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After making history, Nigeria seeks more Winter Olympics talent



After making history, Nigeria seeks more Winter Olympics talent

Women’s bobsleigh team made Olympic history as the first Africans to compete. Now, a race is on to popularise the sport.

On a warm September morning in Lagos, as more than 30 Nigerian athletes prepared to take part in the country’s maiden bobsled and skeleton try-outs, Seun Adigun was there to encourage them.

“Just be an athlete,” she told them, reassuringly.

Adigun, born in Chicago to Nigerian parents, is the first African to have competed in both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games.

She represented Nigeria on both occasions, in 2012 in London for the women’s 100-metre hurdles and in 2018 in PyeongChang as part of the women’s bobsleigh team.

“It is heart first, passion, dedication and athleticism,” Adigun, 32, told Al Jazeera.

“Athleticism [will] come, that can be trained.

“But you can’t coach someone to have passion, you can’t coach them to be dedicated, you can’t coach them to have heart and you can’t coach them to move with integrity or commitment and those are the things we are looking for.”

Footballers, sprinters and basketball players all came to try out for the frozen-track sports at the National Stadium in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial centre.

The aim of the talent-scouting event, which was called The Fastest Pusher, was to recruit more athletes for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing and in turn, popularise the sport in Nigeria.

In a few months, the most successful athletes could be training in rather unfamiliar climates.

Participant Nafeesat Aliu, a runner and hurdler, admitted to having no experience in either bobsled or skeleton but said she was inspired by Adigun’s pep talk.

She emerged as the “fastest pusher”, leaving the stadium with gifts from the sponsors and a chance at a bobsleigh career.

“I have this mind-set that if I train, possibly within months I will get better and then be at the medal table,” she said.

“Adigun summoned the courage to start participating in bobsled and it’s a big win for her, every girl would want to be like her.”

Adigun’s story has inspired many in Nigeria.

Despite having suffered from tachycardiaand other medical conditions as a teenager, she excelled in track and field and later was a central founding member of the three-member Nigerian women bobsleigh team – in 2016, the same year the team came into being, she started a successful crowd funding campaign to source the $75,000 needed for an Olympic bid.

Before the 2018 games, Adigun was in Texas and studying to be a chiropractor and completing a master’s degree in fitness and human performance.

Her teammates Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omega were also busy with education and work respectively.

Between them, they were short of time and had no access to standard facilities and equipment.

But with dedication and assistance from donors, they arrived full of hope at the games in South Korea in February last year.

Alongside skeleton athlete Simidele Adeagbo, they hoisted Nigeria’s flag for the first time in 84 years after the maiden games were held.

While football is Nigeria’s most popular sport, with the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s men’s national team enjoying support nationwide, Adigun believes there is still room for frozen-track sports.

“Honestly, we respect the sports in their various respective lanes but we are not competing with football, we are competing alongside them,” she said.

“We are just trying to highlight the other types of talents that are in the country because not everybody is the best football player. The football players that we have now are amazing at what they do, but also they are not bobsledders or skeleton athletes. We are trying to create more opportunities for Nigerians.”

Emeka Enyadike, a broadcaster and the director of Digital Sports Africa, believes bobsled and skeleton could become popular.

“Through social media, we can get it done, and I think [the Nigerian women bobsled team] achieved a bit of it already with what they did in the last Winter Olympics,” Enyadike told Al Jazeera. “The good thing is that with some of these sports, even if we don’t have the facilities for winter, you can train off track and look for sponsorship.

“It can be big in Nigeria.”

On October 1 last year, a new male bobsleigh team was announced, comprising three Nigerians and based in Austria.

The sport is considered more seriously in the diaspora than in the country.

After the recent try-outs, Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke, the Bobsled & Skeleton Federation of Nigeria spokesperson, told Al Jazeera: “Hopefully once they join the team, then people begin to see that this is not a sport for Nigerians in the diaspora or Nigerians with dual citizenship or American-Nigerians.

“It’s a sport for all Nigerians and we hope that that would get fans aboard ahead of 2022.”

Nigeria, a sub-Saharan country that does not have winters, plans to recruit athletes who may have never experienced snow – according to Adigun, this is a challenge.

“We’re dealing with a sub-Saharan temperature and we are going to deal with subzero temperatures, so it’s going to be difficult to retain people when they hit the cold,” she said.

The plan is to have them learn the technique first.

