Nigeria’s sole representative, Chika Chukwumerije, is set to miss out on one of the biggest global Taekwondo events – the WTF Grand Prix Series, which commences on Friday July 4 to 6 at the Suzhou Sports Centre in the Chinese city of Suzhou, due to the laxity and negligence of a representative of the China Taekwondo Association.
The Suzhou Grand Prix event, the first of three Grand Prix series set for this year, is expected to attract a total of 236 top athletes from 57 countries. The Grand Prix events have a direct impact on qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympics, as a massive 40 Olympic ranking points are at stake. Only the world’s top 31 athletes in each weight category, based on their April 2014 WTF Olympic ranking, are eligible for the tournament.
Chukwumerije was Nigeria’s sole Taekwondo athlete eligible for the WTF Grand Prix Series, and one of the few from Africa, who was to represent the African continent at this global event.
Other participating athletes include nine Olympic medallists, including three double Olympic medal winners – Steven Lopez of the United States, Kyung-seon Hwang of Korea and Wu Jingyu of China. The other gold medalists are Argentina’s Sebastian Eduardo Crismanich, Great Britain’s Jade Jones, Serbia’s Milica Mandic and Italy’s Carlo Molfeta, Korea’s Dong-min Cha and Mexico’s Maria Espinoza.
According to the World Taekwondo Federation President, Chungwon Choue, “The Grand Prix is an exciting new concept in international taekwondo competition, inaugurated last December in Manchester, the United Kingdom. Our ambition with the Grand Prix is to provide an arena for taekwondo’s finest athletes to raise the sport’s visibility, and to realize taekwondo’s fullest potential worldwide,” said WTF President.
To adequately prepare for this event, Chukwumerije had jetted out to Taiwan for a 23-day long intense training camp, the same location he trained before winning a Bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, a first for Sub-Saharan Africa at the time.
From the official draws released, Chukwumerije would have met Juan Carlos Diaz of Venezelua in his first fight, and if successful, met the winner between Konstantinos Gkoltsios of Greece and Ivan Trajkovic of Sloviakia, which was considerably a good draw for the veteran combatant.
Shedding some light on why he could not get the visa on time, he fingered the unprofessionalism of the host organizers as the root cause of his absence at the Grand Prix.
“The contact person, Mr Cui Wei, informed us we could get the visa in Taipei and we just had to wait for the invitation letter. The Federation submitted all necessary documentation on time, before the stipulated deadline, and all the organizers had to do was sent a letter of invitation on time. They then sent it just two days before I was to fly out to China, and Mr Cui Wei, did a complete turn-around and told me to head back to Nigeria to get a visa”
Speaking from his training base in Taiwan, an audibly distraught Chukwumerije lamented about the huge work gone down the drain, “The training camp has been so intense – three times training a day, very strict dieting, 6kg lost, hours of watching and analysing opponents. I have not trained this hard and been this focused since the London 2012 Olympics, and someone just sweeps all that layer of hard work through sheer incompetence”.
Clearly still shaken by the actions of the Chinese Taekwondo Association representative, the veteran athlete reflected on the negative consequences for Nigeria,
“Now the Grand Prix has started in earnest, and Nigeria is unrepresented by any athlete, just because the organizing committee could not respond to a request email on time or provide the right info at the right time. The unprofessional and unfortunate manner in which the China Taekwondo Association has handled this issue has cost the Nation dearly in terms of funds, money and Olympic points.”
The athlete thanked the National Sports Commission for their tremendous support towards the growth and development of Taekwondo in Nigeria, and hoped that this incident does not cause significant damage to Nigeria Taekwondo’s chances of qualifying for Rio 2016 Olympics.