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.
Race For Zenith Bank B’Ball League Top Four Resumes
The battle for the final two slots for the 2023 Zenith Bank Women’s Basketball League will begin at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, Delta State, with MFM Women Basketball Club and Bayelsa Blue Whales looking to secure one of the two slots.
Two teams; Nigerian Customs and Air Warriors secured two slots from the Savannah Conference and now, the Atlantic Conference teams will battle to win the two other slots to complete the Top Four for Final Phase.
The Second Phase of the Atlantic Conference was postponed due to the recently concluded National Youth Games and with the arrival of all teams, hostilities began yesterday with Bayelsa Whales and MFM taking on Dolphins and Sunshine Angels, respectively.
MFM, who finished second in the last edition will have to be at their best as they are currently third on the table coming from the First Phase where they won three games while losing two while Bayelsa Whales on the other hand are second with four wins and a loss against undefeated First Bank who is poised to finish top of the table.
First Bank will hope to continue their impressive form when they meet IGP Queens who are also hoping to create an upset and get a slot to be in Lagos for the finals scheduled later in October.
NRFF President Hails ValueJet’s Contribution to Rugby Development
President of Nigeria Rugby Football Federation, NRFF, Dr Ademola Are has hailed the impact of ValueJet’s to rugby development and sports generally in the country.
Dr Are who was speaking on the sideline of the just concluded National Youth Games in Asaba, where Delta State emerged winners in both the male and female events of rugby, said ValueJet’s contributions to sports development could not be overlooked..
“We can’t over emphasize the impact of ValueJet in Nigeria rugby because they came at a time we needed them the most and all thanks to the president of the company, Kunle Soname who went the extra mile to ensure that Nigeria senior men national team, the Black Stallions participated at Africa Sevens Olympic qualifier in Harare, Zimbabwe.
“Despite not being the most popular sport in the country, he saw the potentials in rugby when others were hesitating, just like he has for other businesses of his with his canny business acumen.
Peseiro Congratulates Rivers Utd
Super Eagles head coach Jose Peseiro has congratulated Rivers United following their victory over Etoile Filante of Burkina Faso which ensured their qualification to the group stages of the CAF Confederation Cup.
Rivers United defeated their visitors 2-0 in the second leg of the second preliminary round of CAF Confederation Cup at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt on Sunday night.
Rivers United missed two penalties in the game before Alex Oyowah scored the opener in the 89th minute. Oyowah completed his brace in the 10th minute of added time after converting a penalty to end the score 2-0.
The first leg of the encounter ended 0-0 two weeks ago at the Stade Muncipal Yamoussoukro, Cote D’Ivoire, giving the Pride of Rivers a 2-0 aggregate win and a group stage ticket.
Peseiro hailed the former Nigeria league champions on his personal X handle following their achievement.
“Congratulations to Rivers United on making it to the CAF Confederation Cup group stage. Best of luck in the competition!,” he wrote.
Rivers United reached the quarter-final stage of the CAF Confederation Cup last season before being eliminated by Young Africans of Tanzania.
Up next for Stanley Eguma led side is their first Nigeria Premier Football League NPFL game of the season against Niger Tornadoes slated for the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna on Sunday.
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