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Monday, January 3, 2022

Major events that made, marred Nigerian sports in 2021

At the start of the year, despite the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of hopes hinged on the return of sports as Nigerians yearned for normalcy to be returned in their social, economic and private lives.

The first major sporting event expected to somewhat kickstart the economy to an extent was the National Sports Festival which suffered several postponements till it finally held in April. Then the Olympic Games which Nigeria participated in put Nigeria in a negative light.

Trust Sports takes a cursory look at those events that either marred or made sports in Nigeria in the year 2021.

Edo govt threatened to shut down sports festival

Hardly had the 20th National Sports Festival begun that the host, Edo State government threatened fire and brimstone to shut down the festival following the refusal of the state government to support the state with funds.

It will be noted that the ‘Nigerian Olympics’ originally scheduled to hold in March 2020, finally held in April 2021, with Delta State retaining the title it has held since 2012.

The deputy governor, Philp Shuaibu who was the chairman of the local organizing committee took out the threat and ordered the closure of offices belonging to the LOC and main organising committee (MOC).

The threat was not lifted until the federal government intervened with President Muhammadu Buhari pledging to make available the sum of N500 million to the Edo state government.

AFN leadership tussle

After the Tokyo Olympics was concluded, it was time for a new leadership to be elected to head Nigeria’s biggest sports federation, the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and end the protracted leadership tussle.

That failed to happen as on June 14, two presidents at different venues were elected to oversee the federation’s activities.

Tony Okowa was elected AFN president at the 2021 elective congress held at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.

In a parallel election held in Kebbi state, Ibrahim Shehu-Gusau was also elected as the federation’s president.

World Athletics has since confirmed that it only recognises the Okowa-led board and has established communication with the administration.

Team Nigeria Olympics campaign

Judging on the previous performances of Team Nigeria in past editions, little was expected from the contingent in Tokyo. As the Olympics got underway, the Nigerian camp was hit with some scandals which dragged the name of the country in the mud worldwide.

The first one happened few days to the commencement of the Games and set the ugly tone for what to come when D’Tigers kits for the Games were being held by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).

The seized merchandise was shipped into the country by Peak, the teams’ kits sponsor with whom the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) has a four-year contract, but NCS withheld it at the Apapa seaport in Lagos.

The kits were not released until July 16 — a few days till D’Tigers were billed to play their first game in Tokyo.

With the dust fully to settle down, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) disqualified 10 Nigerian track and field athletes for failing to comply with the out-of-competition testing (OCT) requirement.

AIU said Nigeria is among countries deemed to have the highest doping risk, and the athletes were expected to undergo “at least three no-notice out-of-competition tests (urine and blood) conducted no less than three weeks apart in the 10 months leading up to a major event”.

The 10 disqualified athletes fell short of the required number of tests and were thereby disqualified. The affected athletes — Knowledge Omovoh, Ruth Usoro, Favor Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma, Glory Patrick, Yinka Ajayi, Tima Godbless, Chidi Okezie, Chioma Onyekwere and Annette Echikunwoke — later took to the streets of Tokyo to protest the disqualification caused by the incompetence of Nigerian authorities.

As Nigerians were battling with the ugly scenario coming in from Tokyo, it was reported again that when officials of the Nigeria Olympics Committee (NOC) refused to give the disqualified athletes the Samsung phones due to them. The Samsung S20+ 5G was a souvenir for all athletes that took part in the Olympics.

Officials of the NOC were said to have collected the phones for Team Nigeria but refused to distribute them to some of the athletes. The phones were later given to the affected athletes after the alarm was raised and an outcry ensued.

On the eve of the final shot-put event at the Tokyo Olympics, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi posted a video on Instagram.

In the short footage that would later go viral, he was seen washing his jersey ahead of the shot-put final that was just a few hours away. “When you qualify for Olympic Finals, but you have only one jersey,” he captioned the post.

This video was a fallout of power tussle between a factional board of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and the sports ministry who failed to allow Nigerian athletes to wear the Puma-branded apparel at Tokyo Olympics, arguing that it’s “a subject of a criminal investigation”.

D’Tigress protest unpaid allowances

After winning their third consecutive Afrobasket championship, D’Tigress released a video on the social media accusing the Nigeria Basketball Federation and Sports ministry of not paying them their allowances and bonuses while threatening to boycott call-ups to represent Nigeria for the 2022 World Cup qualification series if their demands were not met.

Their efforts however paid off as they have since been paid their outstanding allowances and are expected to represent Nigeria at the 2022 World Cup qualification.

Banyana Banyana stun Super Falcons in Lagos

The South African women national team shocked the Super Falcons in front of the home crowd in Lagos at the inaugural Aisha Buhari Cup in September, recording a 4-2 victory over the nine-time African champions.

Super Eagles upset by CAR, unpaid allowances

Central African Republic (CAR) did the unthinkable in Lagos when they stunned the three-time African champions in their World Cup qualifier. The 1-0 loss at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos was Nigeria’s first-ever defeat to the CAR.

Also, ahead of the double-headed friendly encounter against Cameroon in June, several players excused to be away from the game, claiming to be injured. It was said the players were owed several months of allowances and this was confirmed by the Nigeria Football Federation president, Amaju Pinnick.

Efe Ajagba, Israel Adesanya first career losses

Delta state-born Efe Ajagba was handed his first professional boxing career defeat in October as an undercard in the heavyweight title trilogy showdown between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.

In his bid to become the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold two titles concurrently, Israel Adesanya lost by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-45, 49-45) — marking his first career defeat. The loss brought his professional MMA career record to 20-1.

 Creation of Para Sports Department in the Sports Ministry

The creation of the Para Sports department in the Sports Ministry was a major achievement in the outgoing year.

According to the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, this move will give para-sports equal opportunities to thrive.

