Sports loving Nigerians will not forget 2011 in a hurry. It is a year sports administrators in almost all the federations failed to put smiles on the faces of Nigerians. Nigeria boasts of 32 federations and a handful held tourneys in line with specifications for development. The rot in the system came to the fore in 2011 and it is almost impossible not to believe that 2012 will be any different. Collectively, as a nation, sports has hit rock bottom. Even the big five sports-football, athletics, basketball, weightlifting and wrestling failed to impress in the year under review.
Almost all the teams that Nigeria presented for international tournaments in 2011 performed below average. Sports analysts and stakeholders are of the opinion the problem is not far-fetched pointing out that it may linger except administrators concerned imbibe the culture of proper preparation ahead of tournaments.
The use of overage athletes rose to a heightened crescendo in 2011 and observers say only the use of athletes within the age range for age grade competitions will help nurture young athletes to mature adequately for the international scene. Going back to the grassroots and re-introducing vibrant schools sports, elimination of greed and corruption including discouraging the mentality of win at all cost evident in 2011 remain what observers believe can develop the sector. The craze for estacodes and selfishness on the part of administrators rather than brainstorming on how to develop the sector in Nigeria also formed part of the ugly story of 2011. Until these are addressed in the New Year, Nigerian sports will remain in the doldrums.
2012 may not be any better since very little has pointed to a conscious effort by administrators in the area of solving the plethora of problems bedeviling sports. The Nigeria Premier League and the Nigeria Football Federation all held their Annual General Assembly to review the activities of the year and reach decisions on the future of football. That of NPL held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital while that of the NFF is slated for Kaduna, this Thursday.
One area that has hit the sector hard has been lack of adequate funding to cater for the diverse needs of the many tournament engagements. While the National Sports Commission is crying the N65b accrued to the commission yearly is insufficient to cater for the begging demands of the 32 federations, football that enjoys good patronage from corporate organizations, this year could only manage to attract a few. Earlier this year, the NFF uninspiring signed a deal with Globacom, a telecom giant for four years to sponsor the Nigeria Premier League. That deal has eventually drew the ire of the house committee on sports which claimed it is too demeaning for a brand such as the 20 clubs in the Nigerian professional league to be valued at N550 million. This December, however, Guinness Nigeria PLC signed a two-year sponsorship deal with the NFF and the Super Eagles. Unconfirmed reports put the deal at N1m pounds.
But director general of the National Sports Commission, Patrick Ekeji, said the sector can do well if there is alternative funding where funds will not be gotten from budgetary allocations but through financial inflows like taxes, oil refunds, just like the Education Trust Fund is funded. He said the present avenue through which sports is funded hampers sports development because funds for sports go through the normal budgeting but are not available until the events which they were meant for commences or come to an end. It is a system where the president presents the budget to the National Assembly which in turn peruses it for approval. And by the time it does that, most events would have been completed hampering the processes of pre tournament camping and planning. In the world over, any nation planning to win laurels at major international events do that through a specialised system of funding. In the days of the military, sports enjoined such privilege and Nigeria fared well.
Super Eagles, Flying Eagles and Super Falcons falter
The Super Eagles failed the nation in all ramifications in 2011. For the first time in over a decade the team could not qualify for the African Cup of Nations, a tournament that Nigerians had come to regard as their birth right. The players also in the year under review engaged their coach unprofessionally in an off the pitch brawl. The infighting according to pundits could also be responsible for the poor outings. The team has been underperforming for some years now, but this year’s poor performances reached an all time low. The Flying Eagles on the other hand despite showing big promise earlier by winning the African Youth Championship failed to reach the finals in Colombia. Not even the encouraging words from President Goodluck Jonthan during the tournament gingered the John Obuh led boys to make it to the last two. They managed a quarter finals berth. The Super Falcons threw away a golden opportunity in Abuja against Cameroon and paid dearly for it in Yaonde where they failed to qualify for the Olympics-the world’s biggest sports event.
For the Dream Team V, they had everything going until Ghana stopped them in the qualification proper and had to settle for a CAF playoffs decided in Morocco. In that tournament, Nigeria failed to reach the last four where the first three qualifies for London automatically and the fourth to play in another playoff with an Asian side.
