Events That Shaped Nigeria’s Sports Sector In The Last 12 Months

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Nigeria in 2011

Nigeria in 2011

As the year 2011 comes to an end; SALIFU USMAN and JONATHAN ISAIAH critically examine how the Nigerian sports sector fared in the last 12 months, with highlights on major events of the year.

It will not be out of place to completely assert that the year 2011 was a very bad one for Nigerian sports; perhaps the worst in the country’s post-civil war history. But for few events that brought cheers and happiness to the faces of Nigerians, the rest were gory tales of woes and agonies.

Amongst those that could manage to pass for being delightful were the triumph of the Flying Eagles in South Africa during the African Youth Championship, the successful hosting of the 17th National Sports Festival in Port Harcourt by the Rivers State government, the third place finish recorded by Team Nigeria at  the 10th All African Games held in Maputo, Mozambique, and, perhaps some major breakthroughs by some sport federations like the Nigeria Basketball Federation of  Nigeria (NBBF), Athletic Federation (AFN) and Nigeria Scrabble Federation.  The rest may not be quite enchanting.

The good
The Flying Eagles of Nigeria ruled Africa but fell short of expectation at global arena. The only notable achievement in the football sector in the outgoing year would be to some extent, the exploits of the John Obuh’s led-Flying Eagles in South Africa. The team won the African Youth Championship (AYC) in South Africa for a record sixth time. The victory ensured that the Coach John Obuh’s side qualified for the U-20 World Cup in Colombia, where they reached the last eight stage of the competition only to lose 3-2 to France in a thrilling encounter. After a 100 percent record in their group stage matches, the team lost the tactical prowess that would have propelled them to the last four in a country where they won millions of fans.

Another achievement in the sector is the memory of the 17th National Sports Festival tagged ‘Garden City Games of Nigeria which will no doubt linger in the minds of many Nigerians for a long time to come, considering the successful hosting of the event by the River State government. Rivers State has set the pace in the standard of hosting the National Sports Festival, regarded as the biggest sporting event in the country. No fewer than 15,000 Nigerian athletes and officials from the 36 States of the federations and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Nigerians in Diaspora, were believed to have featured in the two-week long sports fiesta which ended on July 11.

Nigeria finishing third in the 10th All African Games behind winners South Africa and Egypt, despite hiccups, was a commendable feat for the nation. Nigeria won a total of 31 gold medals, 28 silver and 39 bronze medals to move one place ahead of her fourth placing at the 2007 Games hosted by Algeria. Nigeria lost the second place to Egypt by just a gold medal, less than the North Africans.  South Africa was the undisputed champions, amassing 61 gold, 55 silver and 40 bronze medals.  

While the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) board members were short of ideas on how to revive the fast dwindling state of the country’s football, their counterparts in basketball under the leadership of Dr Tijani Yusuf were busy taking Nigeria to the next level in basketball with lots of developmental programmes.

In the year under review, Nigerian Women’s U-19 and the Men’s U-16 teams failed to participate at the FIBA World Championship in Chile and the African Championship in Egypt respectively, after weeks of camping in the USA and Nigeria due to financial constraints.

In the African Nations Cup in Madagascar, popularly known as Afrobasket, held from August 17-28, 2011, Nigerian Men’s team, D’Tigers, tutored by Coach Ayo Bakare got to the semi finals only to lose to Angola, but they eventually won the third place match to book a spot at the Olympic Qualifiers that will hold next year. The same team under the tutelage of Coach Sani Ahmed went to the All Africa Games in Mozambique and won the gold medal.

Nigeria Scrabble Federation (NSF) in the year under review can be best described as the best among all sport federations. No other sport federation in the country can boast of the quality of the Return-On-Investment (ROI) the Engr. Olobatoke Aka-led board of NSF has achieved. It is on record that when it comes to sponsorship and support for the international championship, scrabble is an orphan among the federations under the aegis of the National Sports Commission (NSC).
Though, Nigeria was not able make it to the Scrabble World Cup held in Poland, no thanks to the Polish Embassy in Nigeria that denied the team entry visa. However, Team Nigeria at the Causeway Scrabble Championship did Nigeria proud at a five-day event in Malaysia.

