By John Egbokhan
2016 will go down as the year that Nigerian sports suffered some of its worst declines, largely mirrored through the poor performance of Team Nigeria at the Rio Olympic Games in the summer and the failure of all the national football teams to qualify for their various continental tournaments.
While other sports like athletics, table tennis, which showed prospects of growth only to fail at the biggest stage and weightlifting failed to win medals at the Olympic Games, it was football that gave the country the only bronze medal at the Games.
Despite being denied the required support from the Sports Ministry, the men’s soccer team, coached by Samson Siasia won a bronze for Team Nigeria in Rio.
In a year that unnecessary crisis was stoked up by the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Barr. Solomon Dalung, who veered from the comical to the absurd, when he said it was not important for the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia because the team were not going to win it, many Nigerians are in hurry for the year to end.
Save for the late heroics of the Eagles in their World Cup qualification campaign, where they against all odds, defeated Zambia away from home and favourites Algeria in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the year is one that came with many heartbreaks for Nigerian sports fans.
Having failed to qualify for their second successive Africa Cup of Nation tournament, starting next month in Gabon, Eagles became an object of mockery, as fans poured sour grapes on them for failing to make the grade in African football.
Derided at home, the Eagles sought a rebirth of sorts away in Ndola, where they redeemed themselves, rising from the ashes and now have their noses in front, wagging their tail extravagantly, as qualification to Russia 2018 seems in sight.
And that was why Nigerians were shocked to their bones when Dalung went on air to say the World Cup was not important to Nigeria.
Speaking in an interview with the Voice of America Hausa service, Dalung said, “that competition stinks of corruption; that Nigeria is too poor to waste money on it and that Nigeria would never win the trophy.
“The cup that we can win is the African Cup of Nations. There is nothing again that will take us to another man’s balcony in the name of the World Cup. We already have the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. For these, we can attend such meets. But I am opposed to the World Cup. We don’t agree to it. Conspiracy in the World Cup is too much,” he said, a statement that could upset the world governing body, FIFA. He was not done. “There is the issue of bribery and favouritism. There is also the issue of corruption before you are even given the hosting rights. We are here suffering from hunger and we don’t have money for such things. That is why, even if we try many times, once it gets into the politics of the game, we can never win.
“That was why this year, we had to tackle him (FIFA President, Ginani Infantino) and we said, ‘you , Infantino: if you win this election, you have to give us a position. If not, we shall not agree.’ And you see , by the grace of God, he even picked an African as his Secretary-General. That means he has started taking honey and rubbing on our lips. That means that one day, we shall get to really lick the honey.”“For a man who is a lawyer by training, this is ridiculous and unbelievable. But they are the exact words of our Honourable Sports Minister.Indeed, this is a year that there was less success on the turf for Nigerian sports stars,
With only a bronze medal to show for its participation at the Rio Olympics in the summer, it comes with little surprise that sports stakeholders are not looking back and counting their blessings as 2016 ends in less than 24 hours time.
While some renowned sports buffs hailed the athletes for managing to even compete despite the harsh treatment from the administrators, others frowned at the conduct of the same athletes in putting selfish interest above national interest at major international tournaments.“In a year, where the country was only able to win one bronze medal, courtesy of the most-vilified men’s soccer side, coached by Samson Siasia, at the Rio Olympic Games, Nigerians are deeply worried about the inability of administrators to properly manage the talents that dot the length and breadth of the country’s landscape.“And speaking in an interview former African 100m champion, Mary Onyali said the slump was bad for a nation that prides itself as Giant of Africa. ‘
“We ought, if we take into account the talented athletes we have in Nigeria, to be at the top. But sadly, we are going down, on a daily basis and this trend is worrisome as well as killing the drive for excellence by the athletes”, said Onyali.
1980 African Cup of Nations winner, Segun Odegbami said he was worried with the direction of sports in Nigeria.
“It was not until the 80’s that we started declining slowly. The administrators failed to arrest the decline. It was the infrastructure of the 80s that sustained us up to ’90 to ’94. Football has always managed to save us”, added Odegbami., who noted that Nigeria can come out of the woods by taking the following steps:
‘’We need brand new people, genuine sports people to take over the administration of our sports. We need those who have the passion for sports to nurture the roots of sports to its zenith. As a country, we have what it takes to rule not only Africa but become a power-house in World Sports. Until then, we’ll continue our motion without movement in sports”, he submitted.
For a former head of the Nigeria Football Federation, Kojo Williams, the only team worth celebrating in 2016 were the Super Eagles, who seem to be finding their space again in the air under the new foreign coach, Gernoit Rohr.
“I am happy with the way Eagles are playing again. They are gradually getting it right but they are not yet there. I believe that with time, they will get better and become the pride of the nation. I am particularly excited with the way they are passing, shooting and running. It shows that the foreign coach knows what he is doing and vindicates my opposition.
“If the Eagles continue this way and incorporate other things into their game, I am optimistic they will qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia”, added Kojo.