Nigerian gold medalist Chioma Ajunwa-Opara is on a crusade to get the message out about the dangers of drugs to athletes and how to win drug-free.
Nigeria's only individual Olympic gold medalist, Chioma Ajunwa-Opara, runs the Chioma Ajunwa Foundation, 16 years after her record-setting win in the women’s long jump at the Atlanta Games. All these years later, she has much to say about her country’s approach to drugs and medications containing banned substances and what her country can do to see more medalists in the future.
In a recent interview with CCN for its African Voices program, Ajunwa-Opara spoke about the need to invest in athletes and how her country might train them effectively. She ran into trouble during her own training and was banned in 1992 after a failed drug test, four years before her groundbreaking jump for a gold medal.
A former police officer in her home country, Ajunwa-Opara now uses her foundation to serve her countrymen and women as a mentor and motivational speaker. The foundation helps upcoming athletes and educates them on how to avoid medication that could contain banned substances, a mistake which she knows all too well can and a sports career.
The problem is that the approach to prescription medications and substances banned in international sports is different in Nigeria, Ajunwa-Opara explains. It is common to buy drugs over the counter without a prescription, and doctors can give prescriptions without asking if the patients are performing athletes, she says.
While some refute her claims, it an indisputable fact that Nigeria is a developing country, and they lack the resources to focus on government regulation of pharmaceuticals in the way some Western nations can. As a result, there is currently no legislation that prohibits children from buying alcohol, cigarettes or medication.
In a developing country where excelling in a sport can literally pull you out of poverty, the temptation to take extreme measures to succeed can be great. So it’s an education process that Ajunwa-Opara faces with her foundation, focusing on instilling discipline and determination in the athletes she comes into contact with, showing how those characteristics can help them win – drug-free.
Now, the Chioma Ajunwa Foundation has begun a crusade against banned drugs, hoping to help produce Nigerian athletes who can compete clean and fair at sporting events and bring victory to their country. In addition, the Foundation addresses the dangers of these drugs and the unnecessary health hazards that can linger long after the athlete is done competing.
Ajunwa-Opara is already taking this message to schools and colleges across Nigeria and hopes to enlist the help of parents, the government and law enforcement agencies as well. While a drug-free society is unlikely in Nigeria or anywhere else in this day and age, their efforts are still sure to make a difference.
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