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Sports @ 59: Still Searching For The Wand

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At a time like this when stocks are taken to see how far the country has gone, particularly, in sports, it is pertinent to once more go through history to highlight some of the milestones attained in effort to rub shoulders with the sporting society of the world.
Nigeria no doubt is a force to reckon with in the sport industry across the globe since it began to participate in sporting events in the world. Moreover, sports has come to be seen as one of unifying factors that also provide an avenue for the youth to explore and express their talents. Young people also use the platform provided by the sector to let out steam and escape some of the frustrations current realities in the country throw at them.
Indeed, there is no doubt that Nigeria is one of the biggest countries to beat when it comes to sports competitions in Africa and the world at large.
Apparently, the country is popular across the globe for her exploits in football, more than any other field. However, the country has also made indelible marks in other field of sports such as athletics, weightlifting, wrestling, basketball, boxing among others in the years gone by.
But apart from football and perhaps, wrestling, basketball and the sprints, Nigeria has failed to sustain the early promise it had held in the years after independence.
After making marks in the continent, Nigeria caught the attention of the football world at the 1994 world cup when the impressive Dutch–Gerian, Clemens Westerhoff led the equally impressive Super Eagles to dazzle the world in the United States in a debut appearance at the Mundial.
That exploit saw them become the first African team to be ranked fifth on the FIFA rankings. With many observers thinking that the achievement was a fluke, the country went ahead to astound the world with gold medal winning performance two years later at the football event of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, beating the almighty Brazil and Argentina on the way.
It is also on record that Nigeria is the first African country to win a trio of Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals at the Atlanta 1996, Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016 Games.
Nigeria’s cadet team, the Golden Eaglets have equally dominated the U-17 football, both in Africa and the world. Today, the Golden Eaglets have conquered Africa several times and won the Under-17 World Cup five times, 1985, 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015 to become the most successful team in the history of the FIFA cadet competition.
Also, in football, Nigeria is the first African country to win eight African Women’s Champions. However, despite being the biggest women’s football team in the continent, the Super Falcons, as the women’s national team is known, have not been able to extend their dominance to the world stage. They are however the first African Women’s team to have reached the quarter finals stage of the women’s World Cup when in 1999, they were able to reach the final eight stage.
Apart from football, Nigeria has had commendable performances in most of the events they have participated in within Africa and the world. These performances have also thrown up several talents from the country who have achieved continental and global accolades and recognition for selves and country.
In professional boxing, Nigerian names like Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, Dick Tiger, Bash Ali, Peter Konyegwachie, Duncan and Dokiwari and others ring a bell.
It is however worrisome that the exploits of the years past are not being replicated on consistent basis in the country.
That a country of over 180 million people has failed to produce and replace the Ndubuisi Odizors in tennis, Mary Onyalis, Innocent Egbunikes, Chidi Imos, the Ezinwa brothers, Falilat Ogunkoyas, Beatrice Utondus, Chioma Ajunwas and many others that made the country a fearsome name in athletics in the years past is an indication that the country is not getting it right.
Unfortunately, the malaise is not only in athletics, from boxing to weightlifting, table tennis, field events, swimming, handball, hockey among others, the story has been the same.
There is no doubt that sports is a major unifying factor amongst Nigerians. But despite the massive talents that abound in the country and the palpable love of people for sports, it is quite unfortunate that the industry is still very much under-developed. Perhaps, this is the reason Nigeria only records successes in international competitions once in a while, rather than replicating it on a constant basis.
According to the President of Sportswriters Association of Nigeria, SWAN, Honour Sirawoo, sports development around the world is hinged on a number of factors, which include; sports management and administration, facilities and equipment, sports personnel, funding/sponsorship, Institutional sports development, athletes/competitions and promotions.
Unfortunately, he said, that there seems to be no encompassing National Sports Policy or clear cut policies within sports federations, state and local government levels to address the improvement of the above listed factors.
Interestingly however, through the efforts of some sports technocrats, passion and sacrifices of some athletes and the commitment of some state governments, the country is beginning to experience some measure of revival in some sports.
Also, some infrastructure geared towards identifying and weaning latent talents are beginning to be established, even if it is sparingly.
Of particular mention is wrestling where the President of Nigeria Wrestling Federation, Hon. Daniel Igali is making waves with a new generation of Nigerian wrestlers, particularly, women. The sport has been able to attract laurels and recognitions for Nigeria at world, commonwealth and continental stages. In fact, wrestling currently boasts the potential to compete with football for the attention of Nigerians if the federation continues on its current path.
Basketball is another sport on the upward swing. D’Tigers, Nigeria’s male basketball team and their female counterparts, D’Tigers have done the country proud in recent time. Only this year, both succeeded in dominating Africa, putting p decent performances at World championships and qualify for the 2020 Japan Olympics.
As Nigeria keeps struggling to rediscover her mojo in athletics, athletes like Blessing Okagbare, Divine Oduduru, Ese Brume, Tobi Amusan and a few others have continued to fly Nigeria’s flag on the tracks.
It is worthy to note that the country seems to be producing impressive horde of football talents again. Just as in the days of late Stephen Keshi at Anderlecht, Nwankwo Kanu, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Celestine Babayaro etc, when Nigerians were ever present in top European clubs, there are many players of Nigerian descent making waves across Europe again. This is currently rubbing off on the National team, the Super Eagles, as coach Gernot Rohr seems spoilt for choice of players for the team.
On infrastructure development, the recently inaugurated Real Madrid Football Academy, built by Governor Nyesom Wike’s administration in Rivers State is an excellent model to copy and replicate across the country, not only for football but other sports.
In a few years, the impressive facilities and management available at the academy are expected to produce footballers of international quality that would not only strengthen the national teams, but fit seamlessly into international club sides.
To ensure that these promises being seen on the horizon are made manifest tomorrow, sports administrators and relevant authorities must sit up and ensure that deliberate efforts are made to effect world best practices in all ramifications.
If this is continued to be taken for granted or administrators choose to pay attention to personal interests and lip service to developmental policies, maintenance of facilities and athletes, the search for consistency and the magic wand would continue to elude the country.