Adigun, who lives in the United States, and Netherlands-based Akwasi Frimpong, a Ghanaian pacesetter in skeleton who came to help out in Nigeria, are unable to keep visiting Nigeria to train new athletes, so a coaching clinic was organised before the try-outs, with trained coaches mostly from track and field events.

“We’d also set up seminars and educate [the coaches] on the ground here in Nigeria,” Adigun said.

Bobsled and skeleton are expensive sports.

A hi-tech sleigh costs about $55,000 [N19,690,000] and getting team members to train on the ice would be a costly mission.

“Sponsorship is very important,” said Koye Sowemimo, managing director of Temple Sports, an African sport management company.

“The recent development means more funds would be needed.”

While the team made history at the Winter Olympic Games last year as the first Africans to compete in the bobsleigh event, they did not win any medals despite hurtling down ice tunnels at more than 97 kilometres per hour (60 miles per hour). Overall, they were last in the women’s bobsleigh. Jamaica was just behind them, while Germany won.

But it is just the beginning.

“The hope is not only to continue to increase the awareness of the sport in the country but also in the continent and also let people know,” said Adigun, “that we can do this sport, even in Nigeria.”

*Courtesy: al-Jazeera

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Pellegrini ‘not worried’ about relegation after loss to Arsenal



Pellegrini ‘not worried’ about relegation after loss to Arsenal

West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini is “not worried about relegation” from the Premier League even though his side are above the bottom three by only a point.

Monday’s 3-1 home defeat by Arsenal was a seventh loss in nine games.

The Hammers travel to third-bottom Southampton on Saturday knowing defeat could leave them in the drop zone.

“In our last five games at home we got one draw and conceded three goals in our last three. I am more worried about that,” said the Chilean.

Some people within the club believe Pellegrini, 66, could lose his job if the Hammers are beaten at St Mary’s, reports the BBC.

However, the club have repeatedly stressed they like to honour contracts, and the deal Pellegrini signed in May 2018 does not expire until 2021.

The Hammers have spent all but one season in the top flight since 2005. This is their eighth campaign since their last promotion and they have never finished below 13th.

Following their controversial move to the 60,000-capacity London Stadium in 2016, Hammers Chairman David Sullivan has give Pellegrini – appointed to succeed David Moyes in 2018 – around £165m to build a squad capable of challenging for European qualification.

Yet, with the exception of the bottom three, West Ham have the worst goal difference in the Premier League. Only four clubs have conceded in excess of their 28 goals, half of which have come in the past six games.

Striker Sebastien Haller, their £45m record signing, has scored once since August and after starting on the bench against Arsenal, the Frenchman made no impact after he was introduced 20 minutes from time.

Pellegrini accepts that, as manager, “you take responsibility for results”.

“For 65 minutes there was only one team on the pitch,” he added. “But we must score the second goal to decide the game. If Arsenal had scored three times from seven chances, that would be different. The game was decided in three minutes. We need to concentrate more, be more consistent and more solid.”

There were thousands of empty seats visible at the final whistle after a game in which the Hammers had led through Angelo Ogbonna’s deflected header, only for three goals in nine second-half minutes from Gabriel Martinelli, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to transform the game.

Those West Ham fans who were left greeted the end of the match with whistles and jeers.

Nevertheless, Pellegrini says they are still behind his team.

“If you get one point from five games at home and concede three goals in three games, you can’t expect them to be happy and not to boo,” he said.

“But I don’t agree the fans are not behind the team. There are 60,000 here for every game. If they weren’t behind the team, the stadium would be empty.”

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Gary Neville: Mourinho would have sold Martial



Gary Neville: Mourinho would have sold Martial

Jose Mourinho “would have probably sold or swapped” Anthony Martial had he remained at Manchester United, says Gary Neville, but the French forward is worth persevering with.

Big money was invested in the 24-year-old by the Red Devils back in the summer of 2015.

His potential was bought into by Louis van Gaal, with a promising start made to his time at Old Trafford.

There have been form and fitness issues since then, with it suggested at various stages that Martial may be edging towards the exits.

He eventually committed to a new contract in January, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking the reins at Old Trafford, and has become a key man alongside the in-form Marcus Rashford.

Neville believes the Red Devils should now be looking to bring even more out of a player who can confuse and amaze in equal measure.

The Red Devils legend told Sky Sports: “Martial, I think, Jose would have probably sold him or swapped him last season.

“I think the club dug their heels in, probably the start of their dispute of them between them in terms of overruling the manager.

