[email protected]: Sports stakeholders lament untapped potential, hope for better future
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Nigeria’s 62nd Independence Day anniversary remains a cause for celebration, despite sports having not attained the heights expected.
While the country’s athletes put up spectacular performances in the 1980s and 1990s, with some claiming Olympic gold medals, Nigerian sports witnessed a sharp contrast soon after, following a steady decline of fortunes.
Stunted grassroots development, poor facilities and infrastructure, leadership tussles have seen Nigeria fall down the pecking order behind other African countries amid corruption accusations, favouritism and the stranglehold of an untouchable cabal.
The athletes, the main actors, suffer the brunt of this anomalities.
Although the nation still stutters to glory intermittently amidst the troubles, Nigeria can no longer be compared to fellow African countries like South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Ethiopia on the global sports stage.
However, a recent resurgence by a new generation of athletes, dominates by sportswomen, has seen Nigeria rise from the doldrums once more.
Hurdler Tobi Amusan has had a golden year, emerging the country’s first-ever world champion and record holder in the process, as well as emerging as the undisputed queen of the Commonwealth, Africa and the Diamond League.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games bronze medallist Ese Brume came full circle in 2022, reclaiming the Commonwealth Games title she won in 2014 and setting a new championship record of 7.00m in the process.
Her victory in Birmingham came just two weeks after she won the World Championship silver medal in Eugene, Oregon.
Indeed, Brume’s effort ensured Team Nigeria won 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals, erasing their previous best performance at the Commonwealth Games in 1994 in Victoria, Canada, when the country won 11 gold 13 silver and 13 bronze.
But there were also low points that had the country’s sports-loving populace seething, especially in football.
The Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, while perennial African champions the Super Falcons were brought down to earth at the WAFCON in Morocco, ending their campaign without a medal.
As Nigeria celebrated her 62nd Independence anniversary on Saturday, our correspondents spoke with stakeholders on Nigeria’s progress and what the future held for sports.
Retired quarter-miler Falilat Ogunkoya, an Olympic silver and bronze medallist, highlighted the reasons for the poor show in recent years.
“Sports has declined in the last decades, compared to what it used to be in our time. Slow preparations and the government’s late approval of budgets for athletes for major events are major reasons for their poor outing,” Ogunkoya stated.
“Our sports has been suffering in recent years, and today (Saturday) being our Independence Day, we hope for a new beginning,” former Super Eagles defender Ifeanyi Udeze said.
But the ex-footballer turned pundit, like many followers of football in the country, is wary of a turbulent future ahead of the game, following the crisis leading to the contentious Nigeria Football Federation election on Friday, which had Ibrahim Gusau take over as president of the body from Amaju Pinnick.
“Ibrahim Gusau has been elected new NFF president, but we still have to wait, because we don’t know the full situation. Remember, the Abuja High Court ordered them not to hold the election, but they went ahead and got a court injunction from the Appeal Court and conducted the election.”
Edema Fuludu, a 1994 African Cup of Nations winner, believes that Nigeria, with a population of over 200 million people, has the talent to dominate the world.
“In my opinion, I think that 62 years is a long time in our nationhood, we’ve come a long way. The good aspect is that Nigeria has over the years been able to write her name on the world map of sports,” Fuludu said.
“On the other side of it though, is that over the years, we’ve been unable to harness the talents properly to become good foreign exchange earners for us.”
The former Delta FA chairman believes with the right government policies, sports will become a veritable tool for youths to leverage on.
Fuludu added, “Then, there will be more infrastructure and platforms. If Nigerians get involved in any sport, they will do well, the population is there. Our youths are ready to go, but the government has to do more in terms of provision of facilities.
“If facilities are available, then the private sector will be encouraged with policies to motivate them to invest in sports.
“We will then have a youthful nation of sports literates and it will be good for us.”
President, Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, Ishaku Tikon, is also hopeful of brighter days ahead.
“It’s not been easy, but we have tried to steer the ship towards the part of success. We hope that those days are gone now,” he said.
“With more efforts and commitment from everyone, our sports will thrive better that the way it is now.”
On how to ensure that Nigeria remained among the top sports countries in the world, former African champion Falilat Ogunkoya called on the government to ensure that athletes were properly prepared ahead of global events.
“During my days, we stayed in camp for three months and trained very hard, but now, the government don’t even camp athletes for competitions. They just release the money to the athletes a few months before championships, not minding if the athletes trained properly or not,” Ogunkoya stated.
“The Olympics is in two years, the government should start preparations now, and allocate funds for the athletes so that they can start preparations early ahead of the Games.”