Nigerian sports: 47 years of going back and forth
• Monday, Oct 1, 2007
Nigeria has always been seen as a great country with great potential. These potentials transcends all segments of life.
From manpower to economy, sports, tourism, marine to other natural endowments.
Interestingly, the country has been in the news as one of the potential black super power nations in world sports.
Even prior to the nation’s independence on October 1st, 1960, Nigeria had shown signs that she possessed the potentials to rub shoulders with the likes of United States of America, Britain, Russia, Jamaica and other countries in sports development and achievement.
But after 47 years of independence, how far has the country achieved or lived up to her potentials in sports.
At best, the story of the country’s sports can be told as one in which several backward steps are taken after one in the forward direction.
From football to athletics, swimming, weightlifting, boxing, tennis, table- tennis and other team sports, the story is similar.
In 1968, after Nigeria’s relative impressive performance at the Olympics, observers looked forward to the meteoric rise of the country as a sporting nation.
The expectations were left unfulfilled as we continued to under achieve at subsequent meets. Nigeria did not earn an individual Olympic medal in athletics until 1996 at Atlanta, where Chioma Ajunwa leapt to gold in the long jump and the country’s male football team conquered all, including Brazil and Argentina to win the event’s gold medal. Atlanta’96 thus turned out to be the country’s best Olympic outing till date.
Indeed, the country’s problem cannot be said to be lack of talent, efforts or opportunity. Organisation and administration has been the major bane of the sports sector.
This is a country that produced fine athletes like Ifeajuna in the late 60’s, wrestling world heavyweight champion, Michael Okpala (Power Mike), great old generation footballers like Thunder Balogun, Amere, among others, in the early years of our independence.
Along also came great athletes like Chidi Imo, Innocent Egbunike, Falilat Ogunkoya, Queen of the Track, Mary Onyali, the Ezenwa brothers, David and Osmond, who held sway from the 1980’s to late 1990s. [THE POTATO HEADS were Osmond and Davidson, I think. kk]
Despite the achievements of these talents, Nigeria has been unable to effectively replace them years after they bowed out of the scene.
Instead of bringing about policies and programmes that will help develop, sustain and replace old talents, sports administrators have often been accused of working for their selfish interests instead of the nation’s interest.
This has led to rise-today-fall-tomorrow development in the history of our sports.
A typical example is the All Africa Games. Since its inception, Nigeria had continued to play second fiddle to the North Africans, especially, Egypt, until the South Africans joined the fray in the 90’s.
Nigeria’s fortune plummeted and our usual second and third position changed to fourth and fifth.
The country, however, managed to make history when it hosted and won the 2003 edition of the All Africa Games in controversial circumstances.
It is worthy to note here that victory was made possible by the performance of our special athletes (physically challenged athletes) who secured majority of the medals won by the country at the Games.
Our inability to build on our achievement once again manifested in the following edition of the games, recently hosted by Algeria.
Nigeria plummeted from being defending champions to top six finishers, exposing the shallowness of our foundation to success in 2003.
Despite changing the title of the national department in charge of sports from National Sports Commission, NSC to Federal Ministry of Sports and back to NSC, the administrators still failed to change or adapt to the dynamic trends in sports management.
We still witness our administrators fighting one another publicly over who should be in-charge of what and how, while the various sports and athletes continue to suffer and take the back seat.
But it is not all gloom and disaster in our 47 years of nationhood in sports so far.
Nigeria has indeed recorded some impressive milestones in her history.
In the days of the Chidi Imos, Egbunike’s, Onyalis and Ogunkoyas, Nigeria used to be one of the few African countries that challenge European and American countries in the sprints.
Aniefrok Udo-Obong, a starry-eyed quarter-miler also ran a historic race in the 4 x 400 metres relay race in Sydney 2000 Olympic Games to put Nigeria on the podium. That race remains a reference point on the event till date.
Football, however, is the event the country has had outstanding success and impact in Africa and the world.
From being the first African country to win a FIFA World Cup, when the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria lifted the maiden Under–17 tournament in China in 1985, the country has gone ahead to win the competition three times, won the Olympic football gold medal, topped a world cup first round group, won the Africa Cup of Nations twice and broke the jinx of CAF champions league trophy through Enyimba International FC, which won the champions league twice in 2004 and 2005.
Now, though the window opened by Stephen Keshi and his co-travellers when they left the domestic league scene to Belgium, the initial Mecca for Nigerian Footballers, the country has flooded Europe with quality professional footballers.
From the English premership to the Spanish la liga, Italian Calcio, Dutch Erednisie and the Eastern European Leagues, Nigerian talents abound, plying their trade.
Football has emerged to be one of the major areas Nigeria has recorded more successes and still has the potentials to achieve more.
But it has been said that the country’s sports administrators, especially, in football need to put their acts together, move with the time for the country to really realise and live up to her potentials.
Nigeria currently has the World Boxing Council (WBC) World heavyweight boxing champion in the person of Samuel Peter. It is an achievement worth sustaining.
Nigeria is blessed with abundant talents in all spheres of sports and it requires a constructive planning, organisation and sincerity of purpose to unearth and sustain the new Chidi Imo’s, Innocent Egbunike’s, Mary Onyali’s, Peter Konyegwachies, Nwankwo Kanus, Austin Okocha, Samuel Peters, Chidi Ugwu’s, among others, so that at the turn of our next national anniversary, there would be plenty to celebrate in the nation’s sports.