“Myself, I’m confused as to whether he’s a world-class striker or whether he’s someone who is going to pretend to be something.

“You think he’s a fantastic player, great composure, cool, strong, can hold the ball up.

“And then other weeks you look at him… there’s definitely a persistence that needs to occur with Martial in the sense that he has to have his chance.

“Because the idea of selling him and then him coming back to bite you which he could do with his talent is something that you can’t risk.

“And that’s the reason why the club have kept him and now Ole is giving him his opportunity.”

“You see things and you think it’s worth persisting with him because if he can, something clicks, and he gets that confidence, and he can be a 20-25 goalscoring striker.”

Pressed further as to how long United should give Martial to become the No.9 he believes he is capable of being, Neville added: “I think they have to give it another year… certainly the rest of this season because he’s so talented.”

Martial was back among the goals in a derby date with Manchester City on Saturday and now has six efforts to his name through 13 appearances in all competitions.

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EPL: Arsenal strike back to end winless run at West Ham



EPL: Arsenal strike back to end winless run at West Ham

Arsenal came from behind to end their nine-match winless streak as Freddie Ljungberg enjoyed his first victory as interim manager at the expense of his former club West Ham.

Eighteen-year-old Gabriel Martinelli marked his full Premier League debut by side-footing an equaliser which cancelled out Angelo Ogbonna’s deflected first-half opener at London Stadium.

Within nine minutes, Nicolas Pepe had curled a magnificent second into the top corner and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired in a third reports the BBC.

The salvo turned the game on its head and piled the pressure on West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini, whose side have taken four points from their past nine league games and conceded three times in three successive home games.

The Hammers remain a point above the relegation zone in 16th and face a trip to third-bottom Southampton on Saturday. Arsenal move up two places to ninth.

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Sports Minister moves to resolve AFN crisis



Sports Minister moves to resolve AFN crisis

Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, has promised to set up a Committee to look into the current crisis rocking the board of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria with a view to resolve it.

The Minister said in his official Tweeter that: “I will be announcing shortly the constitution of a Crisis Resolution Team (CRT) to look into the AFN crisis.

He stated that interest of Nigeria and her athletes trumps every other consideration at this point.

The AFN had announced its breakout from the Sports Ministry on Thursday after its extra-ordinary Congress in Awka, Anambra State, where it made resolutions including rejecting the resignation of Solomon Ogba from the board alongside sacking six of its members.

Amidst the debacle, the Sports Ministry was blamed for meddling with activities of the Athletics body.

Dare who had ordered for the sacking of the body’s Technical Director Sunday Adeleye had yet to make a statement concerning the issue until yesterday.

The former NCC stalwart, a vibrant Twitter user, announced that the CRT was underway.

Only on Sunday, AFN President, Ibrahim Gusau, stated that the crisis was a sad development for the country and that he was ready for dialogue.

He explained the autonomy the athletics body was yearning for which angered the ministry of sports.

Gusau said: “The autonomy we are talking about is in so far as administering the Federation is concerned and had always been in existence in the statutes of the AFN, the CAA and the WA.  We have always borne all expenses associated with the administration of the Federation.

“This does not however, preclude the Government, through the FMYSD, from meeting its obligations to the athletes.  If athletes are representing Nigeria in a competition, it behoves on the government to take care of them because they are representing the country, not the Federation.”   

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Lagos hosts Kaita Athletics Feb 29



Lagos hosts Kaita Athletics Feb 29

As part the efforts to boost athletics in the country, the inaugural Ahmed Ahijo Kaita Athletics meet will take place at the Yaba College of Technology Sports Ground, Lagos on February 29.

The sponsor, Alhaji Ahmed Kaita, who is the Chairman of Katsina State Athletics Federation stated that he was doing this to prepare the country’s athletes ahead of the National Sports Festival in Edo State in March next year and the Tokyo Olympics Games next year August.

He said his decision to do this was informed by the poor run of Nigerian athletes in international championships recently especially the last World Championship in Doha, Qatar.

Kaita said the Lagos Meet would be an International of Athletics Association Federations IAAF sanctioned championship adding that gold, silver and bronze medalists will go home with some cash prizes.

According to him, events will hold in 100m men and women, 4 x 100 relay, 4 x 400, mixed relay races, shot put, long jump and discuss for men and women.

He said the major focus would be on the relay races which gave Nigeria her first medal at the Olympics in Los Angeles Games in 1984.

