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Two Nigerian athletes face 10 years jail terms in U.S.

Former Nigerian jumper, hurdler and sprinter, Seigha Porbeni, is sad over the travail of African Games 100m champion, Raymond Ekevwo, and five other athletes, who have been indicted by the United States of America for wire and mail fraud.

“Remember when I said that Yahoo Yahoo was the problem of our male athletes. Now, they have been caught in fraudulent cases in America. It is sad,” Porbeni told The Guardian yesterday.

Already, two of the athletes, Emmanuel Ineh and Toluwani Adebakin, have been convicted by America of Internet fraud and will be sentenced to 10 years in jail.

According to a statement released by America’s attorney’s office of the southern district of Mississippi, the two Nigerians pleaded guilty to charges of “sending thousands of illicitly obtained proceeds to fraudsters in Nigeria as part of a larger mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy.”

The statement read: “Two collegiate athletes were convicted today before America’s District Judge Kristi Johnson for transferring thousands of dollars to Nigeria as part of a complex fraud scheme, announced Attorney Darren J. LaMarca and Special Agent in Charge Jermicha Fomby of Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Jackson Field Office.

“According to court documents, Emmanuel Inch, 23, and Toluwani Adebakin, 25, pleaded guilty to violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1957, for engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activities, collectively sending tens of thousands of illicitly obtained proceeds to fraudsters in Nigeria as part of a larger mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy.

The two Nigerians are said to be roommates at William Carey University and were arrested after they were found culpable of committing Internet crimes.

Ineh represented Nigeria at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, where he won silver, while Adebakin is a 200m and 400m runner.

Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on February 15, 2023, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Ekevwo, the reigning African Games 100m champion, and two other athletes, Anikeme Etim and Mercy Abire, as well as Zimbabwe’s Ngoni Chadyiwa, have been indicted by America’s district court for the Southern District of Mississippi’s eastern division, Forest
County, for committing mail and wire fraud.

At the 2019 edition of the African Games held in Rabat, Morocco, Ekevwo, ran 9 seconds to win the 100m gold, thereby returning Nigeria to the podium as African Games champion 12 years after Olusoji Fasuba last did it in Algiers.

Before their indictment for mail and wire fraud by America, Porbeni had warned that the Yahoo Yahoo phenomenon was the major issue affecting the performance of the nation’s male athletes at international competitions.

And at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which ended on August 8 in England, only women athletes made the headline by winning 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals. No single Nigerian male athlete could mount the podium.

The situation became worrisome for Porbeni. In his article entitled: ‘Dwindling Performance of Nigeria’s male track and field stars,’ Porbeni stated then that the dwindling performance of the nation’s men in recent international competitions, including the World Championships at Oregon, the U.S. and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, on stakeholders’ refusal to deploy science in athletes’ identification, growth and development.

At Oregon 2022, Team Nigeria made big headlines through the efforts of a world record-breaker, hurdler Tobi Amusan, and long jumper, Ese Brume, who won gold and silver respectively on the last day of the competition after all the male athletes had fizzled out.

“Moving along with the prevailing economic and social changes in the country today, the male child is more affected or targeted. The introduction of online trading or the Yahoo Yahoo phenomenon has provided a serious distraction to our male athletes,” Porbeni had warned.

Buhari Rewards Athletes with National Honours and Kshs 56M cash

President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, in Abuja approved conferment of national honours and cash awards of N200 million for Team Nigeria contingents to the 2022 Commonwealth Games and World Athletics Championships.

Speaking at a presidential reception in honour of the athletes, the President reaffirmed his government’s commitment to rewarding excellence, no less for members of Team Nigeria, who ignited the spirit of victory in the nation through stellar performances at international competitions.

Congratulating all the awardees and recipients, he expressed confidence that the gesture will spur them to greater heights. The president, who described the athletes as champions, worthy ambassadors, national heroes and heroines, praised them for proudly flying the Nigerian flag in nine sporting events.

Tobiloba Amusan, Ese Brume conferred with Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) award

“I watched with millions of Nigerians those exciting moments when you all brought smiles to us and our homes by breaking world, national and games records, as well as achieving personal best in your careers.

“Your outstanding performances in recent times are consistent with the determination of a nation always yearning for excellent performance.

“You all, members of Team Nigeria, have ignited the spirit for victory in our nation, but even more, you have been victorious in major sporting championships and games.

“I have followed keenly your achievements at the World Championships in Oregon, U.S. and indeed your remarkable performance at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom. And I am very pleased that you displayed at both the personal and group levels great sporting talents and delivered for your country great podium performances,” he said.

