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Winning gold at Commonwealth Games, result of hard work –Rafiat Lawal

One of the country’s gold medalists at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Rafiat Lawal, in an interview with CHARLES OGUNDIYA, said lack of funds denied the team from going to the last Olympic Games in Tokyo. Excerpts…

How do you feel winning gold at the Commonwealth Games and also ac Championships Record?

It was a great moment for me and I really want to thank God for what happened on the day. I am grateful to God because getting this far was not easy at all.

What would you say was the preparation like for you before travelling to Birmingham?

The ministry actually camped us in Lokoja, Kogi State for like three or four months before the competition and I will say that really helped us as weightlifters. Some of us were coming from states without the right implements, so camping together with the national team coaches and also making use of the latest implements for the competition really helped us. I want to also use the opportunity to appreciate the Nigeria Weightlifting Federation president, Dr Ibrahim Abdul, he really tried for us.

At the last African Games in Morocco, you also achieved same feat, what does this tells you as an athlete?

It showed me that hardwork and dedication pays and I will continue to put in the efforts so as to become the best in my event. This is my job for now and I must give it my all.

As a woman, what has been the challenges especially with your event, weightlifting?

Most of the time it has been the embarrassment. People look at you and be like why will a woman been doing such a sport but again, some people will be like wow, a woman doing such a sport, its kind of weird to them and they appreciate those of us into it.

So, will you say for you to be in weightlifting, it has encouraged other women to be hardworking and ready to be independent?

It has been a source of encouragement to some, but to others its like a distraction because they can’t really partake in such sports but trying hard for me to put them through and this always come as a distraction for me.

How did you come into weightlifting as a sport?

It was coach Ismailia and one of my friends, Mary Taiwo Osijo Mary. She came to me before I started the game. She is also into weightlifting and won a bronze also in Birmingham. She asked me to join her and that I can do it, so I decided to follow her to training and that’s how it all started for me.

Will you say it was the right decision for you, taking up weightlifting?

Yes, it was the right decision and I am happy I followed that lane. It has helped me to move around the world, meet people and also getting to where I am today.

What would you say has been the encouragement from home?

They have been there for me, calling me, praying for me, encouraging me and also ask if I have trained, eat and the likes. They always want me to be at the top of my game everyday and that has helped me a lot.

Growing up, do you face a situation whereby you are asked to choose between sport and school?

There is nobody from our part of the country that doesn’t face such situation, yes, I did and it was a tough one at the time, but I just have to take a decision. Mine was not just education, it was about my trade and sport.

So how were you able to convince your parents to allow you concentrate on sport?

Before I started the game, I had already learnt a trade. They weren’t too pressurizing me, but they really want to know if I want to make weightlifting a fulltime job as they don’t really see the future in it especially because I am a woman. I kept the faith that it will be good for me and continue to put in my best, I am grateful to God that I have been able to achieve a lot in the game.

So which trade did you learn and are you still into it?

I actually learnt catering, but for now, I have put it aside, probably in the future I will go back to it, maybe after I retire from sport.

Why did you stop?

With training and competitions taking up my time, there is no way I can combine both because catering on its own is a fulltime job and I can’t be able to concentrate with sport.

So, do you sometimes try to make yourself happy and indulge yourself in catering job?

Yes, I do sometimes, maybe someone close to me is celebrating birthday or maybe I just feel like relaxing and to get something for myself rather than going out to buy such thing because I know I can prepare it at home. But it is not often, just once in a while.

Since you won the gold, what has been the reaction from the federation and the ministry of sports?

They have been congratulating me, everyone here has been around to felici-tate with me including my teammates.

What about your state, Oyo, has anyone from there called you?

I am yet to hear anything from the state apart from our media man at the association who called me, but for the governor or whoever, we are yet to hear from them. I am not the only one from Oyo State, three of us from the state already won medals, a gold, silver and bronze, hopefully we wwill hear from them soon.

If you have the opportunity to ask, what would you ask the state to do for you as you have been making them proud?

They should support all the athletes competing for the state because we are putting the name of Oyo State on the World map. Like I said earlier, all the three women weightlifters from Oyo State won a medal each and what else would anyone ask for? They should do whatever they can for me to grow more than this. Like foreign trainings, international competitions. They should pay me allowances and increase my salary.

Are you a staff of the state?

No, most of us the athletes competing for the state are all on contracts and most of us have been representing the state at Sports Festival. We were all at the last festival in Benin, Edo State.

What do you think the future is it like for you in weightlifting?

The future is very bright. I know I am going places and I am just starting. The target is to continue breaking new grounds and winning more laurels for myself and my country.

You missed the last Olympic Games, why?

Weightlifting didn’t make the games not because we were not good enough, but because there was no fund to go for the final qualifying round. It was so painful because we all were looking forward to going to Tokyo and make the country proud, but it was never meant to be.

Do you think the athletes would have achieved something if they had made the trip?

I am so sure of the team, at the time, we were training hard and getting set for the competition, but there is nothing we can do as we didn’t go for the final qualification round.

2024 Olympic Games in Paris is just around the corner, what would you say is your target and what are you telling the federation and the government to do as kind of support?

Let me start from my state, Oyo State, we need correct weights because all these years, we have been training with the men’s weights and that also is not the current one that we are using for competitions. Let them get us the one for women, like the barbell, we are using the men’s own too and the weight is not complete unlike the ones at the federation.

If they can do that for us, we will be happy. Also, they should build a new platform for us at the gym, because at the moment, we are using wooding platform, which is not good for us due to pains and might lead to injury. Most times when we get to the national team camp, it always takes us up to one month to get use to the facilities there and this always hinder our preparation.

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