July, 21 2023.
Be it on Social Media, or traditional media outlets, electronic, print or graphics, one name on the lips of virtually any sports loving Nigerian all through on Wednesday was Oluwatobi Amusan and her name trended that much for just two reasons;
First, many woke up to the unsavory news of Amusan, Nigeria's one and only World Champion and world record holder in mainstream Sports, being suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) for a non-doping infraction, after the athlete herself had posted on her official Social Media accounts, that she's been charged by the AIU for an alleged failure to take three out of competition tests (OCT), within 12 calenders months.
This was coming in just five (5) days to the first year anniversary of winning the women's 100 meters hurdles Gold medal in Eugene, Oregon, USA to be crowned world champion and record holder in the event.
Secondly, it coincided with the 30 days countdown to the defence of her title, and peharps the world record of 12.12 Seconds, actually ran in the semifinals that preceded the final, where her second record breaking time of 12.06 Seconds was nullified as a record, due to a strong trailing wind.
In the face of all these worrisome news, coming after the twin and related cases of Blessing Okagbere and Divine Oduduru failed drugs tests and the severe sanctions that were met on them; Amusan's charge which related to a non-doping infraction, may appear to some as a child's play.
But far from it, especially in the parlance of the AIU and global anti-doping authorities. Failing one, two and a third OCT is viewed with the same disdain as being found guilty of using performance enhancing substances.
But the respite for many Nigerians and her fans globally was the conviction with which she resolutely pleaded her innocence, insisting she was and has always been a clean athlete; and was absolutely sure that the three-man arbitration panel that will hear her case, will resolve the matter in her favour, and she will be cleared to run at the world championships, in Budapest, Hungary, from August 19 - 27.
“I am a clean athlete, and I am regularly; (maybe more than the usual) tested by the AIU – I was tested within days of my third ‘missed test.’ I have faith that this will be resolved in my favour and that I will be competing at the World Championships in August.”
The case will be heard before the World Championships, but her chances of defending her title is now hanging in the balance, and when cleared it would be left to be seen how she's able to cope with the psychological hangover. She also stands the risk of missing the 2024 Olympics in Paris, if she’s not able to come up with a strong defence during the hearing.
Reacting to the news, Nigeria’s 4x400m Gold medalist at the 2000 Olympics, Enefiok Udo-Obong said Amusan’s charge is under Article 2.4 of the AIU in which the consequences is a two-year ban if found guilty.
“Before the AIU comes out with such a charge, they have partly made up their mind. So, she [Oluwatobi] will need to make a strong and compelling case, for her to be extricated from blame. Similar cases against Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain, who got two years ban and America’s Christian Coleman, who also missed the 2020 Olympics due to suspension,” were cited by Udo-Obong.
But the questions many in the world of sports, including Nigeria's UK-based Sports Journalist, Osasu Obayiuwana have asked but have yet to get answers are “what exactly was the function of the management team of Oluwatobi Amusan, being that they a cut of her sponsorship earnings? How come did she miss not one, not two, but three OCTs?
At 26 years of age, and being a Masters degree holder, she must have know that no athlete who have signed up to ADAMS dare mess around with the AIU on such matters.
Obayiuwana moaned in a Twitter post, "they have dropped the ball, big time! This is just gut-wrenching. This girl is the sporting pride of Nigeria, and look at the situation now”.
One piece of cheering news all day was that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) has thrown its weight of support, behind the provisionally suspended Amusan.
Technical Director, Samuel Onikeku said "the AFN is saddened by the the situation, considering the fact that Tobi Amusan is not just the poster girl of Nigeria athletics, as she's also the face of all of Team Nigeria, at the moment.
Meanwhile, having spoken with Tobi Amusan, both the AFN and other Olympians, have expressed their unflinching support for the world champion, and are optimistic that she will be cleared to race for the country at next month’s World Athletics Championships.
President of the AFN, Tonobox Okowa told reporters that he was absolutely confident that the hurdler has a very good case to present, at the hearing.
“We pray that she will drive her points home and her reason for missing the tests at the time they were slated for".
Okowa further clarified that it was not that she completely failed to undertake the tests, because the third and most crucial one was taken within days of the date she ought to have taken the test. Most crucially, she completed her tests and didn’t test positive”.
Similarly, a former African 200m and 400m champion and Olympic Bronze medalist, Chief Falilat Ogunkoya was also emphatic in saying Amusan’s chances of coming out clean of the saga are very high.
“Simce she has done the tests, it’s something that they will meet and discuss and I know she will get out of it,” Ogunkoya said.
Amusan’s started the season very slowly, placing 8th and 3rd; but she eventually upped the ante in what some pundits dubbed "operation world title defence is fully alive". She won her last four major races; Stockholm in a time of 12.27 Seconds, Poland in a new Season's Best 12.34 Seconds, and two day later in Budapest 12.35 Seconds; and in between time she clocked 12.70 Seconds to win the Nigeria national trials, under adverse weather conditions, in Benin City.
A former Chairman of the FCT Chapter of the Sportswriters Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Victor Iroele believes the decision of the panel can go either way, depending on mitigating circumstances.
"If Amusan had been tested during competitions within the period they said she missed the OCTs, and the Test Results are all negative; she has a good chance of clearing her name. But if they have their minds made-up, and decides to be strict with the rules, she is in for some trouble".
The veteran sportscaster added that testing negative within competitions, during the period they said she missed her mandatory tests, means Amusan is truly a clean athlete, but she has to establish why she missed the OCTs, www.ckdmedia.ng reports.