President Buhari called out the names of the gold winners and other medal winners, including the world champion in the 100m hurdles, Tobiloba Amusan, Ese Brume, Blessing Oborodudu , Oluwafemiayo Folashade, Taiwo Liadi, Ikechukwu Obichukwu, Bose Omolayo, Favour Ofili, Nasiru Sule, Ifechukwude Ikpeoyi, Ebikewenimo Welson, Hannah Rueben and Elizabeth Oshoba.

Reiterating the commitment of this administration in providing the enabling environment for youths to ascend to the pinnacle of their chosen careers, the president expressed satisfaction with the impact the Adopt-An-Athlete Initiative of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports had on the performance of athletes.

He urged more private individuals and corporate organisations to support government’s investment in sports, which has been reclassified from being a recreational activity to being a business in line with modern practices worldwide.

Grace Nwokocha costs Nigeria to lose relay gold after positive test

A member of the Nigerian women’s 4x100m team competing at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games has tested positive for drugs, putting the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) in the midst of a new doping crisis

With a new African record time of 42.10s, the team, which included Tobi Amusan, Rosemary Chukwuma, Favour Ofili, and Grace Nwokocha, took home the gold. However, given that Nwokocha, the race’s anchor, is caught up in the drug dragnet, this would now be for naught.

The Guardian gathered that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has informed the AFN of the development while still awaiting confirmation of the B sample.

In the event that the athlete is found guilty, the team will typically lose both the medal and the performance.

The AFN president, Tonobok Okowa, expressed shock at the turn of events, saying: “I’m not yet aware of any positive test, but that would be shocking,” according to a report by Mainstreet News.

However, sources within the AFN, who confirmed that a letter from WADA has been sent to the federation, but spoke separately to The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the president has been aware of the development since the start of the week.

Grace Nwokocha of Team Nigeria runs towards the finish line to go on to win the gold medal in the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay – Final at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. (Photo by AFP)

They also confirmed that Nwokocha‘s A sample tested positive for anabolic steroids, but weren’t forthcoming on the precise steroid. The 21-year-old Nwokocha, a multiple time national champion over 100 metres, has a personal best time in the 100m of 10.97 seconds set at the last World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA. She also ran a personal best of 22.44s in the 200m. It is the first time in her blossoming athletics career that Nwokocha would be linked to any drug-related controversy.

Nigerians blast Michael Johnson for questioning Tobi Amusan’s world record

Retired American athletics sports champion, Michael Johnson, has found himself in hot waters after he questioned the accuracy of the clocks at the World Athletic Championships in Oregon, which saw a Nigerian sportswoman, Tobi Amusan, smash the 100m hurdles world record with a stunning semi-final time of 12.12 seconds.

“I don’t believe 100h times are correct,” the multi-Olympic gold medallist tweeted.

“World record broken by .08! 12 PBs set. Five National records set. And Cindy Sember quoted after her PB/NR “I thoroughly I was running slow!” All athletes looked shocked,” he continued.

The previous record of 12.20 was set in 2016 by American Kendra Harrison.

The Nigerian, 25, ran even faster in the final – but her 12.06 was ruled ineligible by an illegal tailwind.

Online, some people are lambasting Johnson, with one tweeter calling him “bitter.”

Another person wrote: “Just because it’s not an American WR doesn’t mean the times were incorrect.”

Another tweeter did not mince their words: “Please just stop this US snobbish nonsense”.

However, there were also some tweets in support of Mr Johnson’s comments, including some who said they agreed, and another who posted: “Well said”.

Johnson has since responded to the online criticism, by saying his comments were simply part of his job.

“In questioning the times of 28 athletes (not 1 athlete) by wondering if the timing system malfunctioned, I was attacked, accused of racism, and of questioning the talent of an athlete I respect and predicted to win. Unacceptable. I move on.”

Mo Farah calls time on track career

Mo Farah will return to run the London Marathon in October after finally calling time on his track career.

The 39-year-old athlete’s decision to stick to the roads had been widely expected after he endured a shock defeat to a club runner, Ellis Cross, in the Vitality 10km race in May and then did not attempt to qualify for the world championships in Eugene this month.

However, while Farah concedes he is no longer the athlete he was he says he will not contemplate retirement until after he runs in the Big Half in September and the London Marathon a month later.

“I am getting on a bit,” Farah said. “But do I still have the hunger, am I willing to put in the work and the miles? Yes. I’ve been putting in consistent mileage and I still have that fight in me. Until you lose it I don’t think I should think about retiring.

