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Harnessing Nigeria’s Sports Potential

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To many observers
within and outside the country, Nigeria is a nation endowed with so much human and material resources that it ordinarily ought to rank among the best in several sectors of human endeavour in the comity of World nations.
This is, arguably more true in the sports sector in which, with over 120 million people, Nigeria should rub shoulders with the best sporting countries and achievements that there are available.
Indeed, the potentials to achieve such lofty heights abound. From the king of them all, football, to boxing weightlifting, athletics, cycling, team sports and others, the country certainly does not lack in manpower, talents and potentials.
However, sports development in the country has yet to take the sector to the expected level. Despite the fact that sports at the moment remain the only true unifying factor in Nigeria, the sector has continued to witness serious hiccups, especially, in areas of management and policy implementation.
From the evolution of sports as physical and social activities that people freely engaged in, it has permeated the Nigerian society just as it was in many other societies worldwide. Sports development in Nigeria has witnessed a lot of metamorphosis from the colonial pre-independence to post independence eras that it has gone from being just a social phenomenon, entertainment and recreational pasttime to becoming a visible and prominent business phenomenon that could no more be ignored in the socio-political and economic environment of any nation.
Sports touch the hearts of millions of people. They promote national unity and image. An efficient sports system is expected to assist in nation building, provide youth empowerment, wealth creation, employment generation, good health and social mobilisation.
Expectations are that Sports development would contribute to the growth and development of the Nigerian economy, while the overall objective of sports in Nigeria is to become one of the 20 best sporting nation of the world.
A cursory look into the progress made by the sector in 54 years, post independence, would reveal some pockets of positive returns but deep rooted anomaly that has tended to put the march to realising the overall objective on an unwavering leash.
In the recent past, sports in the country have had a mixed-grill of exciting memories and disheartening experiences. While football has consistently kept the country in the map of world achievements, athletics blazed the trail in decades past and need new efforts to be rekindled. At the last Olympics, London 2012 Games, Nigeria performed abysmally when she failed to win any medal, only for the paralympians to, barely three weeks after, raise the profile to 13 medals, six gold, five silver and two bronze.
Also in 2012, the highest number of participants ever in the history of the National Sports Festival, NSF was recorded at the 18th edition, Eko 2012, when 11,045 athletes and officials from all the 36 states and the FCT participated.
In football, the Super Eagles won the 2013 African Cup of Nations held in South Africa to mark the third time Nigeria would rule Africa in the game. The U-20 women national team, Falconets also made the nation proud when they made it to the final of the FIFA U-20 Women World Cup in Germany in 2010, a feat the team repeated a couple of months ago in Canada.
The National U-17 male team, Golden Eaglets after a lull in winning laurels won silver in the 2013 African U-17 championships in Algeria only to conquer the world at the World Cup in United Arab Emirates a couple of months later to secure an unprecedented fourth U-17 world title for Nigeria. At the 2012 World chess Olympiad in Turkey, Nigeria won gold and silver medals, while she finished third position at the 2012 Senior African Wresting championship in Morocco.
These few milestones indicate slight improvement in the stock of sports in the country since the disappointing performance at the 2012 London Olympics.
Indeed, time was when the country was the continent’s leading light in athletics, especially, the sprints, youth soccer, boxing and weightlifting. Unfortunately, the lead position in the areas were lost to poor foresight, lack of planning and executive of policies.
However, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan took steps to improve Nigeria’s performance in sports, when a Presidential Sports Sector Retreat was held, and a strategic and sustainable sports development and funding plan was fashioned out, to raise a pool of talents and to put Nigeria back on the global sports map. New strategic management activities, which included capacity building and early talent detection to enhance qualitative performance were also introduced.
