2020 was a year that cannot be forgotten easily in the history of Nigerian sports judging from the inability of Nigeria to qualify for about five international football competitions as well as the postponement of the National Sports Festival tagged, “Edo 2020” and of course the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and the death of many sports’ actors and administrators. But as we shift away from 2020 where arguably no Nigerian sports’ lover would want a repeat not even in the nearest future, Raphael Ekpang takes a look at the high and low points of the year in the sports sector.
In a bid to ensure and guarantee a successful ‘Team Nigeria’ to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Ministry of Youths and Sports launched the ‘Adopt an Athlete’ campaign in December 2019.
The campaign was aimed at increasing funds for Nigeria athletes in a build-up to Tokyo 2020. Before the outbreak of Coronavirus in March, the Ministry of Youths and Sports had already announced that about 15 athletes had been adopted, a situation that triggered the hope of winning medals at the Tokyo Olympics increasing on a daily basis until the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic.
On July 28, 2020, the Sports Industry Working Group (SIWG) comprising the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports and critical stakeholders presented the National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP) draft document virtually to the Minister for Sports, Sunday Dare. This development is regarded as an important product of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Ministry and NESG the previous year immediately Dare resumed as the Minister of Youths and Sports Development.
The NSIP is aimed at leveraging Nigeria’s remarkable sporting talent, passion, interest and excellence to advance and navigate diplomatic relations, and more importantly, generate employment, create jobs, increase government revenue, and bolster the economy. The NSIP policy identifies four (4) key trigger factors needed to realize the country’s dream of achieving the above which include; Infrastructure, Incentives, Investment and Policy.
In line with this, the much-talked-about paradigm shift in the sporting mindset from mere recreation to an emergent major business sector of the economy seems realizable.
Following the above, the ministry secured commitments from business moguls like Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Chief Kensington Adebutu (Baba Ijebu) for the renovation of the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja and Lagos National stadium respectively. The rehabilitation of these moribund stadia marked the beginning of great things in our sports.
Meanwhile, Nigerian players union after 15 years of infighting, the two factions agreed and sheathed their swords and united for the betterment of the game in the country.
Nigerians also participated in the joy inherent in 2020 as Nigeria table tennis legend, Funke Oshonaike, made history as she qualified for her seventh Olympic Games, a feat no woman from Africa has ever achieved. While in boxing, Nigerian born world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua knocked out Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev to retain his IBF, WBO, and WBA belts.
The Bad, Ugly
Sports in 2020 was not too different from other years except that the outbreak of Coronavirus and perhaps the number of deaths recorded within the sports fraternity. The year in view was a harvest of death among the players, and administrators not minding the inability of the national football teams to qualify for five major football tournaments. And above all, the corruption, misappropriation of funds of various federations and the crisis that followed suit. Unfortunately, Nigeria teams will be absent in CHAN; AFCON U-20; FIFA WYC; U-20; Olympics Men’s Football and Women’s Football due to their inability to qualify for the competitions. So bad indeed, Super Eagles failed to confirm their qualification for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon following back-to-back draws with the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone.
The dismal performance against lowly rated Lone Stars left many with unanswered questions as even the minister of sports became agitated at the competence of Gernot Rohr, the German tactician. Flying Eagles also failed in their bid to qualify for the 2021 U-20 Africa Cup of Nations following their defeat at the WAFU U-20 Zone B tournament. Nevertheless, Nigeria’s representatives in Africa’s inter-club competitions, Plateau United and Kano Pillars, were bundled out of the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup in the preliminary round. 2020 was also a year States Football Associations were seriously engulfed in crisis. No thanks to the influence of Amaju Pinnick led NFF.
Delta state FA till date is still leaking her wounds of the crisis, likewise Taraba FA, Anambra FA and Ondo FA Also, there were internal and external crises within the basketball and Athletics Federations. These are the two federations that come close to football in terms of their followership in the country.
The scouting and use of Diaspora basketball players and athletes have become a very attractive option. These are the athletes that still managed to qualify the country for the men and women’s Olympics basketball events, and that the country would depend on for track and field at the Tokyo Olympics. The Leadership Crisis in the AFN which was inherited from 2019 is still dragging on in court. The AFN and the supervisory ministry had been at loggerheads which prompted Olamide George’s faction suspending Gusau as the AFN president. The Gusau-led board however declared autonomy from the Sports Ministry prior to 2020. Meanwhile, the crisis in AFN is considered to be the creation of the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare which is why he has refused to let go despite the Appeal Court’s judgment which affirmed Gusau as the President of the AFN against Olumide Goerge Dare’s supposedly stooge. The Ministry is alleged not to be on the same page with Gusau thus making the federation to be factionalized to date. Obviously, there was a harvest of death in the year in view; Chieme Martins, died while playing for Nasarawa United.
Also, two Rangers International players; Ifeanyi George and Emmanuel Ogbu – were killed in a car crash on their way to Lagos after their club declared a break shortly after the outbreak of coronavirus. Also, Kazeem Tiyamiyu; Ajibade Babalade; John Felagha; basketball referees, Razak Okedeyi; a basketball player, Deborah Onu; basketball player, Michael Ojo and athletics coach, Uremu Adu died on different occasions. NFF Executive Committee, Chidi Ofo Okenwa, Musa Adamu Duhu, Mr. Emmanuel Ibah and NFF’s Head of ICT, Tolulope Abe, also passed on while athletics coach, Adu Uruemu and Henrietta Ukaigwe, also passed away.
First of all, the ministry of sports should make sure it takes the National Sports Festival which suffered postponement due to the outbreak of coronavirus very seriously because the NSF is the platform for discovering athletes that represent the country in international events, specifically the Olympic Games. 2020 now 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo should be given priority if the country must win a medal. Yes, the ministry has said it will allow only 11 sports that the country has a comparative advantage to participate in the Olympics but that should not stop other athletes who have used their hard-earned money to qualify for the Games from participating because their sports may not fall on the 11 listed by the ministry. Of course, it is hard to say which egg will hatch a female chicken.
There is a need for the ministry of sports to focus on aggressive grassroots sports development in collaboration with federations, state and local governments in the country, as 2021 begins. The ministry should allow sports federations to focus on developing their sports rather than engaging them on power struggle. It must focus on initiatives and programs that will lead to the revival of sports at the tertiary, high school, and grassroots levels. Also, the ministry should be more preoccupied with programmes and policies that will lead to the emergence of a vibrant sports industry that will consistently help to enhance critical sectors of the economy like tourism, entertainment, hospitality, and others.