“But being realistic, can your body do this? I’ve watched tennis and Andy Murray, the guy still has that fight in him but his body doesn’t allow him. So I’m planning two races at the minute and then go back and see where I am. Can my body compete with these guys at this level, that’s the question which will come afterwards.”

Pressed on whether he would take advice on retirement from his coach, Gary Lough, or his wife, Tania, Farah said: “That decision can only come down from me, not my manager, not my wife or my kids. It’s me who is putting in the work week in, week out. There will be a time, but I don’t even know myself.

“I am doing good sessions but it’s not what I was doing right before championships. That’s one of the reasons you want to come back. I’m still doing sessions normal people can’t do. You still feel like you’ve still got it.”

Farah admitted he was disappointed not to be able to run this month at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon, not far from where he trained with his former coach Alberto Salazar from 2010 to 2017.

“As an athlete you love to compete,” he said. “But again you’ve got to be realistic. You’ve done the world champs, you’ve won medals, are you just going there just to make numbers? It’s not easy. You’ve got to be competitive enough to run the last 1k in under 2:25. Am I capable of that? Anyone can run 27 minutes but can you run 26.40, 26.35? I think that’s what it’s going to take to win world champs.”

Asked whether it meant his track career was over, he said: “Yeah, hands up! No, I’m not going back to the track. This is it. I love to be competitive with others, it’s the reason I’m not going to the world champs or Europeans.

“If I can’t be competitive with these guys, there’s no point in going and making up the team. I’ll give it my all at the London Marathon and see what happens.”

World Athletics may bar transgender women from female competition

The World Athletics president, Sebastian Coe, has hailed swimming’s decision to ban transgender women from elite female competition as in “the best interests of its sport” – and hinted that track and field could soon follow suit.

Lord Coe was in Budapest on Sunday as swimming’s governing body, Fina, voted to bar from women’s events trans athletes who have experienced any part of male puberty. Within 24 hours he announced that the World Athletics council would also be reviewing its transgender and DSD (differences in sex development) athletes policies at the end of the year.

“My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sport. We take that very seriously and, if it means that we have to make adjustments to protocols going forward, we will,” Coe said. “And I’ve always made it clear: if we ever get pushed into a corner to that point where we’re making a judgment about fairness or inclusion, I will always fall down on the side of fairness.”

Under World Athletics rules transgender women can compete in the female category provided they suppress their testosterone to below 5nmol/L for 12 months. That rule was also followed by Fina until Sunday, when it changed its regulations after scientific evidence showed trans women retain an advantage even after reducing testosterone.

When asked what he made of Fina’s new policy, Coe was clear. “We see an international federation asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport,” he said. “This is as it should be. We have always believed, and repeated constantly, that biology trumps gender and we will continue to review our regulations in line with this.”

As things stand there are no elite‑level trans track and field athletes, although CeCé Telfer became the first openly transgender person to win an NCAA title in 2019 in the women’s 400m hurdles.

Any toughening of the rules will also affect DSD athletes such as the double Olympic and three-times world championship 800m gold medallist Caster Semenya, the 200m silver medallist from Tokyo 2020 Christine Mboma and Francine Niyonsaba, who won the women’s 5,000m Diamond League final last year.

DSD athletes – who have male testes but do not produce enough of the hormone Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), critical for the formation of male external genitalia – have proved a hugely controversial area for athletics.

In 2019 World Athletics went to the court of arbitration for sport to stop DSD athletes running internationally at events between 400m and a mile, unless they take medication to reduce their testosterone levels. They can, however, run in other events. Cas ruled that 46 XY DSD athletes “enjoy a significant sporting advantage … over 46 XX athletes without such DSD” due to biology.

There has been a great deal of sympathy for athletes such as Semenya, who have been raised as women from a young age and want to compete as one, and any changes to World Athletics’ DSD policy would reignite the controversy.

When asked whether the governing body would consider adopting a similar policy to Fina, Coe said: “We have always said our regulations in this area are a living document, specific to our sport and we will follow the science.

“We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinator in performance and have scheduled a discussion on our DSD and transgender regulations with our council at the end of the year.”

Reece Prescod becomes first Team GB athlete to publicly forgive CJ Ujah

The sprinter Reece Prescod has become the first British athlete to publicly forgive CJ Ujah for failing a drugs test and costing Team GB a 4x100m relay silver medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Prescod, who ran the 100m for Team GB in Japan and was a reserve for the 4x100m team, revealed that he had reached out to Ujah – who has blamed a contaminated supplement after the banned substances ostarine and S23 were found in his urine – and hoped to see him running again.

