Nigerian sports in 2014: A mixed grill

In a matter of days, the year 2014 will become history for sports in Nigeria and a new chapter will be opened for the growth and development game in every level of the national teams in 2015.

By all standards, it has really been highs and lows for Nigeria in the various sporting events that the country has participated this year considering the return of honours been achieved by athletes who represented the country.

Amaju Pinnick

Amaju Pinnick

It will be unfair for Nigerians not to appreciate the athletes’ efforts irrespective of their unimpressive performance in some of the events that they participated in considering the poor management structure, substandard training facilities and inadequate financial incentives, which really hampered their preparations.

More so, the Ebola scourge that almost marred sporting activities in the country will also not be forgotten considering the fact that, a few of the countries that ought to have played Nigeria underage teams decided to withdraw for fear of the Ebola virus disease.

Besides, the performance of Nigeria’s contingent at the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, is an indication of the lofty heights that our sportsmen and women can attain with team spirit, discipline and adequate preparations for global competitions.

Team Nigeria, as the contingent is known, won a total of 36 medals, comprising 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze, to emerge 8th on the overall medals table and second best among the Commonwealth countries in Africa, after South Africa.

With football considered the most popular sport in the country, a lot of attention was given to it, probably because of the financial gains, while the lesser sports such as Athletics, Tennis, Boxing, Basketball, Judo, Wrestling and Weightlifting, a few of which have given the country some sort of prestige, have been ignored.

Saturday Independent takes an X-ray of those highs and lows of the major sports in the country in the past 12 months.

NFF election crisis/Stephen Keshi’s contract brouhaha

Sports in 2014 will also be remembered for the crisis that rocked the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) over who, between the current NFF president, Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa, manages football affairs in the country. Their rivalry almost got Nigeria into the bad books of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA).
Initially, it was thought that Giwa had emerged winner of the election after defeating Mike Umeh in August before it was annulled by FIFA and, thereafter, told to vacate the NFF Glass House or Nigeria would face heavy sanction from the world football governing body.

The alleged mismanagement of funds by the former NFF president, Aminu Maigari, and the inconsistency of Sport Minister, Tammy Danagogo, in the whole affairs did not help matters as various interest groups were fighting for their candidates, instead of thinking of the way forward for Nigerian football.

The generality of Nigerians are tired of election crises in the NFF, especially the constant threat by FIFA to ban Nigeria during election period.

The crisis further led to the delay in Stephen Keshi’s contract after the 2014 FIFA World Cup where France thrashed Nigeria 2-0 in the group of 16.  Keshi’s demand for a salary of N10 million a month, which he wanted paid upfront, to check any delays caused some ripples among NFF officials.

Without knowing NFF positions, the former Togo and Mali coach was placed on pay on any match the Super Eagles played in 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers in which Nigeria failed to qualify.

The biggest news was the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan in calling Keshi back as Super Eagles coach after Pinnick sacked him, before Nigeria’s matches against Congo and South Africa. His involvement in the nation’s football was a move Nigerians will never forget in a hurry because of the eventual result.

Super Eagles’ poor campaign

Nigerians expected the team to be able to break the round of 16 jinx in the World Cup in Brazil and also qualify for the 2015 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea. This, however, did not happened.

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Like a curse, the team wobbled and fumbled at the mundial, as coach Stephen Keshi’s team was beaten by France 2-0 in the second round, despite controlling the major part of play. Its best match was against the star-studded Argentina side that paraded Lionel Messi, Sergio Arguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria, where the Super Eagles gallantly lost 2-3 after 90 minutes in the final group stage. The team managed a goalles draw against Iran before beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 thanks to Osaze Odemwingie’s solitary strike.

Nigeria’s ouster from the World Cup was a kind of show of shame as some senior players held the nation to ransom over match bonus before playing against France, something that affected the team’s morale. As an aftermath of the mundial, the future of Keshi was also in doubt, causing some rancour within the football house.

As if that was not enough, the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 2015 Nations Cup in spite of being grouped alongside South Africa, Congo and Sudan. The team finished third on the log with eight points behind group winners, South Africa, which had 12 points, and second place Congo that picked up 10 points. It was regarded as one of Nigeria’s darkest moments, considering that Eagles was the reigning African champion after winning the trophy in 2013 in South Africa.

To worsen matters, the team finished the year as 43rd in the world and 9th in Africa, according to the December FIFA rankings. What a sad way to end the year!

Falcons, F’Eagles, G’Eaglets fairy tales continues

The only cheering news Nigerians had were the qualification of the Golden Eaglets for the Africa U-17 Championship slated for Niger after beating DR Congo and Gabon in the qualifiers, and the Flying Eagles walked over Lesotho which failed to play in Nigeria due to fear of Ebola. Both teams are looking forward to qualifying for the World Cup in Chile and New Zealand in 2015.

