For a few weeks, before and during the 2018 Winter Olympics, Nigeria was a hot subject in the global media.
The reason was the audacious decision of four Nigerian female athletes based in the United States of America to take up an unusual sport, bobsleigh and skeleton, and to become the first set of Africans to participate in the Olympics-on-ice since it started in 1924
The Games were a true feast of super human feats and skills on ice, although Nigeria returned home without a medal of any colour, the country’s participation was one of the most inspiring stories of the games.
Even as the various teams in their national dresses and colours walked onto the tracks of the magnificent Pyeongyang Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony, the thunderous applause that welcomed the all-black and beautiful, green and white clad Nigerian girls that punctuated the monotony of white faces was a spontaneous reaction to an unfolding historical drama.
After the games the girls reminded the world of the real essence of the Olympic Movement through their conduct and spirit. They did not win any medals. They did not even come near winning one. Yet, with sheer grit and exuberant celebrations when they improved their personal best times even without winning, they taught the world how to celebrate the personal victories, and that ‘at the Olympics you do not have to come first to win’.
The Nigerian girls became some of the most celebrated, most publicised and most followed athletes at the Games, without mounting the medal rostrum.
The reception back home is shockingly different since after the games. And the girls are back in Nigeria.
One would have expected that the sports authorities will ride on the back of the momentum generated by the rest of the world during the games, to make further capital at home by welcoming them to Nigeria like the heroes they really are.
This would also help to shore up the confidence and spirit of new athletes preparing to go for a new ‘war’ at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in Australia to which Nigeria is preparing to send athletes in April.
Unfortunately, I have not read any reports that the country has shown as much love and appreciation for the girls as the rest of the world did.
I am not certain if anything, even a small reception, is being planned for these heroes.
I hate to think that the girls with their unprecedented and historic participation at the Games, one that brought positive global attention to the country, will now be left to wander into the wilderness of their own narrow interests.
As the country prepares for Australia, the atmosphere is fouled with pungent smell of poorly motivated athletes, poor camping conditions and even ‘disappearing’ athletes.
It is being reported that one of the country’s bright stars and hopes for a medal, the national men’s 400 metres champion, may have ‘decamped’ to another country because of the poor treatment meted to the team during the preparations.
The only sport that may have the athletes to compete and win medals during the Games is wrestling. The influence of a former Olympian, and Olympic Gold medalist himself, the current president of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation, has a lot to play in the expected haul of some medals in the sport.
The prospects for more medals in other sports are anchored to prayers and miracles.
Meanwhile, let me take a moment to salute Chief Solomon Ogba for his vision, and Honourable Gbenga Elegbeleye for supporting him for creating the fairy tale of the Winter Olympics.
The Eagles of the future!
I have never done this before. I also feel reluctant to do so now. But when certain things fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle, totally unplanned and unexpectedly, and point you in a direction that may have hidden blessings, you take a chance, as I am doing right now, and do it.
A week ago, I read about Nigeria beginning the campaign for the 2019 World Youth Championship for the under-20s, in short, the next generation of Super Eagles after the 2018 World Cup!
I am very interested to have a ring side opportunity to see some exceptional talents and add my voice to the assembling process.
There is a young man called Tolu Arogundade.
He graduated from SOCA, the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy in 2016.
In the 10 years of running the academy, the school prides itself with assisting graduating students to colleges and universities in America to complete their education. The goal has always been to complete and pocket at least a first degree, whilst playing and enjoying a full academic scholarship. Thereafter, the players can move to Europe and even remain in the USA to pursue their passion, a professional football career when they are still only 21 or 22 years of age.
That would give them a good 12 to 15 years of time to play football full time at the highest levels.
That’s the plan we sell to parents and have always followed, until Tolu came along.
Tolu Arogundade, an extremely academically brilliant student and an exceptional football player, decided he wanted to pursue a football career first and straight from school.
In 2017, he was invited on merit to the national Under-17 team. It was a confirmation of how good he is, apart from reinforcing his confidence and determination that he can make it to the professional ranks in football. This past week he has taken another giant step. He has been snatched by a German first division club, Tolu just signed a contract with SC Freiburg, in the German Bundesliga.
The second player in my radar is also 19. He has also just signed and plays for the time being, in the reserves of Club Atletico Banfield, Buenos Aires, in the Primero national league, in Argentina.
I know of only two Nigerians that have ever played in the Brazilian Premier league – Benjamin Ezeakor and Richard Owuobokiri.
To play in the premier division of a South American league can never be easy for an African player, because of the depth and number of exceptionally talented players in that environment. So, when I learnt that a Nigerian youngster had just signed for a premiership Club in Argentina, and is already playing in the reserves at age 19, all my sensors went into alert.
That’s how Feyiseitan Asagidigbi came into my radar.
I learnt had Feyi actually played for Nigeria at under-15 in 2014. He may probably be the first professional player from Nigeria to play in Argentina. Anyone that can achieve such a feat deserves some attention.
Then, there is this third player. He is also 19 and a true journeyman.
He is of Nigerian parentage but may have been born in Canada because the Canadians are dying to have him play for the national team. He was briefly in the under-20 squad last year but ‘ran’ back to Europe to pursue a more lucrative professional career.
Early last year, he played for Crystal Palace FC under-18 team in England. He has now relocated to France where he has signed to play in the national under-19 Championat.
My enquiry revealed his roots.Emmanuel Okorougo is a brilliant and exceptional talent.
