Morinari Watanabe’s campaign to be re-elected President of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) continues to benefit from the full backing of the Japanese Government.
Last month, insidethegames revealed exclusively that Japan was using its Embassies around Europe to drum up support for Watanabe.
Now it has emerged that Japan has struck a deal with the Gymnastics Federation of Nigeria (GFN) to help train its young athletes.
GFN President Prince Kelvin Erhunwmunse revealed that the promise of support was made during Watanabe’s second visit to the African country as he tries to seal a second term as FIG President.
Watanabe was accompanied during his visit by Matsunaga Kazuyoshi, Japan’s Ambassador in Abuja.
“The coming of the President FIG, Morinari Watanabe to Nigeria has been very impactful because we were together with the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Chief Sunday Dare in Japan where commitments were made,” Erhunwmunse told Nigerian newspaper the Daily Trust.
“Nigeria gymnasts will gain scholarships to Japan to study and train.
“This has been sealed with the Japanese Ambassador.
“The training will among other things not only enhance the capacity building of the coaches/official, but also help improve the commitment of the gymnasts towards the game because of the conducive learning environment.
“Nigerians should expect more qualifications of gymnasts for the African, Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
“More equipment will be coming into Nigeria because a few weeks ago, the President of FIG, Morinari Watanabe was in Nigeria for the second time and a lot of promises were made.
“The Gymnastics Federation of Nigeria is moving to the next level.”
Watanabe claimed that his visit to Nigeria was aimed at encouraging the development of gymnastics in Africa and was not linked to his re-election campaign.
“The African Olympic Union invited me to attend its 40th anniversary in Abuja,” he told insidethegames.
“During this event, I was awarded a medal for contributing to the development of gymnastics in Africa.
“As FIG President, I often visited African countries to encourage gymnastics development on the continent, where the sport is underrepresented.
“That is part of the long FIG’s tradition of supporting the smaller gymnastics federations and offering assistance.
“I visited the facilities of the Nigerian Gymnastics Federation.
“I met a talented male gymnast, and I suggested that he could apply for Japan’s official sports development programme called ‘Sports for Tomorrow’ to train in Japan.
“Over the past years, several federations have used this governmental programme offering ordinary support for developing countries.
“Nigeria already held training camps in Japan twice – in 2016 and 2018 – thanks to this programme.”
Uche Eke made history at Tokyo 2020 when he became the first gymnast to represent Nigeria in the Olympic Games.
The United States-born 2019 African Games gold medallist failed to reach the final of any discipline in artistic gymnastics and ranked 58th overall in qualifying.
The 62-year-old Watanabe was elected as the new President of FIG in 2016 to replace Italy’s Bruno Grandi, who had stepped down following 20 years as head of the organisation.
Watanabe had been due to stand for re-election last year but was given an extra 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He is set to face a challenge from European Gymnastics President Farid Gayibov at the re-arranged FIG Congress, due to take place between November 5 and 7 in Turkish resort Antalya.
The Azeri had unseated Georges Guelzec to be voted European Gymnastics President in 2017 a year after the Frenchman had suffered a crushing defeat to Watanabe in the FIG election.
Watanabe is the ninth President of FIG and the first Asian to lead the organisation in its 140-year history.