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Sports: Still A Long Way To Greatness

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That outing began Nigeria’s domination of that championship as it has won an unprecedented five titles, the last being the 2015 edition in Chile that threw up Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Nwakali, Samuel Chukwueze and others, to the world.
The national senior team, Super Eagles also arrived at the world scene within the period when they qualified for their first senior FIFA World Cup in USA in 1994. Then under coach Clemens Westerhof, the Super Eagles in their debut appearance wowed the world with their flamboyance and scintillating attacking performance to emerge the third best entertaining team at the championship and made the top five ranking in world football afterwards.
The best so far, at the highest level for now, came two years later in the same United States of America precisely, in the city of Atlanta where some of the best gifted Nigerian players, led by Nwankwo Kanu, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke, Taribo West, Uche Okechukwu, Sunday Oliseh and others, against all odds marched on Argentina and Brazil to the gold medal of the football event of the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games.
Regrettably, despite the height and heroics of the 1980s and 1990s, Nigeria, just like in almost all spheres of our national life failed to build on achievements recorded. The country through uncanny misplacement of priorities and poor vision allowed the leadership position attained in some sports, particularly, athletics, boxing, weightlifting and even football to slip away.
Until recently, the country had been playing more than second fiddle in track and field events, amateur boxing, wrestling and weightlifting, which used to inspire hope at continental and world competitions. The sports and a few others slumped to the back seat.
Even football, the king of them all, which has enjoyed more attention than any other event in the country lost steam. After languishing in midtable in the FIFA world ranking some years, Nigeria only began resurging in the latest ranking, climbing up to the 29th position in the world and third in Africa behind Senegal and Tunisia. Of big concern, however, are the domestic football leagues and women’s football. Despite the toga of ‘professional’ attached to the Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL, practices associated with the league, especially, in organization and conduct smack of amateurish approach. This has seen the league fail to make progress and attract the level of sponsorship expected of it. In effect, the league has remained less than attractive to potential investors and fans.
Perhaps, that is why no club, apart from Enyimba FC of Aba, which broke the jinx with a back-to-back victory in 2003 and 2004, has been able to win the elite continental club football honours, the CAF champions League title, for the country.
Also, conditions in the women’s game, especially, the absence of sponsors and prize money have proved less than ideal for its development. This has apparently led to the plummeting of Nigeria’s dominance in women’s football in Africa.
Many countries in the continent have not only closed the gap but are effectively threatening to overtake Nigeria. The ignominy of having been to all the Women’s World Cup since its maiden edition in China in 1991, yet, the Falcons have not been able to make the quarter final stage remains a huge cloak of embarrassment on the country.
It is however, not all gloom for the sector. Stakeholder believe that sports in the country has been a mixed bag of success and failure, though stunted in growth.
For fanny Amun, the coach that took the U-17 to gold in Japan in 1993, one time Head of NFF’s Technical department and currently, a grassroots development technocrat, Nigeria has not done too badly.
“We’ve done well so far,” he said. “There’s always a starting point, the mid point and the final point and ‘we’ve not gotten to the mid point, it’s still a learning process and we’re not bad”.
Amun believes that the future is bright and that there is hope for the sports sector in Nigeria.
Perhaps, Amun’s optimism stems from recent encouraging signals emanating from different fields of sports. The country seems to be rising to the challenge in some sports where it had hitherto failed to impress. In basketball, apart from dominating the African scene in recent time, Nigeria’s D’Tigers and D’Tigress have been able to rub shoulder with the world’s best countries in the game.
In addition, the excellent job being done in wrestling by the team led by Wrestling Federations President, Hon Daniel Igali, which has produced internationally acclaimed stars in Odunayo Adekuoroye, Blessing Obrodudu and others, are developments that have raised the ante for the Country.
The emergence of Nigerian athletes in the Track and Field, especially, the short distances, like Blessing Okagbare, Divine Oduduru, Tobi Amusan, Ese Brume and Raymond Ekerwa may be indication that the country, thought, without claiming much of the credit for their emergence, is on the right track to rediscover its process in athletics.
It is also delightful to note that the Super Eagles, now populated with products from youth teams and tournaments are now flying in the right direction. They have begun to assert themselves, compete effectively and qualify more consistently for tournaments.
Also, Nigerian footballers, who almost went extinct in top European clubs are now bouncing back to reckoning.
But for former NFF board member, and Head of Technical department, chairman, Rivers State FA and Special Assistant to Rivers State Governor on Real Madrid Football Academy, Barr. Christopher Green, it has not been rosy for sports in the country as we seem to have missed the mark.
According to him, “We missed the foundation set by our founding fathers and the gains of our past achievements.
“Over the recent past, we’ve not been doing very well, its not been rosy”, he said. “It’s like one step forward and many more backward, things have not even improved now, you can say that things are not going on very well the way we would have wanted it”.
He described football as the King of sports in Nigeria and many other countries. “If you don’t get it right in football, it’s taken that something is wrong with the sector, if football doesn’t do well, then all other sports too wouldn’t have done well,” he said.
‘In terms of achievement, it’s not been rosy with football since after 2013 and 2014. But I think we’ve been trying to get out of the woods at the moment,” he said.
Green said that Nigeria missed it when the country deviated from the National Sports Commission, NSC, Model set in 1963 and embraced the Sports Ministry model.”The NSC model, where experienced technocrats are in charge is the model that we were set up to operate and that was the foundation of the founding fathers and not ministry type, where you have politicians or political heads manning very specialized areas, you can hardly get the best.
A lot of politicking, favoritism, personal / sectoral interests have not really helped us to grow. Again, putting round pegs in square holes is our major problem.
He however, believes that the country has great potential in sports and can live up to its billing with the right people incharge and with the right policies in place.
“Lets hope that good policies will come, good decisions will be made, so that we can try to achieve more. But for you to have a sound policy, you should not only have a tried tested and proven technocrat, he should be put incharge in order to get it right” said Green.
As the country celebrated its anniversary yesterday and stocks are taken, it is apparent that sports has not lived up to its billing in spite of available potentials.
Therefore, a lot of introspection and redirection have to be done, in fact, the sports egg heads in the country need to go back to the drawing board.
In the words of the President of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN, Honour Sirawoo “Sports has the potential and economic capacity to change the landscape of Nigeria, economically and otherwise. However, there must be a clearly thought out policy, deliberate effort to invest in and tap the values of sports and ensure effective synergy between the three elements and tripod of excellence in sports, which are the administrators, participators and promoters”.

