Team Nigeria athletes to the 2014 Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China are expected back to the country on Saturday, an official said on Thursday in Abuja.
The team’s return to Nigeria without competing at the Games was necessitated after the country withdrew from the Games scheduled to hold from August 16 to 28.
This was as a result of claims that the team’s athletes and officials were stigmatised by the hosts and Local Organising Committee over concerns about the Ebola virus.
Tunde Popoola, the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, told the News Agency of Nigeria the athletes were expected back in the country in the next 48 hours.
Popoola said the decision to withdraw from the Games was taken on Wednesday by the NOC and the National Sports Commission after the organisers had quarantined the athletes.
The NOC official said the athletes and officials were also isolated and barred from training alongside athletes from other countries.
He said: “The athletes are expected back in the country in the next 48 hours.
“We will finalise the flight arrangements today (Thursday).
“The issue here is that every country has a right to protect its border against the Ebola virus, but in this case, it was not so much of the Ebola virus itself, but about the stigmatisation.
“When our young athletes got to China, they were first of all checked and none was found to have tested positive to the virus.
“Subsequently, they were kept in a separate part of the village with athletes from Guinea.
“However, the issue here is that when you are supposed to train, you can only train with yourself, because our athletes were not allowed to go out to mix with other athletes.”
Popoola said the act of carrying out tests on the Nigerian athletes every morning and afternoon, even when they turned negative, was demoralising.
Popoola however said the NOC did not have any problems with the measures taken by the Chinese government, adding that the decision taken was basically to protect the young athletes.
The NOC secretary-general said the situation was too much for the young athletes to handle and could affect their psychological being if they had continued with the Games.
He added: “So, let the athletes come back.
“But the truth is that it is not as if the Chinese government was discriminatory against Nigeria.
“That is far from it.
“The issue is that in trying to put up preventive measures, it is affecting our young athletes.
“So, we had to pull out of the competition, because our athletes are not going to enjoy themselves and perform well and it is going to give them a different perspective about the Games.
“We will not subject our young athletes to this situation any longer, because it creates a negative impression on their mind, which goes a long way to affect their psyche.
“Aside from the competition itself, there is also a place for interaction between athletes from the different countries there at the Games.
“So, if that cannot be possible then, I think it is not worth the effort.”
Popoola said it was regrettable that plans for top NSC and NOC officials to join the team ahead of Saturday’s opening ceremony had been cancelled.
Team Nigeria was to participate through a total of 12 athletes in three sports (athletics, wrestling and beach volleyball) at the Games.
An advance team, comprising five senior officials from the NSC and the NOC, had travelled along with the 12 athletes to China.
The names of the officials were however not disclosed by the NOC secretary-general.