Nigerian Sports @ 55: The Highs And The Lows

The place of sports in nation building cannot be over emphasised. Over the past 55 years, Nigeria has recorded some landmark achievements in various sporting disciplines.

Football, Athletics, Boxing, Basketball, Tennis, Special Sports etc have served as powerful image-making tools for the nation and have also fostered friendship between Nigeria and other countries. These sports have equally proven to be a source of youth empowerment and development.

On Thursday, October 1, 2015 Nigeria marks its 55th Independence and there have been great moments that have brought joy and glory to the most populous black nation in the world.

Completesportsanigeria.com’s quartet of IZUCHUKWU OKOSI, JOHNNY EDWARD, ADEBOYE AMOSU AND JAMES AGBEREBI chronicle the feats recorded by Nigeria’s sports stars at major sports events since Independence in 1960.

FOOTBALL

SUPER EAGLES
The Super Eagles as the Nigerian men’s national team are called are three-times African champions.

The Eagles formerly known as the Green Eagles, won the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations title when the country hosted the tournament. Nigeria also won the 1994 and 2013 AFCON titles. In total, the team have appeared at the AFCON 17 times, the first in 1963, three years after Nigeria’s independence.

Nigeria’s Super Eagles have made five appearances at the FIFA World Cup with their best result coming with Round of 16 showings in 1994 (debut appearance for Nigeria), 1998 and 2014.

GOLDEN EAGLETS (U-17)
Nigeria have won the FIFA U17 World Cup a record four times achieved in 1985, 1993, 2007 and 2013, all in Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, United Arab Emirates).

FLYING EAGLES (U-20)

Nigeria are seven times African champions at the U20 category. The Flying Eagles won the African U20 Youth Championship in 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 2005, 2011 and 2015. Nigeria have made 11 appearances at the U20 World Cup and were runners up in 1989 and 2005. They were the 3rd placed team in 1985.

U-23 EAGLES
Nigeria’s ‘Dream Team’ were the first African team to win the men’s football event of the Olympics.

The U-23 national side won the gold medal in the 1996 Games held in Atlanta. They were finalists in 2008 when Beijing hosted the Games.

SUPER FALCONS
Nigeria’s women’s football national team, the Super Falcons, have won the African Women’s Championship nine times out of the eleven editions previously held. The Falcons won the Championship in 1991, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014. The Falcons have made seven appearances at the FIFA Women’s World Cup since the first edition and Nigeria’s debut in 1991. Nigeria’s best outing was a quarter-finals finish in 1999.

U-17 AND U-20

Nigeria’s U-20 women side, the Falconets, are two-time runners-up of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup-in 2010 (Germany) and 2014 (Canada). The U-17 side, the Flamingoes, qualified for the inaugural edition of the U-17 Women’s World Cup hosted by New Zealand in 2008. They have participated at the U-17 Women’s World Cup four times. The team reached the quarter-finals stage between 2010 and 2014.

BEACH SOCCER
Nigeria have won the Africa Beach Soccer Championship twice. The Sand Eagles won the tournament in 2007 and 2009. They were runners-up in 2006 and 2011. The team were bronze winners in 2015 and came fourth in 2013.

NIGERIA IN AFRICAN FOOTBALL

Nigerian clubs cannot be said to have replicated the performance of the different national teams on the continent.

Shooting Stars Sports Club of Ibadan (3SC) blazed the trail by winning the now rested African Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976 courtesy of a 4-2 aggregate win against Cameroonian side, Tonnerre Yahounde.

Sixteen years later the club won the maiden edition of the CAF Cup, defeating Uganda’s Villa SC 2-0 on aggregate. Enugu Rangers replicated the feat a year later, recording a 5-2 aggregate win against Cameroon’s Canon Yaounde.

It took Nigeria 38 years to win the CAF Champions League with Enyimba lifting the trophy in 2003 and 2004. Ever since clubs have struggled to impress on the continent.

ATHLETICS

Nigeria’s performance in athletics in the past five decades has not been impressive but their dominance on the African continent has been impeccable considering her achievements at the All Africa Games and other competitions.

Since making its first appearance at the Olympics in 1952, Nigeria boasts just one gold medal in track and field events which is a disappointing return considering what the country’s potential can offer if proper structures and infrastructure are put in place for athletes to develop.

At the IAAF World Championships, Nigeria has also not won gold but showed the world a glimpse of its potential on the tracks in the 1998/99 season.

In 1998, Nigeria had two athletes Gloria Alozie (in the 100m hurdles) and Falilat Ogunkoya (in the 400m) dominate their respective events but for obvious reasons they could not sustain the tempo.

While in 1999, the duo of Charity Opara and Ogunkoya were ranked first and second in the 400m but due faults in planning and programmes for youths the country has failed to replace its ageing stars.

On the African continent at the junior levels, the country’s contingent to the 12th edition of the Africa Junior Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, finished tops in the four-day event.

The Nigerian team, led by Ese Brume and Divine Oduduru, finished top of the medals table with 12 gold, eight silver and seven bronze medals.