Cont’d from October 1, 2020

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Athletics: Okagbare Begins Preparation For Tokyo 2020

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Blessing Okagbare, yesterday started her preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the National Trials.
The opening day of the Tokyo 2020 National Trials will see Okagbare competing in the 100m against highly rated Grace Nwokocha
Okagbare, the 8th time national champions is the favourite to win the event again, but Grace Nwokocha remains one of her biggest threats.
The American-based track queen won the championship from 2009 to 2014 and returned to win the 2016 edition after missing out in 2015.
Despite her qualification for the Olympics, Okagbare will be hoping to continue her winning streak and go to the Olympics in high spirits.
Apart from the 100m finals expected to take place in the afternoon, there will be shotput men final with all eyes on  Chukwuebuka Enekwechi.

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LAA Holds Lucrative Track Meet, Next Week

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The Lagos State Athletics Association has announced it would be holding a lucrative Athletics Meet on Thursday, June 24, 2021, at the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Yussuf Alli, who is the Meet Director for the Lagos Open Athletics Championship, made the disclosure on Wednes-day even as he revealed that arrangements were in top gear to have an elite cast of athletes in the one-day meet.
According to Alli, the Lagos Open Athletics Championship will simultaneously serve as a qualifying window for the Tokyo Olympics as well as a preparatory event for athletes that have already qualified for the sporting showpiece.
“This is another fantastic window for those seeking to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as well as those seeking quality competition to stay in shape for the Olympics,” Alli said.
“The Lagos State Athletics Association, which is one of the most vibrant in the country, is out to organise a world-class event that would be the talk of the town as we count down to Tokyo,”  he added.
The list of events to be competed for at the Lagos Open Athletics Championship include, the 5,000 meters, 400 meters hurdles, 100 meters, 800 meters, 400 meters and 100 meters.
There would also be quality action in the 4×100 meters open, 4×100 meters open and 4×400 meters mixed relay.
Long jump, High jump, Triple jump, Shot put as well as  4×100 secondary schools relay and 4×100 secondary schools relay have all been pencilled down for the maiden Lagos Open Athletics Champion-ship.
Organisers have assured that the top three finishers across all the events will receive handsome prizes for their efforts.

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S’ Falcons Bow To World Champions

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The Super Falcons of Nigeria lost 2-0 to world champions, USA, in their final Group game at the 2021 Summer Series in Texas, USA.
The result means the African champions failed to win any of their three matches at the invitational tourna-ment, drawing one and losing the other two.
Kristen Press gave the Americans the lead on the stroke of half time, and before Lyn Williams killed Falcons hope of getting a draw with the second goal on the dot of 90 minutes.
With the victory, the world number one has now gone 42 games without tasting a defeat .As for the Falcons, the aim of participating in the Summer Series was to prepare them for a crucial 2022 African Women’s Champion-ship eliminator against perennial rivals, Ghana in October.
The African Women’s Championship will serve as qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

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