented at Rio? With the disappointing results after the games, the LNOC and Track officials know how prepared Liberia’s representatives were for Rio. And likely, they just returned home happy that they lived up to the Olympic Ideal that simply says “participation is better,” that winning medals.

Four years from now, Liberia should be in Japan for the next Olympic Games and therefore the LNOC need not be told about the challenges ahead. It means that LNOC should begin the campaign by making ensure that several athletes, both at home and abroad, are helped to qualify in their various categories towards the Japan Olympics. The key word here is ‘helping’ the athletes to qualify for the Japan Olympics.

I am convinced that if the Liberian government is aware of what our athletes are doing to prepare to qualify to represent Liberia, it could provide the required support for future games. And of course LNOC officials should improve on their relationship with the government.

To return to Ms. Kutu-Akoi’s sad story, she said “for seven years I literally put blood, sweat, tears, and money into chasing my dream of making my country proud on the biggest athletic stage. All of that hard work culminated with me, alone in a jail cell, in a foreign country—most people’s worst nightmare.

After all of the trials and tribulations, I had always stayed faithful to my craft and to my country.”

“On June 17, 2016, I received a call, confirming that I and my Liberian teammates would be representing Liberia at the African Championships in South Africa, scheduled to start not even a week later. I was instructed to book my own flight because, as usual, the federation, along with the Liberian National Olympic Committee, and the Liberian government were unable to fund their athletes,” she said

Ms. Akoi’s statement indicates that for Liberian athletes to be successful in the future, no athlete should be asked to fund her own trip. If Liberia is not interested then of course we should say so, and continue to cheer for Ronaldo and Messi, and you can add Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt to the list.

She said track and field officials made sure to at least take the time to say that they were sorry for the inconvenience she suffered in South Africa. “Inconvenience—a word that flows so easily off of the speaker’s tongue, but to the person who is ‘inconvenienced’ can represent years of let down and heartache,” she said.

Ms. Akoi said, “For me, ‘inconvenience’ was perhaps the most dismissive way to sum up the seven years of me working a full-time job to pay for training and recovery, while I waited for the federation to deliver funding on time.” In the end after spending days in jail in South Africa, Ms. Akoi said “I do not want any more Liberian athletes to show up ill-prepared for events, all wearing different uniforms from different years, because, again, the federation does not have the funds.”

And it was that lack of preparedness that ensured that Matadi and Kromah could not move beyond the first round in the Rio Olympics.

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