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‘Super Eagles Coach Lacks Class’

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Former Nigeria international, Victor Ezeji, has slammed Gernot Rohr, describing the German as a coach who has not improved the Super Eagles, with reference to their style of play and talent management.
Rohr recently helped the three-time African champions qualify for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon after their third-place finish at the 2019 tournament in Egypt.
Despite the team’s success, the former Enyimba striker said the tactician, who has been at the helm since 2016, has not impacted the Super Eagles with a particular style of football and he lacks the class to co-ordinate the players.
Ezeji expressed his frustration after Rohr’s men failed to score a goal in their twin friendlies against Cameroon. They suffered a 1-0 loss against the Indomitable Lions last Friday before playing out a goalless draw on Tuesday.
“I have never been a fan of Gernot Rohr but the truth is, sometimes it is not even about the result and sometimes, your team can play very well and lose, people could say they lost and there is prospect for the team,” Ezeji told news men.
“But in the case of this Gernot Rohr’s team, they are not playing very well and they are not winning; so, people will definitely complain. We have known our Super Eagles to have flair when playing, but that has not happened under him, whichever way he wins his game.
“There is no flair in their game, I think he is done with the team if you ask me because he is not showing anything, no class. We’ve got the players but I think what we lack is who co-ordinates them.”
Last year May, Rohr agreed on a two-and-half-year contract extension to remain as Super Eagles coach with the target of guiding the country to the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar and also win the 2022 Afcon.
Ezeji argued that the former Bordeaux manager has not been a success in Nigeria and he recalled how indigenous coaches Christian Chukwu also led the country to a third-place at 2004 Afcon before Stephen Keshi’s side triumphed at the 2013 edition in South Africa.
“I don’t know what his contract with the NFF looks like but personally, I don’t think he has achieved anything because even our indigenous coaches got to third at Afcon and we became the continent’s champions,” he continued.
“In his own case, third-place is not enough at all with the kind of personnel and abundant of talents we have in Nigeria presently, he should do better. As I stated earlier, it is not about winning the cup but it is about playing good football and there are ways you do that.
“Remember Imama’s [Amapakabo] U23 boys’ game against Libya in Asaba [U23 Afcon qualifier in March 2019], we needed three goals to go through but after the first-half, everybody was like even if they did not get through we are satisfied with their performance but the boys got the result and advanced.
“We need to start seeing that kind of performance in our Super Eagles, nobody has any confidence now that even if we play market women they will win. We need to have that confidence in our team and be rest assured of good football against any opponent.”

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350 Golfers Set For IBB Golf Captain’s Tourney

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No fewer than 350 golfers and 50 tennis players will be competing in the inaugural IBB Golf and Country Captain’s Tourney in Abuja.
The tourney which is expected to tee-off from Friday, June 10, to Saturday 11, 2021 at the IBB Golf and Country club which will see professional golfers battle in the Handicap 19 to 36 event while the amateur will clash in the Nest event.
According to the Chairman Organising Committee of the 2021 Inaugural IBB golf Captain’s club, Olabanjo Obaleye said preparations are in top gear to host a successful tournament.
He also noted that the golfers and officials would be in adherence to all the COVID-19 protocol towards ensuring the safety of all Stakeholders.
“This tournament is to usher in the new Executive Members of the IBB golf and Country, which is done after every new executive Member is elected.
“We have gotten some sponsors for the tournament and I can tell you that they would be mouthwatering prizes for the winner and consolation prizes for best loser.
We will also have a dinner on Saturday where the prizes will be presented to the winners.
“Also we have put some modalities in place to ensure the safety of all players and Officials for the tournament.” Olabanjo said.

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HiFL: UNIBEN Royals Tackle UNICAL Malabites

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Pace Sports and Entertainment Marketing Limited, the organisers of the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL), has released the draws for the round of 16 games at an event held in Lagos. The games are scheduled to be held between June and September 2021.
In Week 1, AAUA Luminaries will play OAU Giants in Ondo, FUTA Tigers will tackle UNILAG Marines in Akure, LAUTECH Hunters will attempt to hunt down the FUTMINNA Transformers in Ogbomoso while KSU Steelers engages UNILORIN Warriors.
For the week 2 games, Uniben Royals will play defending champion UNICAL Malabites, IAUE Minders will tackle UNN Lions in Port Harcourt, ABU Nobles will confront UAM Tillers in Zaria while BUK Stallions slugs it out with UNIMAID Desert Warriors in Kano.
Speaking at the draws, Director, PACE Sports and Entertainment Marketing Limited, Sola Fijabi acknowledged the efforts of all participating schools and encouraged them to maintain their sportsmanlike conduct as the games go on. “We are now at a very exciting stage of the league. What was witnessed during the qualifiers was the tip of the iceberg. The schools are ready and what we assure lovers of collegiate sports is double excitement. We appreciate the support of NUGA and our sponsors Nivea Men and Minimie for their trust in HiFL and as we deliver value to all our stakeholders,” Fijabi said.

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