Daily Trust (Abuja)

29 December 2012

Nigeria: 2012 - Local Sports in Review

As the curtain draws on year 2012, it is pertinent to make a critical review of how sports, one of the key sectors has fared in Nigeria given the abundant human and material at its disposal. For most sports enthusiasts, the sector has not fared better but this to them is not unexpected because things were not done differently.

Without a clear cut road map, sports in Nigeria is said to be administered by grossly incompetent administrators who lack the acumen to move it forward. For many critics of Nigerian sports, it has been another year of two steps forward, ten backward.

Although it has been gloomy for Nigerian sports, few achievements were recorded but not due to conscientious planning. In most cases, it was results produced by individual brilliance and stroke of luck. Nigeria took part in so many international competitions, but as the year comes to an end, in few hours from now, there is really nothing tangible to celebrate.

A review of sports in Nigeria must start with the number one sport in the country, football. The year started on a sober note for football fans in the country who missed the opportunity to watch their darling Super Eagles at the Gabon/Equatorial 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. The Super Eagles winners of the championship in 1980 and 1994 failed to qualify right here in Nigeria when they could not soar past the Syli Nationale of Guinea.

As if that was not enough pain, the other national football teams, the Dream team and the Super Falcons also failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. While the National U-23 team could not qualify from the maiden Africa U-23 championship in Morocco, the Super Falcons lost the Olympic ticket to their perennial rivals, the Indomitable Lioness of Cameroon.

Even as the Super Eagles, the Dream Team and the Super Falcons failed to qualify for their respective competitions, the Falconets, that is the U-20 Women National team and the U-17 girls, known as the Flamingoes managed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup to be held in Japan and Azerbaijan respectively.

However, both the Falconets and the Flamingoes did not live up to expectations. While the Falconets went all the way to the semi-finals before they bowed out to the superiority of the USA, the Flamingoes after walloping the host country 11-0 got eliminated at the quarter final stage as they lost to France on penalties after playing 0-0.

Football's tales of woes in 2012 continued with the woeful performance of the Super Falcons at the 2012 Africa Women Championship in Equatorial Guinea. For the second time, the team surrendered its African title when the Falcons lost in the semi-finals to the Banyana Banyana of South Africa. The host country would go on to beat Banyana Banyana in the finals to lift their second trophy on home soil but were defeated in the third place match by Cameroon. It was the worst performance by the Falcons since the inception of the competition.

But it was not all gloom for football as the Super Eagles did very well in the qualifying matches of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and would be in South Africa to vie for honours in the most prestigious football tournament on the continent. The team is also on course to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Apart from Super Eagles, the two junior national teams, the Flying Eagles and the Golden Eaglets have qualified for the African Championships holding in Algeria and Morocco in 2013. The competitions will offer the two teams the opportunity to qualify to represent Africa at the FIFA World Cup.

Football ended the year on high as the Beach Eagles, lifted the COPA Lagos tourney trophy for the second time after beating hard fighting Portugal in the finals. Beach Eagles had won the maiden edition of the tournament in 2011.

Going by the successes of the Super Eagles, Flying Eagles and the Golden Eaglets, it may not be out of place to say football was able to witness marginal improvement but administration of the sport remained has remained a sore point. Individuals' vaulting ambitions consistently dragged the game down.

Thus, year 2013 will certainly inherit most of the challenges which football faced in 2012. A raging war is on between the former NPL chairman, Chief Victor Rumson Baribote and the Nigerian Football Federation and from all indications, Nigerian football would be the worst casualty.

Away from football, athletics promised so much in the year 2012 but offered really nothing to celebrate. The country's athletes put up a good show at the 2011 All Africa Games by propelling Nigeria to the third place on the medals table and it was expected that they would continue with the fine run at the 2012 London Olympic.

Shortly before the Olympics, the Nigeria's athletics team inspired by Blessing Okagbare dominated at the 18th Africa Athletics Championship held in Port Novo, Benin Republic. Such fruitful outing was widely considered to be a harbinger of good things to come at the London 2012 Olympic.

Vivian Chukwuemeka's dominant display in the women's shot put final and the fantastic 4x400m run by the Nigeria's men and women's relay teams headlined the last day of competition and the country's successful return to the summit of African athletics.

However, at the Olympics, Nigeria's athletes got blown away and the failure of track queen Okagbare was the most disappointing considering that she had raised so much hope with her pre-games performances. Okagbare and Odumosu were the worst culprits because Odumosu's victory at the Spitzenleicht Athletics Meet in Lucerne, Switzerland and Okagbare's equally impressive performances at both the Aviva Diamond League in London, in which she upstaged Olympic star, Jamaican, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Phyrce and World Championship winner, Carmelita Jeter; and a week later at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Monaco, turned out to be false dawns as both women along with the 55-man strong Team Nigeria contingent failed woefully at the London Games.

Once athletics failed to click, Nigeria could not escape one of its worst results in recent times in the Olympic as the contingent returned to the country without a single medal. It is too soon to forget how the country's athletes evaporated into thin air when hostilities commenced.

Although the national male basketball team, the D'Tigers failed to justify its qualification for the 2012 Olympic, the qualification was an unprecedented achievement.