The creation was done in collaboration with the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF). This new department will be solely responsible for both the National Sports Festival and Para Sports.

Given the pedigree of Nigeria’s para-athletes globally, the successes and honour they have brought the country, this should be celebrated and the Sports Ministry given a pat on the back for making it happen.

Pinnick’s FIFA Council seat

The President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, got elected as a World Soccer Governing Body (FIFA) Council member in March 2021. The victory also ensures he keeps his place in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Executive Committee.

The following gives Nigeria a strong voice in the comity of football powerhouses, not only in Africa but also globally.

It did not come as a surprise, therefore, that the FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his CAF counterpart Dr Patrice Motsepe were guests of President Muhammadu Buhari during the inaugural edition of the Aisha Buhari Cup, an invitational tournament to help with the development of women football in Africa.

World Athletics U-20 Championships in Kenya

Nigeria’s U-20 athletes put up a remarkable and historic feat at the World Athletics U-20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. Team Nigeria finished in third place behind hosts Kenya and Finland at the end of the competition attended by 166 countries.

Team Nigeria won four gold and three bronze medals to earn the country her best-ever finish in the history of the championships.

Before now, Nigeria’s best placing was seventh at the 1990 edition in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where she won two gold, two silver, and two bronze medals.

The feat of the U-20 athletes caught the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari, who described it as the dawn of greatness for the Nigerian youth in sports.

National Youth Games

The National Youth Games (NYG) is a key programme of the Grassroots department in the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development.

As was the case with the National Sports Festival, the Covid-19 pandemic cast huge doubts on the competition. There were pressures from many quarters that the Games be put on hold or cancelled altogether. But the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, stuck to his guns because of the opportunities it would afford the young talents that abound in the country. Dare’s insistence paid off and the National Youth Games was held in Ilorin, Kwara State.

The highlight of the Games is a certain Akinwowon Oladeji, a deaf boy from Lagos State, who won the 100m, 200m and 400m events.

Exploits in Table Tennis

2021 was a year of massive exploits for Nigeria in Table Tennis, both in administration and in the ping pong hall. For the first time in history, one country, which is Nigeria, produced four persons elected into the boards and commissions of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) at their congress held in Houston, Texas in November.

Barrister Wahid Enitan Oshodi got elected as Executive Vice President and then got elevated to Deputy President status because he got the highest number of votes among the vice presidents. CP Anderson Bankole got elected into the Para Table Tennis Commission (PTTC).

Engineer Ishaku Tikon, the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) President, got elected into the Veterans’ Commission while Chief Banji Oladapo got elected into the Board of Directors.

In the ping pong hall, Aruna Quadri became the highest-ranked African player in history when he was ranked 13th in the World in November. He would however finish the year in 14th place.

Quadri also became the first African ever to play up to the quarter-finals of the ITTF World Championships in Houston, Texas and the World Table Tennis Finals in Singapore in November.

Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja

After close to a decade of neglect, the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja got back to life in early December.

The Sports Minister’s ‘Adopt a Pitch’ initiative yielded this positive, heartwarming result through a Public-Private Partnership arrangement with Dangote Industries Group. The partnership led to the rehabilitation of the playing pitch, installation of two digital scoreboards as well as the cultivation of a nursery for the maintenance of the pitch for the next two years. Already, the process of getting FIFA and CAF certification for the pitch is ongoing.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has now made the stadium its first option for the Super Eagles ahead of the 2022 World Cup playoffs in March 2022.

The Sports Minister has also promised that the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos and some other neglected sports edifices will be rehabilitated for the use of the nation’s athletes in 2022.

D’Tigress conquer Africa again

Nigeria’s national women’s basketball team, D’Tigress, conquered Africa for the third time in a row at the Afrobasketball Championships in Cameroon. The queens of the courts were so dominant at the championship where they took all their opponents to the cleaners.

The ladies would then be at the centre of agitations and demands for the payment of some of their outstanding allowances, owed since 2018.

The call for calm, patience and understanding, as well as the assurances by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development that all their requests are receiving attention and the payment of the ‘Adopt a Team’ allowances to the players, has helped a great deal in calming frayed nerves.

Bilateral agreements with Turkey, South Africa, quadripartite Cooperation with Egypt, Algeria and Ghana

Some of the most Innovative programmes of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development are the international cooperation and collaborations she forged with like-minded allies in 2021.

The governments of Turkey and South Africa signed development and exchange programmes for youth and sports with Nigeria when the heads of their governments made state visits to Nigeria. These programmes include exchange of ideas and technical support in the areas of sports development.

Also the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development signed a quadripartite arrangement with Egypt, Algeria and Ghana along the same path.

In what was tagged the ‘Abuja Initiative’ during the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) in Abuja, the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, initiated an agreement with the sports ministers of Egypt, Algeria and Ghana, which will hasten the development of sports across Africa.

N88B boost for sports development

One of the major landmark achievements for sports in Nigeria in 2021 is the Federal Executive Council’s N88 billion boost for sports development through the National Development Plan (NDP) for the next four years (2021-2025).

Under the former arrangement in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), sports got zero budget. However, following the reclassification of sports as a business by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 2020, there would be an injection of the N88 billion into its development. Consequently, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development will now be on the steering committee of the National Development Plan (NDP).

The Sports Minister is also initiating a National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP) that would have components of a business model in line with global best practices. All these are geared towards creating a conducive environment for sports to thrive in Nigeria.

The expectations are that the new year 2022 will present more possibilities and successes for Nigerian sports both home and abroad.

I'm an avid and seasoned sports/ multimedia journalist. I have a biased love for Real Madrid and passionate advocate for the overall growth of the Nigeria Sports Project. I can be reached on 09077894123 or/and '[email protected]'

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