The Katsina Athletics boss disclosed that since the relay race of the quartet of Nigeria’s Innocent Egbunike, Sunday Uti, Moses Ugbesien and Rotimi Peters was the first that won the first medal in athletics for the country at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, there is need to focus more on the relay events.

“We want to bring back the old memories of Nigeria in athletics particularly in the relay races at the Olympic level.

“This is what we are coming out to correct. We do not want such abnormal experience of Doha to occur again. We condemn it in totality,” he added.

He also said foreign based athletes representing Nigeria at international competitions must be compelled to take part in trials against the home based as was the practice in the past.

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Sylvester, Quadre win Rainoil tennis meet



Sylvester, Quadre win Rainoil tennis meet

Nigeria’s male and female No 1 players, Sylvester Emmanuel and Oyinlomo Quadre continued their dominance of the local scene when they defeated all comers to be crowned winners of this year’s Rainoil tennis open championship which ended on Sunday.

Held at the Clay Court of the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja Lagos, Sylvester defeated men’s singles defending champion, Joseph Imeh, by two straight sets of 6/2, 6/3 to emerge winner and cart away the trophy and N500,000 at stake while Imeh got N250,000 for his efforts.

In the women category, Oyinlomo wasted no time in beating old war horse, Christie Agugbom, 6-1, 3-0 (rtd) to take the title and N400,000 prize money while the runners- up got N200,000.

The men’s doubles was won by Uche Oparaoji and Godgift Timibra  just as Oyinlomo Quadre and Omolayo Bamidele won the women doubles event.

Winners for the men and women doubles got N250,00 and N200,000 respectively.

Speaking on her victory, Oyinlomo said that hard work and dedication made it possible for her to overcome experienced Agugbom whom she praised for her fighting spirit just as she commended the sponsors for putting up the tournament.

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Lyon donates N750,000 to chess championship winner



Lyon donates N750,000 to chess championship winner

Bayelsa state Governor-elect,  David Lyon  at the weekend said his administration would use sport to restore hope  among the youth in the state.

The Governor-elect  was represented by Prince Ebitimi Amgbare at the presentation  N750,000 to  Miss Deborah Quickpen.

Quickpen  who is only seven yerae old will represent Nigeria at the African Youth Chess Championship coming up in Namibia this month.

According  to Hon. Lyon, “It is for this reason that our incoming administration intends to use sport as a veritable tool for development, with  the understanding that sport can serve as an impetus for social transformation and change as the state moves to the next of rapid socio-economic development.

He noted that sport can also serve as a tool for crime prevention, conflict resolution and promote inclusive good governance,  with a view to creating a peaceful environment for meaningful development.

While appreciating the good gesture of the Governor-elect, recipient of the seven hundred and fifty thousand naira cheque, Miss Deborah Quickpen thanked the Governor-elect for coming to her aid to enable her represent Nigeria at the forthcoming African Youth Chess Championship in Namibia,  assuring that she will not disappoint the country at the continental competition.

Also speaking,  father of the girl, Mr. Ben Quickpen, who also is the current world’s number 10th man in scrabble and a three times national champion in the game, expressed surprise that his daughter would be sponsored to participate in the forthcoming African Chess Youth Championship in Namibia by the Governor-elect whom he had never met in life.

On his part, Chairman,  Bayelsa State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Samuel Numonengi, said the good gesture of the Governor-elect in taking up the bills of Miss Quickpen to enable her participate in the African Youth Chess Championship speaks volumes of his benevolence and passion for sports development.

Also speaking, a lecturer with the Niger Delta University,  Amassoma,  Dr. Phillips Okolo described the gesture of the Governor-elect as a pointer to good things to come to Bayelsa state. 

He used the occasion to appeal to the incoming administration to run an open and inclusive government where every stakeholder would be accommodated irrespective of political divides.

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AFCON 2021: Eagles’ll qualify for final – Aribo



AFCON 2021: Eagles’ll qualify for final  – Aribo

Super Eagles new sensational midfielder, Joe Aribo, has declared that the Super Eagles will qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, as he believes they will maintain their momentum in the qualification series.

The Glasgow Rangers of Scotland midfielder added that he was happy being part of the Eagles’ in the matches and victories against Benin Republic and Lesotho, which were his first two competitive games for Nigeria, and he is now optimistic of better results coming ahead.

He stated further during 101.5 FM Radio programme monitored yesterday that he was equally happy that his decision to commit his international future to Nigeria was paying off, as he has two goals to his name in four matches,adding that the team is doing well within the short time he has been with them.

