By GEORGE ALUO
London 2012 Olympics! An event that readily comes to mind as far as sports is concerned as the year is gradually coming to an end. Unfortunately, Nigeria failed woefully to find her feet and rhythm at the competition. The failure at the world’s biggest sporting fiesta spurred Nigerian sports followers and analysts alike to quickly dismiss the year as a bad omen for the country.
From a wider perspective, however, it will be wrong to use the country’s poor showing at the Olympics as sole creteria to measure Nigeria’s achievement in sports. The out-going year being an Olympic year was a busy one for sports. From football to basketball, down to athletics, there was so much action and the country, of course, had her fair share of glorious moments.
Before the Olympics, no body gave the country’s male basketball team any chance of making it to London, but the boys of Ayo Bakare went to Caracas, Venezuela saw and conquered. For the first time, our male basketball team qualified for the Olympics where it robbed shoulders with top basketball playing nations such as USA, Argentina and France.
Nigeria may not have won a basketball medal at the Olympics, but picking up a historic ticket was something that took the game of basketball to the next level in the country. In weightlifting, the country emerged African champion at the continental championship in Kenya with Nigeria’s Miriam Usman and Bassey Ekpo named the Most Valuable Lifters in the female and male categories respectively. Nigeria also had a glorious outing in athletics at the African championship in Benin Republic. Team Nigeria finished on top of the final medals table with 10 gold, six silver and six bronze ahead of Africa’s athletics power house, Kenya and South Africa that came second and third respectively.
In football, which is unarguably Nigeria’s number one sports, many said that the game was on the decline, but those running the game-the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF)- argue that it was not true. At its Annual General Assembly (AGA) held in Port Harcourt this month, the Aminu Maigari-led board gave itself a pass mark, insisting that the qualification of Nigerian teams for all international competitions next term was a feat worth celebrating.
A communiqué issued after the Garden City meet said in part:“Congress commended the efforts of the Executive Committee and management of the Nigeria Football Federation in ensuring the qualification of various national teams for major international championships viz: The qualification of the Super Eagles for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations; the Flying Eagles for the 2013 African Youth Championship; the Golden Eaglets for the 2013 African Under-17 Championship and; the credible performances of the Under-20 and Under-17 women national teams at FIFA competitions in 2012.”
NFF’s scribe, Barrister Musa Amedu, equally said that 2012 was not a bad one for Nigerian football. Hear him: “With the support of football stakeholders, the NSC, the national assembly, the media and everybody, we have done well and have seen a very momentous year and it is our expectation that having built the foundation for a very good 2013, we should be able to reap and consolidate on the gains of 2012 in the coming year.” Although the NFF is giving itself a pass mark, those not impressed with that position are quick to point out that it was a shame that the country was not at the African Cup of Nations held early this year in Equatorial Guinea/ Gabon.
Nigerians watched the Nations Cup with pains as the Eagles were no where near the two central African countries that played hosts. It would be noted that most of the country’s soccer fans had to switch their support to Zambia that went ahead to make history by winning the competition for the very first time. The Super Falcons went ahead to embarrass the nation the more when they went to Equatorial Guinea for their female Nations Cup defence.
The five-time African champions were surprisingly booted out of the tournament by the Bayana Bayana of South Africa in the semi final. Apart from being dethroned, the Falcons failed to win a Nations Cup medal as the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon beat them to the bronze. Before the female Nations Cup disgrace, the Falcons lost out in the race to London 2012 Olympics female soccer event. Eucharia Uche and her wards fumbled home and away against Cameroon. It would be noted that the Austin Eguavoen-tutored Dream Team V also crashed out of the Olympics football soccer event.
The star-studded Under-23 team lost the Olympic soccer ticket to Ghana, a situation that led to Cerezo as Eguavoen is fondly called going the way of Samson Siasia, who was fired after the Eagles failed to make it to the 2012 Nations Cup. 2012 will go down in history as one in which the country went trophyless in football from the Under-17 to the senior national team level. An Owerri based football analyst, Dr Patrick Nkwocha, said it was a shame that the NFF was giving itself a pat on the back when our teams failed to perform in 2012.
“I don’t understand what the NFF mean by credible performance of our female teams in FIFA competitions when we failed to win the trophies at stake. Government’s decision to reward the Under-17 team that won a silver amounted to rewarding failure. To me, it is only a team that returns home with the ultimate prize as the Golden Eaglets did in China and Korea that should be rewarded.” At the club level, the story was equally that of failure. The four Nigerian flag bearers in this year’s Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) organised competitions could not put smiles on faces of Nigerians as they were knocked out from the two competitions.
The duo of the Sunshine Stars of Akure and the Dolphins FC of Port Harcourt featured in the CAF Champions League, while Heartland FC of Owerri and Warri Wolves represented the country in the CAF Confederation Cup. However, the real heroes of Nigerian sports in 2012 are the nation’s London 2012 Paralympics team. The paralympians restored the nation’s pride after the London 2012 flop with their five-star showing. It would be noted that the London 2012 Olympics will be the first time in over two decades that Nigeria will fail to win a medal at the world’s biggest sports fiesta. In fact, the last time that Nigeria failed to win a medal at the Olympics was at Seoul ‘88.
The Paralympians in London won a total of 13 medals, (six gold, five silver and two bronze) erased several world records to finish 22nd on the overall medals table. The 29-member team, which displayed a sterling performance, had record breakers in Yakubu Adesokan, Esther Onyema, Joy Onoolapo and Folasade Oluwafiayo. Kudos must be given to President Goodluck Jonathan, who appreciated the athletes with mouth-watering cash reward and national honours.
President Jonathan, who was apparently still writhing in the pains of the Olympics flop, called for a presidential retreat on sports. President Jonathan, speaking during the retreat which was held in October at Aso Rock, said the purpose of the retreat was to chart a new course for sports in the country and reclaim the country’s past sporting glory as well as restore happiness and glory to the nation’s sporting events. Jonathan observed that apart from its benefits in bringing joy to Nigerians, especially when the nation’s teams do well, no other sector of national life has a greater force for mobilising and uniting the people around a common purpose than sports.
According to him: “Make no mistake: Our commitment is to become the best sporting nation in Africa, be among the top four sporting nations in the Commonwealth and ultimately rule the world. “This vision is not only realistic, it is also achievable with hard work, greater sense of purpose, and dedication.” In 2013 one just hope that government will match words with action by implementing the recommendations made at the presidential retreat as that is the only way more sporting laurels will come the way of the country.