By Paul Bassey
What a year!
The outgoing year was one in which our nation was subjected to all manners of battering and uppercuts, a laughing stock of the world, attracting all types of negatives headlines in the global arena. Every time I get a mail from CAF on preparations for the Nations Cup, I get this gut feeling, one of regret and sorrow, one that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
It is a feeling that sees me cursing 2014. The year for me, was one in which perhaps the only good thing to happen to sports was the Commissioning of the state of the art Akwa Ibom International Stadium. It is a year in which I forget that I was in Namibia to see the Falcons lift the African crown after escaping FIFA sanctions by the skin of the teeth.
I woke up Friday morning to the decision that my desperation to see 2014 disappear needed a therapy of sorts. I needed to see whether I was the only one who felt this way about 2014 or whether there were some positives about this outgoing year that I was either oblivious of, or my mind was trying to shut out.
I picked up my phone and sent out a text message to some selected colleagues. I told them “ ……On Monday I want to write on my Sports moments 2014. Share my column. Briefly text me your moment and why…..
In a jiffy I got a reply from Aisha Falode. “ Watching Blessing Okagbare at the starting blocks of the 100 metres final at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. She was ready for the gold. She looked her best. She had her hair coloured in gold. Her make up was sun kissed gold. She looked very beautiful in green white green. Her start was perfect, her pace measured with a consistent rhythm that could have been perfected with the moment in mind. And when she cut through the pack like a natural gazelle, we knew Blessing had struck gold. That, was a sporting memory to cherish…….”
Wow, poetry in motion. Well scripted.
This was concurred by Toyin Ibitoye when he replied “ Oga Paulo, my sport moment of 2014 was Blessing Okagbare’s double victory in 100 and 200 metres at the Commonwealth Games.”
The reply of Linus Mba was very interesting. “ At the time that some Nigerians were busy toying with our football and describing FIFA ban as a farce, my sports moment in 2014 was when CAF withdrew my match appointment as match commissioner for the nations cup qualifier between Sierra Leone and Seychelles in anticipation of the FIFA ban on Nigeria. The wide publicity given to the withdrawal was like a wake up call to everyone on the reality of the ban and this galvanized the football family and government to sit up and work towards averting the ban…….”
For Duro Ikhazuagbe of This Day, “……My 2014 sport moment was standing inside the main bowl of the new Akwa Ibom International Stadium in Uyo and having the same feelings I had covering the 2010 World Cup at the Soccer City Stadium in Soweto, South Africa. I never imagined any state capable of reinventing that facility in Nigeria. NEVER”
Ade Ojeikere of the Nation Newspapers differed. “ My Sport moment was the day Nigeria crashed out of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. It served as the wake up call for change in the way that the Super Eagles was been run by an all knowing coach. Nigeria’s exit from the Africa Cup of Nations was God’s uncanny way of humbling Eagle’s players and coaches. It also served as a rude awakening to the can-do-no-wrong coach that the feat in 2013 in South Africa wasn’t entirely from his technical savvy. Our feat in South Africa was God’s way of rewarding Nigerians who prayed fervently for the achievement after 19 years .otherwise my sport moment for 2014 ought to be Blessing Okagbare’s feats at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland.
Lekan Olaseinde of in Abuja had some regrets.”…..Sir it is very difficult and herculean task to pin point any particular moment as my 2014 sport moment, but one that will remain indelible in my memory was the sudden demise of Ramson Ugele, a colleague and a close friend who was committed to mother earth on December 13. His fatherly advice, constructive critiscm and rib cracking jokes endeared him to me. I was at his sick bedside and knew that it will take only the grace of God for him to survive but he lost the battle to renal failure…….Of course missing out of AFCON 2015 remains my biggest disappointment for the outgoing year”
Mitchel Obi, the AIPS Africa President referred me to an article he wrote entitled “Nigeria’s Blessing of Change” he wrote. “No doubt the Blessing Okagbare who picked the gold Monday night to emerge the new sprint queen of the Commonwealth had a refreshing confidence that mocked the quality of our preparations for this 20th edition of the games which Interestingly Nigeria would have hosted to mark her centenary were it not for the successful Glasgow bid in Colombo, Sri lanka seven years ago.
From her pink spikes, her adorable blonde hair and the majestic take-off from the blocks-a distant departure from her almost customary lukewarm start’ , it was apparent this Blessing had a novel anointing and nobody not even the dreaded Veronica Campbell will deny her this rare moment of glory and history.
With a new games record and a flamboyant finish Blessing finally found joy in another British city and she takes pride in her feat within the Nigeria track chronicle of shaping the tone of tomorrow. When did we last make our mark in Commonwealth sprinting? And that’s why for me it is remarkable that the generation that opened the glorious door to global acclaim in track and field is indeed the spearhead of this resurgence or is it rebirth. From Mary Onyali to Blessing Okagbare we may not have a distinct shift but there is a transition and that is where we have to focus on as we begin the journey to reignite the fading glow of our once distinguished and celebrated sprints dominance. That, was my sporting moment of the year.” I rest my case.
NFF and clubs in Africa
The decision by the Nigeria Football Federation to help our clubs who will be donning Continental togas in next year’s Africa club cups is a welcome development. For some time now, our epileptic league has not allowed for proper planning. No sooner will the league start than our clubs will be thrown into Africa battle leaving them with no pre season time to either recruit or be in shape for the continental fiesta…… You can imagine the fact that most leagues in Africa are now in their tenth week, while we are in holidays…..the result has always been early exists that does not do justice to the quality of the domestic league here.
I therefore welcome and commend the NFF for planning to put together a mini tournament between the clubs and some National teams that will help to toughen up the clubs and prepare them for Africa next year. See you next week.