Taking Stock of Nigeria’s Sports in 2015

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Nigeria’s D’Tigers in a celebratory mood.

The year 2015 will always be remembered for some of the good, bad and ugly sides of sports in Nigeria. It is a year where records were set by the country’s athletes at the Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville and also by Victor Osimehn at the U-17 FIFA World Cup in Chile.

Nigeria’s failure to feature at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea as a result of its inability to qualify from its group clouded the country’s football at that period.

However, in this special package, Austine Akhilomen reviews some of Nigeria’s memorable and bizarre moments of sports in 2015.

Football

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Nigeria’s Super Eagles

At the senior level, Nigeria recorded little or nothing due to its shambolic performance that saw the Super Eagles ranked 66th in the world and 14th in Africa in the concluding month (December) of the FIFA rankings.

It will be noted that former Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi was sacked by the Nigerian Football Federation for a breach of contract after the NFF Disciplinary Committee and NFF Technical and Development Committee found him guilty of applying for a vacant managerial post with the Ivory Coast team.

The result led to the appointment of former Super Eagles midfielder, Sunday Oliseh as the new coach of the team.

2015 will never be forgotten without celebrating the victorious Golden Eaglets as the team conquered the world at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile while Nigeria’s U-23 won the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations in Senegal for the first time to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

Notable enough was the goal scoring feat of Victor Osimehn, who netted 10 times to rewrite history books as the first player to record such goals in a single FIFA competition.

Track and Field

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Blessing Okagbare

Nigeria’s over-dependency on the queen of the tracks, Blessing Okagbare for medals at any events is gradually affecting the growth and development of track in the country.

Just like the Olympics, track and field is the central focus of the African Games. It was regrettable, that Nigeria surrendered its supremacy in the sprints events. The men’s and women’s 100m events were won by Ivory Coast. In the 400m, Nigeria was totally out of the picture except for Patience Okon George, Oluwatobi Amusa and Promise Nwanaga Kelechi.

As expected, Okagbare, who had earlier pulled out of the Games due to fatigue, having won a gold medal at the Shanghai leg of the 2015 Diamond League Race, beating Jamaica’s Shelly Ann Praser-Pryce, decided a few weeks before the Africa Games to compete for the 4 – 100 meter relay where Nigeria won the gold medal.

Basketball

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Nigeria’s D’Tigers facing the USA at the London Olympic Games.

The D’Tigers against all odds broke the jinx as the team earned the nation a Gold medal (at the Tunis African Basketball competition) for the first time in 50 years, and by which feat the country got an automatic ticket to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

D’Tigers defeated 11-time champions, Angola 74 – 65 to lift the African Basketball Championship for the first time.

The victory came after Nigeria’s 15 appearances in the AfroBasket beginning with her debut at the championship in 1972 and three loses in the finals of the 1997, 1999 and 2003 editions.

Table Tennis

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Segun Toriola

The standard of tennis is gradually dropping down compared to what was attained last year. Despite having tennis stars such as Segun Toriola, Aruna Quadri and Funke Oshonaike, the nation is yet to reap bountifully from the abundance of this trio in tennis. The Tennis Federation’s inability to discover new talent that will replace the aging tennis players is affecting the development of the game.

At the Africa Games, Nigeria won one gold, one silver and one bronze medal.

Boxing

Gone are the days when boxing was regarded as a potential medal event in any competitions around the globe. In 2015, the sport in Nigeria made an appreciable impact, winning four gold and two silver medals at the Africa Games from the boxing event, after placing second behind leaders, Algeria that won five gold and silver medals.

The result is an improvement, when compared with their previous performance at the last Games held in Maputo, Mozambique in 2011. The Nigerian team had placed sixth with three silver and a bronze medal.

Weightlifting

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 26: Ndidi Winifred of Nigeria on her way to Silver in the Women's 58kg A Final at Scottish Exhibition And Conference Centre during day three of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games on July 26, 2014 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Ndidi Winifred at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Without mincing words, this has become Nigeria’s strongest event in recent years. The country’s weightlifters have dominated the various categories in weightlifting, creating different records as witnessed at the Africa Games where they won eight gold, 18 silver and 11 bronze medals.

Badminton

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Nigeria’s Doubles Badminton Team.

Regarded as an unpopular sport in the country, however, the game brought positive results for Nigeria, with two silver and nine bronze medals won by the athletes.

Karate and Gymnastics

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Karate instruction.

Seemingly unpopular sports, which are gradually gaining prominence as two silver and one gold medal were gained at the Africa Games. Although, internationally, Nigeria has never made any impact. Nigeria’s Gymnastics brought honor to themselves and the country by winning one bronze at the Africa Games.

Para Athletics

Team Nigeria recorded her best finish in 18 years at the just-concluded African Games in Congo as the country finished second just behind Egypt with a total medal haul of 144 out of which 47 were gold.

While sports like football, which continually gulp the bulk of allocations, failed to meet expectations, the para athletes that donned Nigeria’s colors in the Congo put up an awesome performance; providing a dozen gold medals for Nigeria, the most by any of the sports entered for by the country.

Aside from winning gold, the country’s Para Lifting contingent went further: setting as much as five world records, a feat that was not recorded in any other 21 events on parade at the 2015 Games.

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Lucy Ogechukwu Ejike, 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. Paralympics.org

In all, sports in Nigeria at the out-going year could have achieved better results if the nation’s federations had set up a development and sustainable plans, meant to improve the standard of sports in the country.

However, as 2016 beckons, it will be worthwhile for the various sports federations to look into the mistakes of the past and work towards uplifting sports in all ramifications.

Austine Akhilomen is a Sports Correspondent and Journalist for all things Nigerian and African sports around the globe. He is also a Superfan of the Super Eagles.