The bad
The outgoing year has been one of the country’s worst in terms of football results in recent times, as the country’s national teams stumbled from one defeat to the other. Even the self acclaimed ‘Mr. Tactical’ and World Cup Coach Samson Siasisa appointed in November 2010 as Super Eagles’ coach, amid huge expectations had a taste of the tsunami rocking the country’s football sector as he was shown the exit door after failing to deliver the Nations Cup ticket to Nigeria. The former Super Eagles striker’s account as Eagles coach, ended on a sad note in October as he needed a win over group leaders Guinea to qualify, instead were held to a 2-2 draw in Abuja. It was the first time in 25 years that Nigeria had failed to qualify for the Nations Cup.

In the year under review, Nigerians clubs in continental competitions performed abysmally. Though two-time African champions, Enyimba FC of Aba and CAF Confederation cup debutants, Sunshine Stars of Akure desire some recommendation, reaching the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup, respectively. But the manner the two clubs terminated their campaigns in the semi-finals of CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup respectively, were short of a true Nigerian team.

The nightmare
After dashing the expectations of Nigerians by the Super Eagles and their female counterparts, the Super Falcons, attention were shifted to the nation’s U-23 men team to qualify for the London games. A lot of pressures were piled on the team to book a place for the London Games, even as the expectations of many Nigerians had literally been shot through the roof due to several failures recorded by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) under Alhaji Aminu Maigari leadership. And as predicted, Dream Team V, under the watch of Austin Eguavoen put up a poor performance at the CAF U-23 Championship in Morocco, to crash out of the London 2012 Olympic Games football event.

The ugly
Off the field, Nigeria’s sports were devastated in the year with several ugly stories. The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and indeed, the entire sporting world were thrown into mourning on Monday, December 12, 2011, following the death of Mr. Sunday Bada, a Superintendent of the Nigeria Police Force and an Olympic silver medalist.

The late Bada, until his death at 42, was the technical director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, he had established himself as an astute sports administrator and technically minded sport personality. No meeting of athletics officials was complete without his presence and it was no surprise he shared his last moments on earth with the people that mattered most in Nigerian athletics.

Also, on April 18, 2011, death laid its cold hands on one of Super Eagles players Adefemi Olubayo. He died in a car accident while driving on Egnatia Odos, near the city of Kavala, Greece.

He was on his way to Nigeria to finalise details of his wedding.

Adefemi before his death represented Nigeria at the 2008 Olympic Games, playing all the games and scoring a goal in a semifinal match against Belgium. He was a member of the Nigerian U-20 Team that came second behind a Lionel Messi-led Argentina Team at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands. Adefemi played five out of the six matches Nigeria played, scoring one goal in Nigeria’s game against Morocco in the semi-final.

The nation also lost one of its stout sports administrators in the person of Alhaji Jamiu Tunde Ojulari, president, Youths Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON).  Aged 63, he died in his home town, Ilorin, the Kwara State capital after a brief illness.

The Nigeria sporting press was however, not spared of agony in 2011, as one their own lost his life in the struggle to get sports back on track. Jibola Oni, Brila FM sports presenter and reporter died in August 22 in his home town in Ekiti State, after battling with hepatitis C – a disease of the liver. Jibola was just 27.

The complete blackout of sports particularly football in 2011 shouldn’t only be of concern to anyone.  Rather, it should be a wakeup-call for the country to focus on developmental programmes to avoid future re-occurrence.  The standard of sports in the country has sunk and the managers in sports industry should know that this ugly trend might continue for another decade unless drastic measures are taken to revive one of the country’s unifying cord. We have wasted 2011. Unfortunately, we see the waste merely in terms of not qualifying in some competitions. What foundation for any sports was laid in 2011? How are we preparing for 2012? What will improve in sports in 2012? “The choice is to make 2012 better rather than dwelling much on 2011 failure”.

 

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