The year 2019 was full of ups and downs in Nigerian sports and we expect that the mistakes and how best to correct them are crucial ingredients to consolidate on the successes recorded last year.
Anthony Joshua, with Nigerian blood flowing in his veins, regained his three world heavyweight boxing belts from Andy Ruiz to put smiles on faces of sports fans. It was a major highlight of 2019.
Team Nigeria placed second at the African Games in Morocco but the difference between Nigeria and champions Egypt is too wide for the country to be celebrating her position with pride. Team Nigeria ended the games with 46 gold, 33 silver and 48 bronze medals. The total number of 127 medals is a far cry compared with Egypt’s 273 medals comprising 102 gold, 98 silver and 73 bronze medals. The gap calls for concern. South Africa and some other countries did not attend with all their elite athletes. At the World Athletics Championships, Ese Brume clinched Nigeria’s only medal, a bronze in women’s long jump. Tobi Amusan was close but she finished fourth in the 100m hurdles. We are aware that the wrestlers have been fantastic at continental and global stages while table tennis athletes are struggling to catch up with Egypt. It was sweet victory for Nigeria in the men’s singles event which had an all-Nigerian affair final. Jide Omotayo surprisingly won the gold at the AG but the country only clinched two gold medals out of the available seven. It used to be a clean sweep of seven by Nigeria. Where did we get it wrong? The technical arm of the sport needs evaluation if not a complete overhaul. In basketball, D’Tigress ruled Africa again, clinching the AfroBasket title after beating Senegal in the final. The men lost in the final to settle for a silver medal.
It is on record that football recorded strings of defeats and setbacks. The male and female teams failed to qualify for the Olympic Games football event while the home Eagles fumbled at the WAFU tournament and also failed to make it to the CHAN finals. The U-17 and U-20 teams performed woefully at the FIFA World Cup respectively while the teams representing the country on the continent also did not make impact since the league is in a poor state. The NFF will have to be serious with the World Cup qualifiers.
We make bold to say that the year 2020 will be heavy in international sports and Nigeria must be among the shining lights at world stage. The talents are there but the problem has always been adequate planning to get the desired results.
We charge the authorities to motivate Team Nigeria athletes to be at their best at the global stage. We commend the sports minister, Sunday Dare, with the adopt-an-athlete project. Some of the top athletes already have sponsors to boost them for the Olympics and other events. Wrestler Oduayo Adekuoroye, Ese Brume are some of the athletes already adopted.
Dare and the Nigeria Olympic Committee should get serious from this month to evaluate athletes and federations on a more regular basis till the games start in August. The qualifiers should be taken seriously while the prime areas of prospective medals like wrestling, boxing, taekwondo and athletics must be given attention.
We hereby stress that the state of facilities in the country calls for concern because athletes need to prepare for international tournaments with modern facilities that could be comparable to the ones abroad. It is better to get used to modern facilities than to start learning how to cope with it during tournaments.
However, because it is an Olympic year, some athletes and federations are still in search of tickets to be part of the Tokyo 2020 Games. We charge the federations to think of how best to get things done for the athletes because in the past, some federations failed to attend qualifying tournaments due to financial constraints. This time, early preparations are required technically and also financially. Alternative plans should be made for money to enable the athletes to participate and seek for tickets. Badminton, boxing, table tennis, taekwondo and even athletics are some of the sports still seeking for slots at the Games.
The ministry of sports should work with the federations to source for money to boost the country’s participation for Tokyo Games.
We frown at the crises that enveloped many of the federations last year. Federations like basketball, hockey, athletics and also football must not continue in crises this year. Basketball and athletics have two factional presidents currently and this is bad for the development of sports.
The expectations for this New Year are enormous and there is need to strategically plan for the forthcoming Games in Tokyo. We also charge the football authorities to be alive to the politics in African football such that it will not affect the Super Eagles’ results in the World Cup qualifiers.
Athletes need to be loved and motivated to get the best results. This has to be done while we also expect a strategic plan for the Tokyo Games from now till August.