As the year 2017 winds up SALIFU USMAN looks back and reflects on the gains and losses, the high and low points of the year in Nigeria’s sports. While some may pass a verdict of total success, others could see certain events in the out-going year as worrisome.
Plateau United emerged champions if the 2016/2017 Nigeria Professional Football League for the first time, 45 years after another team from Jos, Mighty Jets won the accolade.
Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) FC of Lagos finished second, while the only Nigerian club to have won the CAF Champions League, Enyimba FC of Aba finished as second runner-up.
It was also on record that three of the four clubs promoted to the Nigeria Professional Football League from the Nigeria National League (NNL) at the end of the 2015/2016 season (Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC of Ilorin, Gombe United FC and Remo Stars of Ijebu Ode) were relegated back to second division, alongside Shooting Stars Sports Club of Ibadan.
During the season, referees were attacked by club fans and supporters over allegations of biased officiating, while three fans of Wikki Tourists of Bauchi were remanded in prison.Many clubs paid heavy fines and received other sanctions from the League Management Company (LMC) for unruly behaviour and poor crowd control.
The season was awash with allegations of biased officiating, especially in the second stanza of the league, in spite of positive steps taken by the LMC to reposition the league, based on calls by match officials.
There was so much to be excited about in table tennis, as Aruna Quadri, 29, ended the year as the world’s 21st best tennis player, according to the latest International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) world ranking.
Quadri amassed 50 points to improve from 2457 to 2507 points and move up four places from 25th. Also, he is the highest-ranked African in the latest ranking, displacing Egypt’s Omar Assar, who previously occupied the position all through 2017.
Also, Quadri created an admirable record of becoming the first Nigerian player to win an International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour title with victory in the Polish Open. That achievement also makes him the first African player to win such a title outside the continent’s shores.
National Sports Federation Elections
The much-awaited elections into the various boards of the national sports federations came to pass in June, with very few surprises.
The election, which came barely a year after Team Nigeria’s abysmal and disastrous outing at the Rio 2016 Olympics, was to chart a new course as to how Nigeria’s athletes will fare after last year’s show of shame in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the next Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. The argument has been that most of the nation’s sports administrators are more interested in feathering their nests and not really to enrich the country’s sports.
But contrary to expectations of most Nigerians, particularly sports fanatics, the June 13, 2017 elections offered nothing different from the past elections, as it further sowed the seed of discord among sports personalities in the country. Most of the federation elections ended in crisis, as there were allegations of manipulations to favour certain candidates.
For many, it wasn’t a surprise because the handwriting on the wall which needed no interpretation was towards satisfying certain people’s interest as the initial guidelines released by the sports ministry had elicited protests in different quarters.
For instance, elections into the board of the Nigeria Rugby Federation were postponed as the delegates could not agree on the guidelines.
A presidential candidate in the elections, Olukayode Thomas, accused Minister of Youth and Sports Solomon Dalung, of manipulating the process to produce his cronies and cover up alleged fraud in the federations.
Thomas, who ran for president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), alleged that a candidate was allowed to stand for the election, in spite of not residing, working or paying tax in Nigeria, while two other candidates were not cleared to contest. He accused the minister of mismanaging the sports federations’ funds and ensured that, at the polls, those who would check the alleged fraud did not emerge as federation presidents.
No fewer than 177 of 396 candidates seeking for elections into the various boards of national sports federations were disqualified in the June 13 elections held at the National Stadium,Abuja. While the parallel elections that threw up both Ahmed Musa Kida and Tijjani Umar as the president of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) has now put Nigeria at the risk of a FIBA sanction.
Another moment of celebration for sports in outgoing year was the qualification of the senior national male football team, Super Eagles for the 2018 FIFA World Cup billed for Russia.
It was not an easy ride on paper as what stood ahead was the brick wall of five-time African champions Cameroon, powerhouses Algeria that was ripe with an abundance of attacking talent and unpredictable Zambia. It was arguably the ‘group of death’ in the African qualifiers, but, in the spirit of Nigeria’s resilience, the Super Eagles defied the odd to qualified for 2018 World Cup with relative ease.
Just like Super Eagles main team, home-based Eagles also made good their promise by qualifying for the 2018 CHAN Championship in Morocco.
In all ramifications, 2017 proved to be a cheering moment for Nigeria’s football on and off the field.