As Nigeria starts her preparation for the Under-20 World Youth Championship qualifiers, I am directing the radar of Nigerian scouts to these three players, who could just be what the country needs to kick-start the next generation of Super Eagles after the 2018 World Cup.
Eguavoen, Lawal Call For Better Pitches Across Nigeria
The Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation, Austin Eguavoen, and former Super Eagles midfielder, Garba Lawal, have lauded the new pitch of the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, venue of the ongoing Aisha Buhari Invitational Women’s Football Tournament in Lagos.
The duo, who spoke on the sidelines of the competition, want the stadium’s turf, which was constructed by Monimichelle Group, replicated across Nigeria.
“I remember playing in this stadium in the 1980s, but you can’t compare then and now because the turf is now completely refurbished, well planned with a great synthetic pitch of FIFA standard. We thank the government of Lagos State for this effort and we want more of this in different locations so that we can develop our football,” Eguavoen said.
Tidesports source reports that the former Super Eagles coach also commended the organisers of the Aisha Buhari Cup, saying it was a good test for the Super Falcons.
“I congratulate the person who came up with this idea. The organisation is very smooth, but it is quite unfortunate that all the teams will not play with each other. They are confined to play only two matches each according to the FIFA rules and regulations. But it is a good test for our girls and it affords Lagos residents the opportunity to see other countries play. It will be nice for our football if we can see more of this. It is a wonderful innovation.”
Another ex-international, Garba Lawal, said he would also like to see pitches like the one at the remodelled Mobolaji Johnson Arena turf across Nigeria.
“The pitch is fantastic, superb. The contractor did an excellent job and it is a good atmosphere for players to showcase their skills. I want to see more of this across Nigeria to fast track our football development,” Lawal stated.
Ministry Will Reward Paralympians – Edoreh
Athletes, who represented the country at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics have been promised rewards for their exploits at the games.
Speaking with newsmen, para-sports promoter and former Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (Lagos State Chapter), Fred Edoreh, said the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development was working on rewarding them.
Tidesports source reports that the paralympians, who came back from Tokyo with 10 medals – four gold medals, one silver medal, and five bronze medals, demanded that they be treated like the olympians.
At the olympics, Blessing Oborududu and Ese Brume got instant cash rewards of $10,000 and $7,500 respectively after winning silver and bronze medals respectively.
“I will advise the athletes to just exercise some patience. The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, is hugely committed to the welfare of our para-athletes and it is not imaginable for him to disregard them nor discriminate against them nor renege on the promise of government. They all will remember how the minister used his initiative to provide for the welfare of the athletes during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 without anybody prompting,” Edoreh said.
“I am aware that while in Tokyo the Chef de Mission met with the athletes and assured them that they would be rewarded with the same amount of money as was promised and given to their olympic counterparts.”
He also added that the ministry didn’t want the athletes to go through the stress of changing their money from different currencies.
“The government meant well by not sending the money to them in Tokyo because the Japanese government would have insisted on receiving it in Yen and then they would convert back to dollars, before exchanging to Naira. All that would have reduced the value for them.
“Besides, the ministry would normally wait for the games to end to be able to ascertain the number of medalists.
and how much requisition to make for the reward,” he added.
Sports Minister Pledges Support For Tennis Youngsters
Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, has promised to put the Yakubu sisters, Oiza and Ohunene, and Marylove Edwards on the ministry’s sponsorship list and also reach out to the governors of Oyo and Ekiti states to send the two most outstanding junior tennis talents in the country, Ganiyu Mubarak (Oyo) and Seun Ogunsakin (Ekiti) to tennis academies abroad.
Dare stated this after watching the junior players wow the crowd at the maiden Sapetro Futures Tennis Championship at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Onikan.
Tidesports source reports that Edwards, 16, and Oiza, 16, are already ranked No.2 and No.5 in the seniors, and have been precluded from playing in the ITA Junior Tennis Circuit.
Dare, who watched Ohunene, 13, overcome the spirited challenge from 14-year-old Success Ogunjobi to win the Girls 16s event 9-2, commended the partnership between the sponsors Sapetro and the International Tennis Academy adding, “This sponsorship, if it continues, will have tremendous impact on the development of tennis in Nigeria.”
The minister’s wish was immediately granted by the Vice Chairman of Sapetro, Senator Daisy Danjuma, represented by the company’s General Manager, Finance, Amos Garga.
Also at the event was former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Odein Ajumogobia.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the matches,” Ajumogobia said. “I’m amazed at the skill level of these junior players. If we can find a way to send the best 10 to academies abroad, Nigeria will make significant impact in the tennis world in the near future.”
Seun Ogunsakin had turned his match against Damilare Awe from Oyo State in the Boys 14s into an exhibition of his prodigious talent as he completely overran his opponent 9-0, while Mubarak, 14, promoted to play the 16s, met the expectation of the organisers by beating his older opponent Basit Ajao from Lagos 9-6.
In the other finals, Khadijat Mohammed (Abuja) beat Mary Iorlumun (Benue) 9-1 to win the Girls 14s; Ndidi Osaji (Lagos) defeated Vanessa Inyang (Lagos) 9-7 in the Girls 12s. Onyekachi Ogumjiofor (Oyo) triumphed over Seyi Ogunsakin (Ekiti) 9-3 in the Boys 12s and Murewa Egbeyemi (Lagos) continued his domination of an emerging rival with Malcolm Osaji (Lagos) winning 9-4 in the Boys 10s event.
The Sapetro Futures Championship is now part of the ITA Junior Tennis Circuit, which provides the platform for juniors from all over the nation to showcase their talents.
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