Depending on how you want to view the year… it wasn’t all that bad for Nigeria’s sports in 2021.
National Sports Festival.
With almost every planned sporting event in 2020 shifted to 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic that has come to stay with mankind, Nigeria’s 2021 sports calendar began with the 20th National Sports Festival tagged ‘Edo 2020 Games’ held in Benin, Edo State.
Though the festival was overwhelmed with a lot of controversies and political intrigues amidst intense competition among competing states, there were positives to deduce from the games as Team Delta won their 7th title with 158 gold, 116 silver and 110 bronze medals, totaling 384 medals.
Host, Edo State came second with 129 gold, 104 silver and 108 bronze medals, while Bayelsa State with 56 gold, 55 silver and 58 bronze medals finished third in the medals table.
Bayelsa State was indeed the surprise of the pack as they dusted the likes of Rivers, Lagos and Kano states to the podium
Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Team Nigeria campaign at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games started slowly with series of unpleasant happenings where the country’s pre-events medal prospects – Uche Eke (Gymnastics), Aruna Quadri (table tennis), Elizabeth Anyancho (taekwondo), Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyori (badminton), Ayomide Bello (canoeing) and Ruth Usoro (triple jumper) failed to meet the yeaning of Nigerians back home, crashing out at the preliminary stage of their individual events respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, 10 Nigerian athletes were declared ineligible to compete due to the mix ups in Out of Competition Testings (OCTs) and a star athlete, Blessing Okagbare got disqualified for failing a drugs test, while another false started in a race and it looked like the world was crumbling on Team Nigeria.
But after winning one silver medal in wrestling through Blessing Oborodudu and one bronze medal in long Jump by Ese Brume with a jump of 6.97m, Tokyo Games happened to be Nigeria’s best Olympic outing in terms of medals won in thirteen years.
Earlier in the year Ese Brume broke Chioma Ajunwa’s long standing African record of 7.12m with a 7.17m jump. Unfortunately, Brume couldn’t reproduce a 7m jump in Tokyo which could have won her gold with 7.01m. The winner, Malaika Mihambo of Germany won it with 7.00m.
Paralympic Games 2020
Team Nigeria went to the Paralympics in Tokyo with the smallest contingent ever but still ended up with an impressive haul of ten medals, four gold, a silver and five bronze medals.
The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development made the Games the most memorable for the Paralympian and their coaches in terms of the welfare and cash rewards.
The camp allowances and bonuses were tripled and the athletes got between $3,000 and $15,000 for their efforts. These monies were paid directly into their accounts.
World Athletics U-20 Championships
For the first time since it started participating in the World Athletics U-20 Championships, Team Nigeria returned home with four gold and three bronze medals.
In all, Nigeria athletes made nine final appearances at Nairobi 2021. Host Kenya topped the medals table with eight gold, two silver and six bronze medals, followed by Finland with four gold and one silver. Nigeria finished the Championships third on the medals’ table among the 200 competing countries with four gold and three bronze medals, just as Ethiopia was fourth with three gold, six silver and two bronze medals.
The performance, according to the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Tonobok Okowa, is a mission accomplished.
National Youth Games
The National Youth Games(NYG) is a key grassroots sports development programme of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, as was the case with the National Sports Festival, the COVID-19 pandemic cast huge doubts on the 6th edition of the competition.
There were pressures from many quarters that the Games be put on hold or canceled altogether but the Sports Minister Sunday Dare stuck to his guns because it’s important for talent discovery in the country.
Dare’s insistence paid off and the National Youth Games was held in Ilorin, Kwara State. After some initial organisational difficulties, it stabilized and turned out well with Team Delta maintaining their dominance, winning the competition for sixth consecutive time with 60 gold, 26 silver and 28 bronze medals.
In football, the Super Eagles qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and Qatar 2022 World Cup play-off. The sacking of national team coach Gernot Rohr, and the appointment of Portuguese tactician Jose Peseiro as his replacement were the major developments that have reshaped the architecture of the Super Eagles ahead of the AFCON 2021 starting January 9th in Cameroon.
The country’s female national football team, the Super Falcons like their male counterparts were not at the Olympics but took part in a few tournaments and their performances brought nothing to cheer.
After wobbling to the final of the maiden Aisha Buhari football tournament held in Lagos, Super Falcons tutored by American Randy Waldrum fell 2-4 to Bayana Bayana of South Africa, their first defeat to South Africans. It was a tournament that exposed the weaknesses in the Nigerian team and underscored the fact that other African countries have caught up with – or surpassed – Nigeria in women’s football.
Moshood Abiola National Stadium
After more than a decade of neglect, the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja got back to life, thanks to the ‘Adopt a Pitch’ initiative of the minister of youth and sports development, Sunday Dare.
The partnership led to the rehabilitation of the playing pitch, Installation of two digital scoreboards as well as the cultivation of a nursery for the maintenance of the pitch for the next two years by African business mogul, Aliko Dangote.
While the lingering leadership crisis in Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) continued unabated, national women basketball team D’Tigress conquered Africa for the third time in a row at the Afrobasketball Championships in Cameroon. These queens of the courts were so dominant at the championship, taking all their opponents to the cleaners.
The ladies would then be at the center of agitations and demands for the payment of some of their outstanding allowances, owed since 2018.
The call for calm, patience and understanding, as well as the assurances by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development that all their requests are receiving attention and the payment of the ‘Adopt a Team’ allowances to the players has helped a great deal in calming frayed nerves.
N88bn Boost for sports development
One of the major landmark achievements for Nigeria’s sports 2021 is the Federal Executive Council approval of Eighty Eight Billion Naira (N88b) to boost sports development through the National Development Plan (NDP ) for the next four years (2021-2025).
Under the former arrangement in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), sports got zero budget.
However, following the reclassification of sports as business by President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in 2020, there will be an injection of the N88b into its development.
The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development will now be on the steering committee of the National Development Plan(NDP).