Whither Nigerian Sports At 52?


On Monday, 2 October, 2012 Nigeria as a country clocked 52 years, yet her sporting fortunes continue to nosedive with no solution in sight.

Nigeria and her people always pride themselves as the ‘Giant of Africa’ but when it comes to sports, the country has been playing second fiddle to lesser countries: this is the story of Nigeria with a population of over 200million.

On the African continent, Nigeria’s lot can be likened to the proverbial ‘How are the mighty fallen’ as the once-upon-a-time king of the coast has now become a giant with the feet of clay.

From the post independence era, the likes of Hogan “Kid” Bassey, Dick Tiger, Nojeem Maiyegun and Isaac Ikhuoria, who later went on to become the national boxing team coach were some of the boxers that wrote Nigeria’s name in gold on the world map.

In football, names such as Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun, Sam Ibiam, Isaac Akioye, Dan Anyiam, and a host of others were the first set of footballers that brought fame to the country and were a delight to watch on the field of play, but as Nigeria clocked 52, her national teams are no longer dreaded forces like it used to. Nigeria may be five decades and two years old, but her sporting fortunes call for sober reflection.

Serious surgery has to be carried out, especially on the administrative aspects of sports in Nigeria because if the head is bad, the entire body is also bad.

Due to space constraints, we will only beam our searchlight on the last one year, 2011 to 2012. In the years under review a sports enthusiast who follows trends would know that Nigeria is still struggling to walk after crawling for 52 years.

The last edition of the Africa Cup of Nations co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea may have come and gone but the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify calls for serious scrutiny, when lesser nations could make it to the Nations Cup, leaving a country like Nigeria out.

Some sports pundits have continued to express pessimism over the fading glory of sports in the country going by the way Nigeria’s athletes have failed to measure up or surpass the achievements of their predecessors in international competitions.

Still fresh in the memory of any Nigerian is the failure of Team Nigeria to return with a medal from the London 2012 Olympic Games, the worst performance by any Nigerian comtingent since independence. The National Sports Commission, NSC, disclosed that N2.3billion was expended for the Olympics, yet there was nothing to show for it.

The poor showing clearly depicts that Nigeria’s failure to prepare adequately for international sports events is why her athletes always fail, thereby hampering sports development and the country may continue to battle it until she clocks a hundred years.

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Still on the 365 days under review, it clearly shows that Nigeria’s sporting fraternity as a whole is sick and really needs a thorough check up.

Both the male and female football team failed to qualify for the football event of the Olympic, a contrast to the Atlanta ’96 and Beijing 2008 edition, where the male team won gold and silver medals respectively, however their failure to pick a ticket shows that something is amiss.

Apart from boxing and football, Nigeria as a country since independence has thrown up some outstanding athletes in the track and field events but of late things are not the same, raising some vital questions.

The exploits of national athletics coach, Innocent Egbunike, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Falilat Ogunkoya-Omotayo, Chioma Ajunwa, who won Nigeria her first individual Olympic gold medal and others helped Nigeria get some attention but this has since changed.

The questions being asked include: what made the aforementioned athletes perform while the current athletes fail? Did the athletes that shone like million stars use Performance Enhancing Drugs, PED? Should the NSC receive the blame? Are the current athletes not well motivated?

This piece would be incomplete if credit is not given to the Team Nigeria athletes to the London 2012 Paralympics, because despite not getting the best of preparations ahead of the games, the athletes won a total of 13 medals comprising six gold, five silver and two bronze medals and they were adequately rewarded by the Federal Government, which would serve as morale booster for other athletes, both the able and those with special needs.

With 52nd independence anniversary already gone by, it is now left for the concerned authorities to wake up to their responsibilities by providing an enabling environment for athletes to excel.

Sporting facilities should also be made accessible for athletes to train, the NSC should also mandate relevant sports federations and associations to send their coaches on refresher courses to be abreast of latest coaching and training techniques that would impact on the athletes.

If all these and others are brought together, hopefully it would help better the fortunes of our sports.

—Adebobola Alawode/Bimbo Ajayi

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