“We’ve spoken and me and CJ are cool,” said Prescod. “It was his birthday, I reached out to him, we had a conversation. He was very upset by what unfortunately happened.

“Some of the boys went to his party, a small gathering of his close family and friends,” he added. “He’s still a person at the end of the day. You can’t just rule someone out.”

Prescod’s stance is notably more sympathetic than that of the British Olympic Association and his other teammates. Richard Kilty, for instance, who was one of the other members of the 4x100m team, has called Ujah’s behaviour “sloppy and reckless” – and said he would never forgive him.

What particularly frustrated Kilty was that Ujah said he was using supplements that were not batch-tested by Informed Sport – which meant that he had no defence when banned substances were found in his urine in Tokyo.

Ujah is now facing a four-year ban, although he is hoping that his contaminated supplement defence may get that reduced.

“I personally think he’ll run again, definitely,” added Prescod. “Of course I’d like him to. Got to see where his legal situation goes but CJ was extremely talented, one of the most talented sprinters we’ve ever had. It would be nice for him to get back on a track and run again. It’s one of those unfortunate things that can happen.”

Prescod, meanwhile, competes over 100m in the Birmingham Diamond League on Saturday hoping to make up for lost time after overcoming injuries and the weight he piled on during lockdown due to too many Deliveroo orders.

Runner faces UK deportation

A runner from Ethiopia who dreams of representing Team GB is facing deportation back to his home country even though a state of emergency has been declared there.

Seyfu Jamaal, 21, arrived in the UK aged 17 after travelling to the UK in the back of a lorry and claimed asylum. The Home Office accepts he was persecuted and trafficked before he arrived in the UK. But officials refused his asylum claim in May of this year after keeping him waiting for more than three and a half years for a decision, saying it would be safe for him to return home.

Current advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is against travel to Ethiopia – where a state of emergency was declared on 2 November – because of its ongoing military conflict.

Jamaal has received support from The Running Charity, which is campaigning for him to be allowed to remain in the UK. Alex Eagle from the charity said that Jamaal has become one of its most committed and popular runners.

Eagle said: “Seyfu has built a community and family within the UK. His bond with our coaches, our young people, and the wider running community have become his family. So many of our young people draw inspiration from him, model his behaviour and his attitude to training. The community would be so much poorer without him.”

In June 2019, Jamaal won the London Landmarks Half Marathon in a course record of 1hr 8mins 50secs. He is a regular top 10 finisher in the national parkrun times and his ambition is to run and represent Team GB. He also mentors other young runners.

Jamaal is traumatised by the things that happened to him before he reached the UK and is distressed by the Home Office’s refusal of his asylum claim. He said: “Running removes my stress, my mental problems. It helps me forget, it’s my remedy. When I run I am healthy, I am happy. There are times you remember the problems, the journey, the traffickers, but I feel safe in England.

“I have never felt unsafe when I have been here. People think slavery has been abolished. Between Sudan and Libya, we were treated as a commodity, bought and sold, bought and sold, people telling you they own you, that you are their property. You always feel captured.”

Esme Madill, a solicitor at the migrant and refugee children’s legal unit at Islington Law Centre, said: “Seyfu applied for asylum in November 2017 while still a child. He had to wait until May 2021 for a decision on his application. A three-and-a-half-year delay which was devastating for him.

“The Home Office have accepted his account but say it is safe for him to return despite the government’s own advice. Given the Home Office promise, post-Windrush, to place greater emphasis on a more compassionate approach to individual applications, it is disappointing that no compassion was shown to Seyfu, and no recognition of his wonderful contribution to the running community.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Human trafficking has absolutely no place in our society and we are committed to tackling these heinous crimes, while ensuring victims are protected and receive the support they need through our national referral mechanism.”

Exclusive: UK Athletics’ chief was on £226k salary during controversial period

UK Athletics’ controversial chief executive Jo Coates was earning a salary package of £226,143 before she resigned last month, making her one of the highest paid administrators in British Olympic sport, the Guardian can reveal.

The news, which is contained in the UKA accounts for the 2020-21 financial year that will be filed at Companies House later this week, will upset many in the sport given her 19-month reign was characterised by turmoil, infighting and athlete dissatisfaction.

That anger reached a head in September when a group of Britain’s top athletes and coaches told World Athletics president Sebastian Coe of their frustration with Coates and her performance director Sara Symington. Both women also had their defenders but a month later both were gone following a stormy UKA board meeting.

UKA’s accounts show that Coates earned a £147,500 basic salary as well as another £78,663 in pension contributions between March 2020 and March 2021. However, the wider picture is far rosier than expected with UKA reporting an overall deficit of just £103,000 for the financial year. That is considerably better than the result of the previous two years, where the combined losses were over £1m.

