President Nigeria Cycling Federation, Giandomenico Massari, gives insight on the preparations towards the UCI Africa Cup coming up in Abuja in July. Olawale Ajimotokan reports
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How would you assess the board of cycling federation under your leadership over one year now?
Our achievements can be measured by what the athletes are doing. One of our junior cyclists, a female, is ranked fifth in the world in The Point Race Track by International Cycling Union (UCI). She has a total of 540 points. We have achieved many feats particularly in Road Race and now we are glad to secure the Abuja Velodrome for our use. Recall that the Velodrome has been practically inactive for many years, since inception. It was brought back to life shortly before the last National Sports Festival and that was when we started using it for our training. Within a short period of time, two junior and senior athletes went to South Africa and won seven medals, five silver and two bronze medals. One good thing is that the Velodrome is a state-of-the-art facility, one of the best in the world. We are intensifying effort in road race as well as track. In the road race, we have won a lot of laurels. At the Youth African Games in Eritrea, we got a silver and a gold, and in the last All Africa Games, we got a silver and a gold in the female category. Even last year we had good outing in a competition in Ghana for West Africa, we won gold in the male category. Certainly things are improving and interest is picking up.
Following the success I have listed, we were awarded the hosting right for the 1st edition of Africa Track championship (Africa Cup) that will hold here in Abuja July 26- 28. I hope Nigeria will excel in this competition.
What preparations is the federation making to ensure that it hosts the championship and also performs well?
There are two preparations: the athletes’ preparation and organisational preparation. We sponsored a two-week training programme from April 28- May 12 at the Velodrome. As I speak, we had over 90 cyclists (male and females), elite and junior that participated and all six geopolitical zones were represented. We also invited some West African countries. We had cyclists from Benin and Ghana. We have already qualified for the World Junior Championship (male and female) coming up in Germany from August 14-18. We also have the All Africa Games (AAG) which is for the seniors coming in Morocco in August. The AAG is Road Cycling but the Africa Cup is track. So we have to prepare very well and seriously too to make sure we win many laurels.
In this training, we included two courses for coaches in Track Cycling and Commissars. We trained 20 coaches and 25 commissars in three days. We did this to upgrade all areas of the cycling family.
How is UCI supporting the Africa Cup?
For the Africa Cup, we intend to have a massive preparation supported by UCI, two weeks before the championship. That will create room for two weeks intensive training for athletes and athletes from African regions. There will also be training courses for coaches and commissars where certificate will be awarded. The instructors will be coming from UCI. Those who excel in the exams will be elevated, and that will raise the standard of the sport among the best in the world professionally. Already we have set up a special committee for screening of members of all the categories, including clubs. This is to ensure that our licenses are in the hands of only qualified persons. This is the way we can make progress.
In line with this, we have already started with UCI trainings and last November we had UCI instructors that trained our coaches, about 18 of them and they came from different part of the country.
It appears we will soon begin to reap the benefit of the Velodrome?
The Velodrome was built specifically for track race. It can be used for other indoor sports events. In road race, we have shown great potentials particularly the females. There are clear evidence that they can get to the top of their game. The boys are not at that level but they can get there. On track the average Nigerian athlete has great strength, potential power and are good in sprints, in short range. There is potential and high possibility for males. This very category is even good preparation for road race because if you see those who are champions in the roads race, they have already made preparation on track. We have a big advantage moreover the facility is here and we are not building it new. It is not a waste because there is room to train people as masseurs, mechanics, athletes’ coaches and commissars. In a way it is a complete industry.
What challenges are you facing now regarding the Africa Cup? Now that we have the Velodrome are you saying everything is set?
Well, the facility is basically set because it was built to be of high standard, despite the passage of time the facility is okay. The only challenge we have is that when it was built in 2003, it was not a requirement to have an internal transparent barrier separating the track from the inner part. But now it is a requirement, since it was introduced in 2005, before it can be certified for use. They have come to inspect the velodrome and they say it is okay except the barrier. Once we put the barrier, we get certification. That is why we are pleading with the ministry to assist us with this. I hope they will do this for us because the asset is not our own, it is the ministry’s. At the end it will raise the value of the asset, and only that can guarantee its certification by UCI. After that any type of international event can be held here. I went to the minister myself and I think he is trying to see what can be done. They say they are waiting for the budget that has just been passed. Then there are minor things like repainting the lines, those are minor things, all other parts are okay. We are very lucky to have such infrastructure and at this state. But like I told you to have an event like the Africa Cup requires funding and we are looking for more than one sponsors. We are looking for consortium of sponsor to share the costs and at the end have a very good appearance. We are looking to staging an event that leaves international impression.
When it comes to cycling, Giro De Italia and Tour d’ France, and these are massive events. When do you think our Cycling will get off this incubation stage?
It is a long road, let me tell you. Who started cycling as a professional sport? It was France followed by Italy. We have Tour du France and immediately two years after, Giro De Italia, but how many years ago? That was 1900. So we have more than 120 years of distance to catch! Nigeria is not starting now, we started before and we have made some good achievements in the past, eventually everything declined for some reason, but now we are ready to climb back, but we have this gap.
Notwithstanding, we have had good achievement in Road Cycling, especially the female. But we have started to create a change but we must also create a succession plan so that young athletes can always take from aging ones. So we are planning seriously to host the Nigerian championship around October/ November. We also want to resuscitate Tour of Nigeria. This is the way to grow the sport.