The Super Falcons made Nigeria proud by winning its ninth Africa Women’s Championship hosted by Namibia after beating Cameroon 2-0 in the final. The Nigerian ladies have always put smile in the faces of football lovers in the country with their fantastic and amazing display. The victory ensures the team’s participation at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, where the team has been grouped with USA, Sweden and Australia. Also, the Falconets narrowly lost a trophy to Germany in the final of the U-20 World Cup, in which Asisat Oshoala was a major discovery.

Interestingly, the Super Falcons finished the year as the 32nd best team in the world and number one in Africa.

Okagbare, Nigeria’s brightest athlete

the year 2014 is not a bad year for Athletics in Nigeria as the athletes made the country proud at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland and African Athletics Championships in Morocco. Athletics brought the country three gold, three silver and one bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games while at the Africa Athletics Championships, Nigeria won eight gold, nine silver and seven bronze medals.

The superlative performance of Blessing Okagbare, the captain of Nigeria’s contingent in the track and field events in Scotland and Morocco, is indisputably one of the highlights of the games. Her performance in the 100 metres women’s event has been described as one of the best in the history of the games. Okagbare broke the 100m record, winning gold in 10.85 seconds. She also won gold in the 200m race, thereby becoming the first Nigerian to win double gold medals in the Commonwealth Games. Ese Brume, Folashade Abugan, Chinwe Okoro, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, Monzavous Edwards, Obinna Metu and Mark Jelks were also outstanding.

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Wrestling, battling its way to glory

Most popular when it comes to watching the foreign version on television, wrestling is less popular among most enthusiasts due to the low level at which the sport is promoted in the country. Perhaps, the only hope comes from the grassroots where, a few individuals or groups are trying to popularise the game.
Wrestling accounts for majority of Nigeria’s medals at the games, with 12 medals, made up of two gold, two silver and eight bronze. Nigeria’s gold medalists include Odunayo Adekuoroye, who broke into a native dance after claiming gold in the women’s 53kg freestyle wrestling, and Aminat Adeniyi, who won in the women’s 58kg freestyle wrestling.

Boxing: Nigeria’s pugilists doing their best

Since the departure of Hogan Bassey, Nigeria has not really done well in boxing, even though it keeps producing promising young talents, who have distinguished themselves in the various categories of the sport.

In 2014, the only notable impact of boxing was when three boxers, Edith Agu, Efe Ajagba and Wasiu Taiwo, won bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games.

Weightlifting: Better than ever

Weightlifting is a sport that has come to stay, producing different medals for the country. In the last 12 months, the game was on the low side except for those magical moments when at the Commonwealth Games, the sport brought the nation two gold, four silver and one bronze medals. Amas Daniel won bronze in the men’s 61kg category.
Tennis: Same old story

Tennis gave Nigeria just one bronze medal, which was won by Ojo Onaolapo against all odds. Segun Toriola and Obinna Metu in table tennis and track and field respectively were notable names among the male athletes, whose performances disappointedly fell short of expectations.

Basketball: No longer at ease

The drop in the nation’s basketball standard in 2014, is something that should be a cause for worry to the administrators of the game. D ‘Tigers’ as national team is known was unable to qualify for any major tournament. D’Tigers has not been in action since 2013 when the team competed at the African Basketball championship. The team failed to qualify for the World Championship held in Spain and was unable to compete with the best nations in the world, which further enhanced the drop.
Nigeria’s ranking as at September was 24th in the world, according to FIBA rankings.

Para-sport: Fighting its way to reckoning 

Nigeria dominated the Para-sport powerlifting event, winning a gold medal in both the heavyweight and the lightweight categories. Loveline Obiji, who competed in the women’s heavyweight category, and Esther Onyema (women’s lightweight), set world records in their various events.
Onyema raised a bar in the 126kg category for a new world record, while 23-year-old Obiji recorded a best lift of 144.0kg to set the record in her weight category.

Interestingly, Obiji had thought her world record effort and her gold had been nullified after a red flag was raised, but her frown turned to a huge smile, when she was certified the undisputed winner of the event.

Another Nigerian, Bose Omolayo, came second behind Obiji, ahead of third-place Kenya’s Joyce Wambui Njuguna. Abdulazeez Ibrahim also won gold in the men’s Heavyweight Group A, lifting a total weight of 197.0kg to brush aside his opponents from India and Malaysia.

In the men’s lightweight Group A category, 26-year-old Paul Kehinde emerged victorious ahead of compatriot, Rolland Ezuruike, who settled for a silver medal.

In all, sports in 2014 could be said to be a huge success irrespective of Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the Nations Cup. However, Nigerians are hoping to witness another eventful year in which the country will get bountiful results in terms of medals and trophies from the tournaments it will be taking part in.

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