Those results also came about despite the organisation experiencing a £9m fall in income due to the global pandemic. However, a combination of only staging one event – the British championships in September 2020 – and dramatically reduced costs for training camps due to travel restrictions meant that UKA was able to cut its costs by just over £9m.

The accounts show that UKA was also able to claim around £85,000 from a number of government schemes, including placing a number of staff members on furlough. And if it wasn’t for unrealised foreign exchange losses of £148k – as a result of the sport holding US dollars to cover costs including those associated with international events and overseas training camps – UKA would have made a £45,000 surplus.

When approached for a statement, UK Athletics confirmed that the accounts for the 2020-2021 financial year will be published on and at Companies House this week.

UKA’s chief financial officer Mark Draisey added: “This is a positive outcome for the sport, with our ambition of a break-even position only impacted by the exchange rates affecting our holding in US dollars.

“In terms of our core activities the organisation is coming out of this challenging period with a much stronger financial position to report.”

Leading World athletics Coach Rana Reider to be investigated over sexual misconduct

One of the world’s leading track and field coaches is to be investigated by the US Center for SafeSport after multiple complaints of sexual misconduct were made against him, the Guardian can reveal.

Rana Reider has earned a glittering reputation in the sport after guiding several Olympic and world champions to glory, including the Tokyo 2020 Olympic 200m gold medallist Andre de Grasse and the world triple jump champion Christian Taylor.

The American also trains numerous other elite athletes, including Britain’s Adam Gemili and Daryll Neita, from his Florida-based Tumbleweed Track Club. However, the 51-year-old American’s behaviour off the track is to be scrutinised by the US Center for SafeSport organisation, a powerful and independent body that handles investigations and complaints into abuse and misconduct in Olympic sports.

The Guardian has also learned that the allegations against Reider have led to UK Athletics warning Gemili and Neita to cease contact with their renowned coach or their membership into the World Class Programme, including lottery funding, will be suspended. A similar message has been conveyed to other British athletes who were considering moving to the US to train under Reider.

Contacted by the Guardian on Tuesday, Reider denied knowledge of the SafeSport investigation and said he had not been told of UK Athletics’ instruction to Gemili and Neita. “You can call my lawyer because this is news to me,” he added. Reider’s lawyer, Ryan Stephens, said the allegations against his client were “unvetted” and “unproven”. “SafeSport hasn’t issued a notice of allegations to Rana,” he told the Guardian.

“The suspicious timing and motives attached to these unproven attacks on Rana’s reputation need to be fully investigated and vetted, and they haven’t been.” It is understood the warning to Gemili and Neita came about after UKA took advice from its Standards, Ethics and Rules Committee.

Both athletes were then sent a letter, which told them that UKA does not feel it is appropriate for them to continue to be associated with Reiner at the present time. In a statement, UKA told the Guardian: “As part of UK Athletics commitment to ensuring appropriate conduct is consistent across all areas without any exceptions, we completed additional due diligence where issues have been raised about the support personnel of UK athletes.

“Following information from the US Center for SafeSport that multiple complaints of sexual misconduct have been made against Coach Rana Reider and that an investigation in the US is imminent, UK Athletics has informed UK athletes currently being coached by him to cease all association until the conclusion of this process.” Reiner has guided Gemili for most of his career, during which time the popular 28-year-old athlete has broken 10 seconds for 100m and 20sec for 200m and inspired Britain’s relay team to world championship 4x100m relay gold and silver medals in 2017 and 2019.

Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Neita had a breakthrough year in 2021, running under 11sec for 100m for the first time, reaching the Olympic final and winning 4x100m relay bronze at Tokyo Olympics. On its website the US Center for SafeSport says that its mission is “dedicated solely to ending sexual, physical, and emotional abuse on behalf of athletes everywhere” – and that it is “authorised by Congress to help abuse prevention, education, and accountability take root in every sport, on every court”.

In July 2021 the centre issued an indefinite ban on the coach Alberto Salazar for sexual misconduct and emotional misconduct violations. Reider, who is regarded as a brilliant technical sprint coach, joined UKA after London 2012 after a long US collegiate career to initially oversee the sprints, sprint hurdles, horizontal jumps and relay programmes. He worked with a group of athletes that included Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, Dwain Chambers and Richard Kilty before leaving in 2014. After departing UKA he criticised some British athletes, saying: “Maybe they get comfortable. Maybe they get the funding. Maybe they’re big fish in a small pond and that’s the way they like it.”

SafeSport has been contacted for comment.