By Jacob Ajom
Edo 2020 : A festival of intrigues
The first major event of the 2021 sporting calendar was the much postponed Edo 2020 National Sports Festival which was held in Benin City in April.
The festival was overshadowed by a lot of controversies, political intrigues amidst intense competition among competing states.
The weather was so bad that the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo who was scheduled to officially declare the Games open could not land. As the rains gave way to sunlight, Chief host, Governor Godwin Obaseki performed what turned out to be a colourful opening ceremony.
Midway through, the games witnessed serious disagreement between the Local Organising Committee and the Main Organising Committee. While the LOC, headed by the Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu threatened to stop the festival, the MOC headed by the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare insisted that the games would continue. The main issue was non-availability of funds. There was a presidential intervention which calmed nerves as the federal government pledged to make funds available. The Games continued unhindered. At the end, Delta State won their 7th NSF title with 158 gold, 116 silver and 110 bronze medals, totalling 384 medals.. Host, Edo State came second with 129 gold, 104 silver and 108 bronze medals, while Bayelsa State with 56 gold, 55 silver and 58 bronze medals finished third in the medals table. Bayelsa State was indeed the surprise of the pack as they dusted the likes of Rivers, Lagos and Kano states to the podium.
Nigeria at Tokyo Olympics: A campaign smeared by scandals
Nigeria was fully represented at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Sports Vanguard’s Tony Ubani who was in Tokyo reports that after winning one Silver(in wrestling) through Blessing Oborodudu and one Bronze medal (in Long Jump) by Ese Brume who won Nigeria’s only track and field medal, with a jump of 6.97m. Earlier in the year she broke Chioma Ajunwa’s long standing African record of 7.12m with a 7.17m jump. Unfortunately, Brume couldn’t reproduce a 7m jump in Tokyo which could have won her gold with 7.01m. The winner, Malaika Mihambo of Germany won it with 7.00m.
Nigeria finished a distant 74th place in the medals table of Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
However, Tokyo 2020 turned out to be a bag of mixed fortunes for the country, as her image was battered after ten of her athletes were declared ineligible to compete at the Games by the Athletics Integrity Unit. The image of Nigeria suffered further battering when the disqualified athletes took to the streets of Tokyo to protest their fate.
While other countries were celebrating heroic feats by their athletes and struggling for more medals, Team Nigeria‘s situation took a turn for the worse as the country’s brightest hope in the women’s 100 metres race, Blessing Okagbare who had qualified for the semi finals was handed a suspension for testing positive to Human Growth Hormone substance. She was eventually handed a ban after confirmation of B sample.
There was the $2.7 million Puma kit scandal that caused Puma to cancel the deal and threatened to sue Nigeria for breach of contract. It led to the team appearing in mismatched sportswear during the opening ceremony.
Although the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare tried, albeit in vain, to brush aside the controversies that engulfed Nigeria’s outing in Tokyo and celebrated the two consolatory medals won, saying, it was the best outing in 13 years, Nigerians refused to be assuaged. The Tokyo outing was an institutional failure.
In football, the Super Eagles qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and Qatar 2022 World Cup play-off. The sacking of national team coach Gernot Rohr was a major development that has reshaped the architecture of the Super Eagles ahead of the Afcon tournament to be held in Cameroon from January 6 to February 9, 2022. The technical director of the Nigeria Football Federation, Austin Eguavoen was named interim coach of the team. However, if what has been said and reported are anything to go by, the Edo state-born tactician may not lead the team’s quest for her fourth continental title.
The country’s female national football team, the Super Falcons like their male counterparts were not at the Olympics but took part in a few tournaments and their performances brought nothing to cheer. In June, the Falcons, tutored by Randy Waldrum were in the United States of America for this year’s Summer Series – a Four-Nation Tournament also involving Jamaica, Portugal and host, the US‘s ‘A’ women teams. The Falcons suffered two losses and drew one. Despite failing to get any victory in any of their three matches at the invitational tournament, the coach Randy gave his players a pass mark.
The Falcons also hosted the maiden edition of the Aisha Buhari football tournament in Lagos. After a bright start, the Falcons got to the final but fell 2-4 to Bayana Bayana of South Africa. It was a tournament that exposed the weaknesses in the Nigerian team and underscored the fact that other African countries have caught up with – or surpassed – Nigeria in women’s football. What with the failure of Nigerian champions, Rivers Angels in the maiden African Women’s Champions League.
It was not all g;oom for Nigeria in women football as the national U20 women’s team, the Falconets have qualified for the final play-off of Costa Rica 2022 after Congo withdrew from the second leg, stating travel difficulties as reason. Truth is, the Congolese lost the first 0-4 leg at home to the Falconets. Only Cameroon stands between the Nigerians and a ticket to the U20 Women’s World Cup finals in Costa Rica, next year.
Crisis in Athletics Federation resolved with the elections into the board and the World Athletics recognition of the Tonobok Okowa as AFN president.
In 2020 wrestling did not do badly. The COVID was a dampener, the pandemic essentially ensured that not much happened, but led by the hard-working President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation, Honourable Daniel Igali, who doubles as Bayelsa State Commissioner for Sports, were able to go to African Championships and the female wrestling team still emerged number one in the continent.
In the year under review(2021) wrestling federation was not able to attend the African Championships because of the Covid, but we’re able to go to the Olympics and broke a 30- year old jinx by winning the first Nigeria Olympic wrestling medal – a Silver won by Blessing Oborududu
Nigeria was also at the Under-23 World Championships last November and won a bronze medal through Esther Kolawole in the 57kg weight class.
The President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation scored the federation 80% in terms of the targets they were able to meet, particularly, breaking a 30-year winless jinx at the Olympics/ Said Igali, “I think that was the height of our achievements”.
However, Odunayo Adekuoroye’s inability to win a medal at the Olympics was not only a surprise, but a shock to wrestling enthusiasts. In 2021, Adekuoroye was, probably, the best athlete in the world in 67kg weight class.
Nigeria basketball witnessed the good. The bad and the ugly. For the first time, an African country presented male and female teams at the Olympics. Before the Olympics Nigeria male basketball team, D’Tigers recorded some earth-shaking results against Argentina and the USA in a pre-Olympic exhibition tournament he;d in the US. At the Olympics proper, the team lost all their matches but still showed a lot of promise. Same went for the female team, D’Tigress.
Back from the Olympics the male team went to Afrobasket and returned home empty-handed. The girls on their part won the 2021 Afrobasket for the third consecutive time.
After bringing so much joy to Nigerians, some members of the team protested over unpaid allowances and unfulfilled promises.
The protest went viral. But all that has been settled, with the release of funds for their sett;e,emt.
One notty issue that has defied all logic is the leadership tussle in the Nigeria Basketball Federation. A care-taker committee headed by immediate past President Musa Kida ended its job inconclusively. Intrigues and the rigid posturings of the gladiators have made it almost impossible to hold an election for a new executive. Till date, Nigerians are still waiting to know when fresh elections will be held to usher in a new board.