The 23-year-old box-to-box midfielder also spoke on his decision to accept playing for Nigeria, rather than stick out for an international future with England, saying it was mostly about the love of donning the colours of his father’s country, and he has nothing to rue in that decision.

Although the 23-year-old former Charlton Athletic sensation admitted it is a big challenge for him to wear Nigeria’s number 10 jersey vacated by the immediate past captain, John Mikel Obi, Aribo enthused that the team’s united spirit and his own determination to succeed with the squad will spur him into making his impact felt in all subsequent matches he is involved in.

“I am happy that we started well in the qualifiers. We’ve won our first two matches, and now we have to keep the momentum going. I am happy that I am part of this team and I believe we will qualify,” he said.

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WADA bans Russia from 2022 World Cup, 2020 Olympic Games



WADA bans Russia from 2022 World Cup, 2020 Olympic Games

WADA bans Russia from 2022World Cup, 2020 Olympic Games

Russia has been handed a four-year ban from all major sporting events by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

It means the Russia flag and anthem will not be allowed at events such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and football’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

But athletes who can prove they are untainted by the doping scandal will be able to compete under a neutral flag.

WADA’s executive committee made the unanimous decision in a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.

It comes after Russia’s Anti Doping Agency (Rusada) was declared non-compliant for manipulating laboratory data handed over to investigators in January 2019.

It had to hand over data to Wada as a condition of its controversial reinstatement in 2018 after a three-year suspension for its vast state-sponsored doping scandal.

WADA says Rusada has 21 days to appeal against the ban. If it does so, the appeal will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Wada vice-president Linda Helleland said the ban was “not enough”.

“I wanted sanctions that can not be watered down,” she said. “We owe it to the clean athletes to implement the sanctions as strongly as possible.”

A total of 168 Russian athletes competed under a neutral flag at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang after the country was banned following the 2014 Games, which it hosted in Sochi. Russian athletes won 33 medals in Sochi, 13 of which were gold.

Russia has been banned from competing as a nation in athletics since 2015.

Despite the ban, Russia will be able to compete at Euro 2020 – in which St Petersburg will be a host city – as European football’s governing body UEFA is not defined as a ‘major event organisation’ with regards to rulings on anti-doping breaches.

Rusada was initially declared non-compliant in November 2015 after a Wada-commissioned report by sports lawyer Professor Richard McLaren alleged widespread corruption that amounted to state-sponsored doping in Russian track and field athletics.

A further report, published in July 2016, declared Russia operated a state-sponsored doping programme for four years across the “vast majority” of summer and winter Olympic sports.

In 2018, WADA reinstated Rusada as compliant after the national agency agreed to release data from its Moscow laboratory from the period between January 2012 and August 2015.

However, positive findings contained in a version courtesy of a whistleblower in 2017 were missing from the January 2019 data, which prompted a new inquiry.

WADA’s compliance review committee (CRC) recommended a raft of measures based “in particular” on a forensic review of inconsistencies found in some of that data.

As part of the ban, Russia may not host, or bid for or be granted the right to host any major events for four years, including the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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Basketball player fined in China for not looking at flag during national anthem



French former NBA player has been reprimanded and fined $1,400 by sports officials in China for not looking at the Chinese flag during the national anthem before a game.

Players with the Chinese Basketball Association are supposed to stare at the national symbol during the “March of the Volunteers”, but television images showed Guerschon Yabusele, who plays for Nanjing Tongxi Monkey King, had his head down before Friday’s game.

Yabusele was given a “serious warning” and a 10,000-yuan fine for not looking at the flag as required, the CBA said in a statement on Saturday.

Yabusele, who played forward for the Boston Celtics for two seasons before joining the CBA team this year, has not commented on the incident.

China’s government has stepped up the promotion of patriotism under President Xi Jinping, with legislation approved in 2017 to punish anyone who disrespects the national anthem with up to three years in prison.

Opinions on Yabusele’s punishment were divided on Chinese social media.

“He’s happy to take money from China, but he doesn’t respect it,” one person wrote on the popular Weibo social media platform.

“This player must be expelled immediately and his club must be disqualified from the championship,” another said.

But many found the sanction to be harsh.

“It’s nonsense. First, he’s not Chinese. Moreover, he stood up and didn’t make any insulting gesture,” one person wrote.

“He has his head down. So what? In what era does the CBA live? It’s 50 years behind.”

Yabusele is not the first foreign athlete to break patriotic rules in China.

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