The Nigeria Basketball Federation had its eye on making a mark in the various international tourneys but found itself in one crisis after the other. Like football, the year has been very turbulent for basketball save for the consolatory gold medal won at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique. Although the leagues (men/women) started a little late, the federation ensured they took off and were successfully completed with the traditional Super 8 championships. The All Star Game was also held in Abuja to climax the season. But it was not so cheering news with the U-16 girls who qualified for the world female tourney in Chile, made it to a pre tournament competition in France but failed to honour the championship proper. That marked a low point in the game since such opportunities are grounds for development. It was also another flop for the men’s senior team who failed to win Afrobasket for men in Madagascar in order to automatically qualify for the Olympics. The team will now try its luck in a playoff in Venezuela, next year July. The women will not be at the Olympics either. They were at the 2004 edition in Athens. At the continental club level, the story is the same. Men’s league leaders Royal Hoopers of Port Harcourt and Union Bank of Lagos which represented the nation at the 26th Africa Champions Cup for men in Morocco did not fare well. None of the two made the classification.
In 2012, observers say the NBBF has to sit up and be better organized. Attention must be channeled into increase in funding for club and national teams activities including efforts at building of facilities throughout the country with attention on talents discovery.
Athletics remain one of Nigeria’s strongest sectors in sports. Athletics has won Nigeria several laurels both in the Olympics and the continental and world stages.
Names like Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egbunike, the late Sunday Bada, Soji Fasugba, Mary Onyali, Chioma Ajunwa, Falilat Ogunkoya, Modupe Oshikoya and others have helped put Nigeria on the world’s map through the sport.
But the year 2011 was not particularly an impressive one. The climax of the review of athletics in 2011 is in two categories-the continent and the world stages. On the continent, it was the All Africa Games in Maputo in September and the 13th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea captures the world stage.
Nigeria ended her quest at the All Africa Games as the 3rd best country with 31 gold, 21 silver and 39 bronze with athletics majorly responsible for the giant leap she experienced. Athletics federation boss, Solomon Ogba promised to deliver 10 gold medals during the event and lived to his promise. But in the world stage in South Korea, the story was different for Nigeria in the 10 days event. Kenya an African nation made the continent proud with seven gold medals to finish third on the overall medals table while Nigeria’s outing was regarded as dismal. The Daegu poor show recorded the sixth consecutive time Nigeria would participate at the world event without winning any medal. The athletes featured at the championships were described by observers as low quality and poorly motivated.
Ahead the Olympics next year, however, seven Nigerian athletes have reached the required benchmark set aside for top athletes to compete at the Olympics stage. The standard was set earlier this year by the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF). Ogho-Oghene Eqwero, Peter Emelieze, Amaechi Morton, Tosin Oke, Blessing Okagbare, Oludamola Osayomi and Doreen Amata have all hit the benchmark for the Olympics.
Cricket a relatively less patronised sports recorded a leap in 2011. The Nigeria Cricket Federation held series of activities and conducted a national trial and even took the team on a playing tour of South Africa before honouring the ICC-Africa APL T20 Division Two Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa in May.
They emerged champions of the tourney leading to Nigeria’s promotion to ICC-Africa APL T20 Division 1. Nigeria also gained promotion this year from Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division Seven to Division Six courtesy of winning the ECL Division 7 Championship in Garonne, Botswana, in May.
In wrestling, Nigeria this year had twelve athletes ranked among the top 12 ahead next year’s Olympics. In weightlifting, one sport Nigeria is strong in, three weightlifters are already ranked number three in the world in their respective categories. In taekwondo, Nigeria won bronze in the last Olympics in China, but failed to pick the expected gold available at the All Africa Games. To brighten Nigeria’s chances at the Olympics, Kun Si-Haweon, a top South Korean taekwondo coach was engaged earlier in the year to help intensify Uche Chukwumerije’s training ahead the world’s biggest sporting event.
The year also witnessed the sacking of three notable coaches- Samson Siasia of Super Eagles, Eucharia Uche of Super Falcons and Obisia Nwakpa of boxing during the All Africa Games for poor performances.