However, grouped along with reigning African Champions, Tunisia, France, USA, Argentina and Lithuania there was little or nothing the D'Tigers could do as they only managed to win the opening match 60-56 against Tunisia. After that the team went on a losing streak with the USA beating the D' Tigers 156- 76 to set a world record. The early exit of the D'Tigers did not completely erode their success at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela.

Undoubtedly, one other sport that remained very active for the bad and good reasons was handball. Like football, the administration of handball was in turmoil following the election of Mr. Dauda Yusuf as the president of the federation. As much as he has tried to stamp his authority, stakeholders in the sport seemed not impressed with his leadership style and kept stoking the flames of fire.

It is for this that the leadership of the federation deserves commendation for organizing competitions at different locations across the country. With the support of Kaduna State government, the federation managed to stage the 33rd edition of the African Clubs championship. Unfortunately, no Nigerian club could win any of the trophies at stake.

News worth celebrating came when Nigeria won the World U-14 handball champion in Sweden. The country's flag bearer in the competition, Niger United handball club in the final defeated the hosts, Sweden 21-10. The tournament attracted clubs from 40 countries. In addition, the Katsina State U-14 handball team in the 2012 Patille Cup Handball Tournament in Sweden emerged winners but the U-15 team could not go beyond the quarters.

It was also another moment of glory for Nigerian handball when the country's U-20 male and female teams defeated the Republic of Benin to left emerged winners at the Zone 3 U-20 Challenge trophy in Accra, Ghana.

Dr. Lanre Glover who was former President of Handball Federation of Nigeria and immediate past First vice President of Nigeria Olympic Committee defied all odds to become the only Anglo-phone executive member of CAHB, an association that has over 90% Franco- phone and 10% Anglo- phone.

Even as handball managed to scoop some victories at international competitions, the same cannot be said of other sports federations which neither organized competitions nor won laurels for the country.

Indeed, but for the heroics of the Nigeria Paralympic team at the London 2012 Games, it would have been another year of sporting disaster for the country. With 29 athletes featuring in four events, the physically challenged athletes who got so little attention in terms of preparation and motivation won a total of 13 medals, with 12 coming in powerlifting. Team Nigeria athletes also set four world records through Yakubu Adesokan, Esther Oyema, Joy Onaolapo and Folashade Oluwafemiayo. At the end, the Nigeria Paralympic team finished 22nd on the medals table and third in Africa. It was a moment that called for sober reflection.

And for reasons best known to the NSC, the biennial National Sports Festival was held twice in 2012. The first which was the 17th edition was hosted by Rivers State early in the year while the second, the 18th edition recently held in Lagos. The two editions of the National Sports Festival left much to be desired.

Rivers State hosted and won but was roundly condemned by arch rivals like Delta and Lagos States which alleged sharp practices. In November, Lagos State took her turn to host the 18th edition, but unlike Rivers State, she was beaten to the top spot by Delta State which pushed the defending champions, Rivers State to the second place on the medals table.

But the talking point at the Lagos Games was the sports minister's opening address. Malam Bolaji Abdullahi dropped a bombshell when he announced the decision by the National Sports Commission, NSC, to throw subsequent editions of the games open to all Nigerian athletes. His pronouncement was greeted by cat calls from Nigerians who said the move is tantamount to killing Nigerian sports. Despite the overwhelming condemnation of its decision, the NSC has neither reversed nor confirmed its commitment to the proposed Open National Sports Festival.

Both editions of the Games were characterized by unethical practices which did much to cast the sports festival in bad light. Although Delta reclaimed its leadership position, it was not stainless victory as allegations of poaching of other states athletes and manipulation of officiating official with monetary inducements were leveled by losers.

From the foregoing, it can be said that even the most patriotic Nigerian will say that sports in the year 2012 has failed to convert the abundant human and material resources into achievements. It can be said that it has been a race in circles as the endemic corruption which has bedeviled the country's sports over the years waxed even stronger.

For instance, the minister of sports, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi and his lieutenants had a hectic time trying to convince Nigerians on how the NSC expended the approximately N2b that was released by the Federal government for Team Nigeria's participation in the London Olympics.

And considering that fact that Nigerians normally view achievements in sports based on the performances of the national football teams, year 2012 for such Nigerians is not a fruitful one. This is easy to decode from the inability of the Super Eagles to appear at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the absence of the National U-23 team and the Super Falcon at the London Olympics and the winless outing of the Falconets and Flamingoes at the 2012 FIFA World Cup in Japan and Azerbaijan.

It is therefore worrisome to note that even as football has failed to serve its role of a torch-bearer for other sports, it is most likely going to cross over to year 2013 in more crises. Up to this moment, nobody can tell when the 2013 Nigeria Premier League season will kick-off. Although the plan by the Nigeria Football Federation is to get the league started in February after the Nations Cup, this does not appear realistic because of the court case which the former chairman of the NPL, Chief Victor Rumson Baribote has instituted against the NFF to challenge his recent impeachment.

In all it can be said that sports, just like other sectors, has not lived up to the expectations of Nigerians. It has been another year of so much motion without movement. Unfortunately, there are no signs that the coming year will usher in the required changes that would take the nation's sports out of the cesspit of bewilderment. The reason is not far-fetched- lack of enabling laws to govern Nigerian sports

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