By John Egbokhan

Putting Nigeria’s sports in its proper perspective since  independence is one that requires little brainstorming, given that since sports is judged by results, ours is simple and can be summed up as a prolonged failure.

To put it straight, our score card in major international championships has fallen short of expectations. We have not fared better too with regard to the provision and maintenance of basic facilities for the development of athletes.

From football, the acclaimed king of sports, to boxing, tennis, track and field, basketball, wrestling, judo, and other sports, Nigeria has been infested with one major setback — poor sports administration.

It has remained the bane of Nigeria’s sports and why the country has not reached its potential in spite of the rich potentials the country is blessed with. But there was hope at a time. From the 1960s to the 1980 and even till the 90s, there were pockets of results that raised hopes.

From the world title victories of Hoggan Bassey, Dick Tiger just before independence to Commonwealth and Olympic medals that gave hope in our post-Independence era. Later came flashes of  stars in track and field, resulting in Chioma Ajunwa’s gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic games, the same venue where the soccer team, led by Nwankwo Kanu won the soccer gold.

But after then followed the big decline. It has become so bad that when the Nigerian contingent returned from the last World Athletics Championship, the head of the athletics federation, Solomon Ogba, told the media that Nigeria’s Ogho Egwero running in the same heat with Usain Bolt, an event that was watched by close to four billion viewers worldwide remained an achievement especially when the athlete ran 10.19 secs, his personal best.

Another clear example to illustrate our sports decline is the almost hopeless position of the  Green Eagles in their bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the first time the World Cup will hold in Africa. After the country missed out in the last edition hosted by Germany in 2006, the chances of qualifying for South Africa are slim. For Nigeria, it has remained a sad commentary in sports. The only remarkable result are two Nations Cup trophies and two Olympic gold medals.

That is nothing to cheer for a country of 150 million people with huge potentials which have remained moribund simply because of the Nigerian factor, the factor that promotes mediocrity and demotes merit.

When Sani Ndanusa was appointed by President Umaru Yar’Adua as the Minister of Sports and Chairman of the National Sports Commission, late last year, there was hope that at last, some form of sanity would be injected into the system given that the new man had been around in sports.He was and still is the chairman of the Tennis Federation.

But the complexities of the system have made the task herculean. Since football is supremely controlled by FIFA, under its working statutes, the government in any country can ill-afford to interfere in the running of the association for such would attract severe sanctions from the world body.

That autonomy of the board has to a great extent allowed the likes of Sani Lulu, Bolaji Ojo-Oba, Amanze Ucheagbulam and Taiwo Ogunjobi, to run their plans, without due consideration for the success of the country. The way appointments were made into all the national teams contributed to the football slump and merit was sacrificed on the altar of personal expediency.

When the wrong coach, like in the case of Shuaibu Amodu, is wrongly appointed to manage the National team, then we could not have asked for anything other than failure from the team as the records are now speaking for themselves.
The story today has become one of grim reading, when situated in the context of FIFA’s damning condemnation of Nigeria’s facilities and preparations for the hosting of tournaments, it is not farfetched to state that we have turned the hand of progress back.

For most observers, our sports did not fare well under the eight years of Obasanjo. Those Obasanjo appointed to manage sports failed. The story was not remarkably different before Obasanjo, although a few could raise their heads. May the souls of the likes of Anthony Ikazoboh rest in peace.

Without question, Nigeria is one of Africa’s principal exporters of football talents abroad. But the sad thing is that Nigeria’s football authorities are largely incompetent. Since the Nations Cup started, Nigeria has only won it twice — in 1980 when it hosted the event and in 1994 in Tunisia.

Our report card at the World Cup is far less appealing because since after  our debut at the 1994 edition in USA, we were there in 1998 and 2002.  The best performance were the second round outings in USA and France. Japan 2002 with Adegboye Onigbinde as coach, was massive failure — a first round outing, without winning a match.

The decline in sports has been such that the country cannot boast of quality athletes in  sports like tennis and table tennis where Nigeria remained the best in Africa at a time.

The country will host the FIFA Under 17 World Cup next month. Their team would not have qualified if Nigeria was not hosting because Benin Republic eliminated Nigeria in the African event. That is how bad it has become for Nigeria in a sports it lays great claim to in Africa. Even the female football team lost, for the first time, the African title.

The decline that started from the 1990s and highly pronounced now does not give any room for any celebrations as far as the Independence Anniversary is concerned.


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