The new strategic management activities for qualitative performance and mass participation include the capacity building of coaches and administrators, early talent detection and development, policy direction on partnership and collaboration, sports facilities maintenance, central national sports programmes, and national performance monitoring and evaluation.
Also, more forms of competitive sports have been introduced and facilities have continued to be improved and expanded both at the federal and state levels. In addition, the idea of a zonal network of federal stadia has been accepted, with locations in Kaduna, Lagos, Enugu and Abuja.
But the developmental progress has not matched the huge potentials inherent in the country. Regrettably, a myriad of factors, chief of which are maladministration, corruption, lack of professionals in key managerial positions, policy summersaults, selfishness, poor maintenance culture and absence of a conscious effort to institute global best practices in managing the sub sectors and athletes, have combined to hold down development in the sector. The recent crisis in the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF is an apt pointer to the malady in the country’s sports sector.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria boasts all the endowment to take sports to the highest point of development and achievement. It is a belief shared by renowned sports administrator, coach, one of the Icons of Nigeria’s efforts at re-inventing the sports sector and a university Don, Dr. Ken Anugweje.
He, however, is of the opinion that Nigeria has not taken advantage of her potentials and has been left behind by current top sporting nations of the world. According to him, the country failed to move with the time and continued to do the same thing the same way it has been over the decades.
The Doctor, who has contributed to turning the University of Port Harcourt into the leading University in sports in West Africa said that until conscious efforts are made to focus on school sports, early talent discovery and weaning, the county would continue to lag behind. Also, sports academies under big sports institutions with clear cut policy on personnel, catch-them-young approach and up to date data keeping and athlete monitoring would go a long way to taking the country a step closer to expectation.
The first and only Nigerian to win an individual Olympic gold medal, Chioma Ajunwa is of the opinion that Nigeria’s performances in sports in recent times have declined drastically and that the need to reposition it in line with world best practices cannot be over-emphasised.
She believes that the sector has been poorly managed by the wrong hands and so advocates that people with expertise should be allowed to manage sports in order to turn the potentials into results.
“There is need to professionalise sports in Nigeria, and its subsequent removal from the mainstream of civil service. People with expertise, both athletes and managers should be allowed to come in and manage sports. The government in making sports policies, should see the sector as a specialised filed where only the experts should prevail”, said Ajunwa.
For former triple jumper, Mr J. J. Kio, sustained competitions at the grassroots level, especially, the primary and secondary schools would continue to throw up quality talents that would sustain the supply chain for top national and international athletes that will keep Nigeria at the level her abundant endowment deserves.
The Secretary of club owners in Nigeria, Mr. Alloy Chukwuemeka on his part noted that sports development efforts in the country would continue to go in circles unless the absence of an active base for sports development in educational institutions and the communities are addressed. Also, inadequate funding, non-functional database for planning and development, absence of deliberate policy on talent identification and development inadequate corporate support and absence of legislative backing for the establishment of key sports institutions are clogs in wheel of progress as well as frequent changing of sports administrators and lack of both institutional and human capacity for sports development.
Truly, the horizon is bright for Nigeria’s sports industry to excel on and off the field. But the multiple challenges of infrastructure provision and maintenance, selfishness in management, policy implementation and most importantly, athletes morale, motivation and welfare must be addressed. While the sustenance of the country’s achievements should be ensured through deliberate national efforts to develop a comprehensive sports master plan that will be the marker for sports programming at the three tiers of government, focus must be maintained on multiple medal winning sports like combat sports, swimming, weightlifting boxing, cycling, scrabble and chess.