TABLE TENNIS

Table Tennis has put Nigeria ahead of other countries in Africa since Independence in 1960 with a succession of the nation’s ping pongers both men and women dominating the sports on the continent even though they made little headway at the international level.

The likes of Atanda Musa, Segun Toriola, Sule Olaleye, Kazeem Nosiru, Monday Merountoun and recently Aruna Quadri in the men’s category have won major laurels for the country. Toriola was ranked the number one player in Africa from 1998 to 2008.

Last year, Quadri was named the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) star player of the year. He was also voted the Best Male player ahead of then world number one, China’s Xu Xin.

In the Ladies category, the trio of Bose Kaffo, Biola Odumosu and Funke Oshonaike have emulated the feats of their men’s counterpart. The trio won multiple medals at the African Championships, All Africa Games and the Commonwealth Games.

BASKETBALL

Nigeria’s senior men’s national basketball team, D’Tigers, are considered to be one of the best national basketball teams in the FIBA Africa zone, along with Angola and Senegal.

Currently ranked 24th in the FIBA World Rankings, D’Tigers have enjoyed success, due to an increasing amount of talents from Nigeria as well as an orchestrated recruitment of American college and professional players of Nigerian descent.

Among some of the major achievements the team have recorded include the capture of their first-ever FIBA Africa Championship in Tunisia this year. And what made the win even sweeter is the fact that they did it against old nemesis, Angola.

After four straight third-place finishes (1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007), D’Tigers finally got their hands on the gold medal at the 2011 All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique.

Aside from winning continental championships, D’Tigers have participated in international tournaments. The team debuted at the 1998 FIBA World Cup in Greece where they finished 13th. They made their second appearance at the FIBA World Cup in the the 2006 edition in Japan and came third in a group that had Argentina, France, Lebanon, Serbia and Montenegro and Venezuela. They eventually lost narrowly in the second round to Germany.

In 2012, D’Tigers became the first African nation to ever qualify for the summer Olympics through the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They beat top teams like Lithuania and Greece to qualify.

And at the 2012 Olympics, the team won their first game against Tunisia before losing to the United States, France and Argentina.They will be at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio following their triumph at the FIBA Africa Championship.

The women’s team has also contributed their own quota to the success of Nigerian basketball. They won the gold medal at the 2003 All Africa Games held in Abuja and also made their debut at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

BOXING

Boxing is one sport that has brought fame to Nigeria. It is the sport that started the medals rush for Nigeria at international events like the Olympic Games, Commonwealth and All Africa Games.

At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Nigeria won its first ever medal thanks to Nojeem Maiyegun who won bronze. In Munich 1972, Isaac Ikhuoria repeated the feat by winning another bronze and Nigeria’s only medal. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics saw Nigeria win its first-ever silver medal and it came through Peter Konyegwachi.

Then in 1992, in Barcelona, the duo of David Izonritei and Richard Igbineghu came back with silver medals for Nigeria, while at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Duncan Dokiwari won Nigeria’s last medal in boxing till date when he won bronze.

Aside from the Olympic Games, Nigerian boxers have done remarkably well in the Commonwealth Games. Currently, Nigeria has won a total of 13 gold, six silver and 17 bronze medals, to place seventh in the all-time Commonwealth boxing medal table.

At the All Africa Games, Nigeria is one of the best countries in boxing, following its overall medal haul of 18 gold, 17 silver and nine bronze medals.
In professional boxing, Nigeria has produced world champions like Dick Tiger, Hogan Bassey and Samuel Peter. Among Tiger’s achievements was winning the world middleweight boxing championship and the light-heavyweight world championship. Bassey got his hands on the Empire featherweight championship, while Peter became the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion in 2008.

In summary, the All Africa Games, the Olympics and the Paralympics have proven to be havens for Nigerian sports stars to win laurels for their country.

Nigeria has competed at all the eleven editions of the All Africa Games between 1965 to 2015. Its athletes have won a total of 934 medals.

Nigeria first participated in the Olympic Games in 1952 and has been represented in every Summer Olympic Games since then, except for the boycotted 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. In total, Nigeria has participated 15 times at the Olympics (1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)

In Paralympics,Nigeria made its Paralympic Games début at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona. The country did not take part in the Paralympics between 1960 to 1988 but has made an appearance in the six subsequent editions. Nigerians have won a total of 22 gold medals, 11 silver, and 12 bronze.

VERDICT
Nigeria has mainly impressed at major sports events but the question of good administration and structures for the development of talents still persists. The country has lost some decent talents to other countries due to the lack of faith shown by some of these Nigerian-born sports stars.

Aside from winning trophies and medals, attention should also be given to the grassroots developments of the game while the government provide the enabling environment and facilities for the stars to blossom.

The welfare of Nigerian sports stars should also be of paramount interest to the administrators and government.

As the country celebrate its 55th anniversary, there are certainly hopes and expectations that when the 60th independence comes around in five years time, there would have been more sporting achievements recorded by the country’s sports heroes.

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