The sports ministry has dismissed as false reports that new world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua was denied the chance to represent Nigeria at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Quotes credited to Jerry Okorodudu in the UK Sun that Joshua, whose parents come from Sagamu in Ogun State, travelled from England to Nigeria in 2007, seeking the chance to take part in the trials ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, but was turned back by national boxing officials sparked outrage in the country after the 27-year-old’s stoppage win over Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley on Saturday.
And the report credited to former national coach Obisia Nwankpa, who selected the squad for the Beijing Olympics, that he left out the British-born Nigerian because he refused to participate in the Olympic trials added fuel to the fire.
However, a director in the sports ministry, who was the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Boxing Federation then, Patrick Uwagbale insisted on Wednesday that neither Joshua nor his representatives contacted either the ministry or NBF that the pugilist was willing to fight for Nigeria in Beijing.
“As the secretary of the NBF, I represented the ministry and I should know if the boxer (Joshua) wanted to represent Nigeria or not, but it’s not true that he contacted us,” Uwagable, who is currently the ministry’s North-Central Zonal Coordinator, told our correspondent on the telephone.
“And nobody contacted the federation or the ministry on his behalf; I would have been directed to invite him, but there was nothing like that.
“We were not aware of any boxer in the UK with Nigerian roots known as Anthony Joshua.
“We spent three months in Bradford (in England) preparing for the Olympics (in Beijing) and nobody told us that there was a Nigerian boxer who wanted to represent Nigeria.
“Some British coaches worked with us and they never told us anything about the guy.”
The ministry chief added, ”We also prepared for the London Olympic Games 2012 in Bradford and we never knew anything about him.”
Meanwhile, Obisia and Okorodudu on Wednesday rejected reports that Joshua, who is popularly called AJ, wanted to represent the country where his parents were born.
In separate telephone interviews with our correspondent, the boxing legends said they never spoke to the media regarding Joshua’s intention to represent Nigeria at Beijing 2008.
“I never spoke with him or met him,” 1973 All Africa Games and 1974 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Obisia said.
“Nobody told me anything about any boxer coming for the Olympic trials from the UK.
“If he (Joshua) contacted the ministry, I don’t know, because no coach can invite any boxer from abroad without the ministry’s approval.
“The ministry deals with the secretary who directs us (coaches) on what to do.
“I never told any journalist that Joshua refused to come for trials or that he approached me.
“What I said was that ahead of any Games there were always rumours that some boxers would be invited by the ministry – I never mentioned Joshua’s name.”
He added, “I’m happy that Joshua is the world heavyweight champion, but nothing special about losing him to Britain, because Nigeria has lost many footballers and sprinters to America and Britain.”
Assistant national coach Okorodudu said, “I only knew that Joshua is a Nigerian after winning the world title on Saturday.
“I was not part of the Beijing Olympics, so I don’t know if Joshua wanted to represent Nigeria or not.
“I did not speak to any journalist about Joshua and I don’t know how the comments credited to me came about.”