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Disqualified Nigerian Athletes Protest At Olympic Village

Chioma Onyekwere of Nigeria, shown competing in the Women's Discus qualification of the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 in Qatar, was one of 10 Nigerians disqualified from the Tokyo Games.
Alexander Hassenstein
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Getty Images for IAAF
Chioma Onyekwere of Nigeria, shown competing in the Women's Discus qualification of the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 in Qatar, was one of 10 Nigerians disqualified from the Tokyo Games.

Nigerian athlete Chioma Onyekwere, who had trained for years to hone her discus skills, considered competing at the Tokyo Games to be the pinnacle of her career.

"This is supposed to be one of the happiest moments of my life," she said.

Instead, because Nigerian athletic officials hadn't conducted enough drug tests over the past several months, Onyekwere and nine other Nigerians unexpectedly found themselves disqualified this week.

"I am beyond heartbroken," Onyekwere said in a statement. "This feels like a bad dream that I can't wake up from."

On Friday the 10 disqualified Nigerian track and field athletes took to the streets of the Olympic Village to protest the decision.

"All we wanted to do is compete," read a handwritten sign on cardboard.

"Dreams shattered," another sign said.

Still another: "Why should we suffer because of someone else's negligence?"

The Athletics Integrity Unit, an independent body founded in 2017 to combat doping in athletics, announced the decision Wednesday: Nigeria had failed to meet the minimum testing requirements in the months leading up to the Olympics.

Specifically, the country didn't live up to "Rule 15," which requires "at least three no-notice out-of-competition tests (urine and blood) conducted no less than 3 weeks apart in the 10 months leading up to a major event."

"Athletes do not schedule their own test," Onyekwere said. "It is up to our organization to have a robust test plan for us."

Nigeria wasn't the only country that failed to meet requirements, but it was by far the most impacted, with 10 of its 23 athletes disqualified. A total of 10 other athletes from Belarus, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and Ukraine were also deemed ineligible.

An official with Nigeria's Ministry of Youth and Sports Development apologized Thursday to the athletes who were disqualified, Nigerian media reported.

"It's worthy to note that the 10 athletes did not test positive for any banned substance, but rather did not meet up with the last of the three out-of-competition tests," read a statement from Nigeria's sports ministry, according to ESPN.

On Saturday, the Athletics Integrity Unit suspended Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare after she tested positive for human growth hormone. She had been scheduled to participate in the semi-finals of the women's 100m that evening.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").
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