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Nigeria fends off criticism of Games preparations


Nigeria spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building the Abuja National Stadium to host this year's All-Africa Games but the clock doing a daily countdown to the October 4 launch has already stopped working.

Controversy, scandal and problems with test events have dogged the run-up to the Games and officials have so far been unable to use the stadium's state-of-the-art equipment.

"To say the Nigerian organisers are ready to host Africa's biggest sporting event is a big joke," said sports journalist Ade Ojeikere of Nigeria's New Age newspaper.

But officials of the organising committee, COJA, launched an energetic defence of their preparations.

"COJA is ready to organise the biggest and best Games since 1965," COJA executive director Amos Adamu told Reuters.

In 1965, Congo-Brazzaville staged the first All-Africa Games.

In Abuja's new stadium, workers toil daily to prepare the facilities for the 23 sporting disciplines at the eighth Games.

The 60 000, all-seater complex will be used by some 6 000 athletes and officials from 53 African countries.

SPENDING CRITICISED

But COJA's preparations have been disrupted by a series of controversies.

The World Bank criticised the Nigerian government for spending almost $480 million on building the stadium - more than the country budgeted for either health or education this year.

COJA said the figure had been exaggerated and that the real cost was $340 million.

A scandal broke out over allegations of illegal payments to COJA officials during the purchase of broadcast equipment for the Games' coverage. COJA described the reports as "mere rumours and an act of blackmail".

Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), which assembles cars in Nigeria, attacked COJA for entering into a deal with Germany's BMW to supply it with 900 vehicles.

PAN said it had originally been awarded the contract and that the BMW deal worked against the growth of the local economy, an argument dismissed by COJA.

Yet another storm erupted after COJA reduced its planned number of housing units at the Games' village complex from 690 to 546, saying it needed to make room for a church, a mosque and recreational facilities.

Sports analyst Godwin Dudu-Orumen said the controversies suggested that Nigeria were unwilling hosts of the four-yearly Games.

"People are not interested, not even COJA officials. That's why they can't properly plan and organise the Games," he said.

CROWD TROUBLE

Events designed to test the Games facilities have also run into problems.

Officials were unable to use fancy new timing equipment or operate the lighting system in two athletics events and an international volleyball tournament earlier this year.

In June, a soccer friendly between Nigeria and world champions Brazil at the Abuja stadium was marred by crowd trouble as riot police fired tear gas to disperse angry fans.

Spectators with valid tickets found they were not allowed into the ground and the stadium remained half-empty for the match.

"It is wrong to use these events to assess how COJA can organise events," said COJA spokesman Fan Ndubuoke.

"Everything is going to be perfect in Abuja because we have used all the criticisms to re-double our efforts."

Africa's most populous nation was awarded the two-week 2003 Games in 1999. It will be the country's second turn at staging the Games after it hosted the second edition in 1973.

Reuters


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