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NYG: Rivers Basketball Team Embarks On Preparations

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The Rivers State Basketball Association,has commenced  preparations for the forthcoming 2021 edition of the  National Youth Games (NYG) scheduled to hold September, this year.
This was disclosed by  Head Coach of the body, Dagogo  Okumgba, yesterday during an exclusive interview with Tidesports, at the state basketball court.
According to him, the team has commenced the preparation, ahead of the upcoming sports fiesta to build and fortify its athletes for the task ahead  and other engagements that may likely come up in the future.
Coach Okumgba explained that the athletes were in high spirit and are doing well in their preparation for the competition, saying that they (athletes) would compete honourably, when the fiesta eventually gets underway.
“The athletes are working assiduously to ensure they compete favourably and are poised for victory at the NYG scheduled to be hosted by Ilorin,  Kwara State,”  Okumgba said.
However, the coach feared team sports might not participate in the competition, as he lamented their (team’s) absence at the National Sports Festival (NSF) held in Edo early this year.
“I think the decision was made as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic to reduce the number of athletes to take part in the festival. I don’t know, if what happened then will repeat itself, considering the third wave of the virus,” he said.
He urged his athletes to keep faith and keep the fire burning, adding that they should not relent in their preparation for the competition, whether or not they take part in the fiesta, the preparation will definitely keep them fit for other engagements.
“ It is better to be ready than not, just as the motto of the Boys Scout, l believe early preparation, being prepared at all times, is one major  key to success,” he concluded.

By: Nancy Briggs

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Covid-19 Scare: Team Nigeria Undergoes Daily Tests In Tokyo

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As Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Tokyo, venue of the 2020 Olympics, Team Nigeria’s camp has resorted to daily testing of the members of their contingent.
Tidesports source gathered that there had been daily reports of athletes and officials contracting Covid-19 at the Olympics Games Village in Tokyo.
The Tidesports also reported that a Nigerian official in his 60s was hospitalised after contracting the virus.
One of the athletes, who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said athletes and officials were taking necessary precautions to ensure they did not contract the virus.
According to him, this includes daily testing and staying away from the public.
“We are doing everything that needs to be done not to contract the virus. We test daily and don’t mingle,” he said.
Another athlete, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was not the type of Olympics she would have loved to compete in due to the deadly virus. “It has not been easy here trying to adjust to the high temperatures. Covid-19 here is real. Athletes, particularly me, are very careful. Life isn’t easy here at all. Not the kind of Olympics I would have loved to take part in but in all, I’m glad to be here,” she said.
Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Olympics Committee, Femi Adetula, said the unnamed Nigerian official was already getting better but declined to name the official, saying the NOC was respecting his rights.
“It’s been confirmed that an official contracted the virus. He is in isolation, receiving treatment and he is doing fine. In a matter of days, the official will be out of isolation because of the recovery rate,” he said.

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NBA: Milwaukee Star Anxious To Visit Nigeria – Wants To Learn About His Roots

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Milwaukee Bucks All StarGiannis Antetokounmpo wants to visit Nigeria soon and  cannot wait to learn more about his roots.
Antetokounmpo, who produced a performance for the ages to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title since 1971 after a 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns last Monday, was born in and represents Greece.
“Obviously, a lot of people don’t know where I’m from. A lot of people think my mom or my dad is from Greece, but no,. Both of my parents are black. Both of my parents are Nigerians.”  Antetokounmpo said.
“I grew up in a Nigerian home, Obviously, I was born in Greece and went to school in Greece. But at the end of the day when I go home, there is no Greek culture. It’s straight-up Nigerian culture. It’s about discipline, it’s about respecting your elders, having morals,” he said.
Antetokounmpo,  who said his original surname  Adetokunbo  was  mispelt  at the Greek Passport office,  hasn’t traced his roots in person yet, but hopes to visit Nigeria either this summer or next summer ,  revealing that he got his Nigerian passport in 2015.
“I want to see where my family comes from, where my mom was raised, see my family, see where my dad was raised. That is very important. I hope my kids can do the same thing for me,” Antetokounmpo said.
Meanwhile, Basketball legend and NBA Hall of Famer, Hakeem Olajuwon said Nigerians were proud of Giannis Antetokounmpo despite the Milwaukee Bucks All-Star representing Greece.
“I’m sure Nigerians are very proud of him, especially because of the way he has conducted himself and how he is dominating the league,” Olajuwon said. He has accomplished a great deal in such a short period of time,” he said.

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