Nigeria’s sports @ 55: Kudos, knocks!

As Nigeria celebrates its 55th independence anniversary today, stakeholders in sports  have frowned at its performance in the sector while others passed a vote of confidence on its performance.

Former Africa’s fastest sprinter, Mary Onyali and former ace footballer, ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami said that the downward slide in sports leaves much to be desired of a country that prides itself as Giant of Africa.

‘’The journey of Nigeria in sports from independence was a great one and Nigeria flourished in it. We did well in virtually all

sports ranging from Long Jump, Boxing, Tennis, Table Tennis,Track and Field and others. Nigeria produced sparkling results from an equally sparkling, determined and selfless athletes.

The likes of Emmanuel lfeajuna who won a gold medal in high jump during the Commonwealth Games in 1954, Hogan Kid Bassey who became the world featherweight boxing champion in 1957 and Dick Tiger, who won the middleweight crown and later the world light heavyweight crown, Samuel Peter who won the Heavyweight Boxing title readily come to mind.

At the second All-Africa Games, the Green Eagles won the gold medal of the football event as well as the 1980 Nations Cup. It was not until the 80’s that we started declining slowly. The administrators failed to arrest the decline. It was the infrastructures of the 80s that sustained us up to ’90 to ’94. Football has always managed to save us’’, Odegbami who single-handedly moulded Chioma Ajunwa to win the first individual gold medal in the Long Jump at  Atlanta Olympics said.

File Photo: Nigeria’s Ajoke Odumosu (R) hands the baton to Regina George as they compete in the women’s 4X400 relay final of the London 2012 Olympic Games in London. PHOTO - AFP.
File Photo: Nigeria’s Ajoke Odumosu (R) hands the baton to Regina George as they compete in the women’s 4X400 relay final of the London 2012 Olympic Games in London. PHOTO – AFP.
Odegbami who is aspiring to contest the FIFA Presidential election to take over from Joseph Blatter offered a way out of the woods for Nigeria.

‘’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.

Onyali described Nigeria’s performances as awful but said that  she and some ex-internationals have decided to take the bull by the horn to rescue Nigerian sports from total meltdown.

‘’I’ve stopped talking about Nigerian sports. During my days, all I did was to run, compete and win laurels for this country. But I warned them about the need for replacements but nobody listened. In a few months, we’ll come out with our plans to re-position Nigerian sports to where it belongs.

We were 10 but lost Sunday Bada. The nine of us will change the face of Nigerian sports. All hopes are not lost’’, Mary who made Nigerian flag to flutter in international competitions said.

Also, former Director General of the National Sports Commission, Dr Amos Adamu has said the country’s sports men and women should beat their chests for taking the country to glorious heights in the past 55 years.

In a telephone chat with Sports Vanguard, Dr Adamu, a former Executive Committee member of FIFA said, “Nigeria has performed nicely in sports since independence.”

Adamu said, sports like every other sector was a product of the same environment which has seen many other sectors stagnated. “But our sports have excelled in the midst of all these handicaps.,”he said.

Continuing, the former CAF and FIFA man said, “our sports have grown to the level that we have produced world champions.

When we go to international competitions, we beat the likes of USA, Germany, Spain and so forth. But if you compare our training environment, the facilities with those of our opponents and other factors, you will then understand what I am talking about.”

The experienced sports administrator said, “compare sports with other sectors and tell me which Nigerian ministry, University or establishment can be rated second or even third in the world or Africa. Is it the power sector, or our roads or hospitals? Sports is the best thing to have come out of Nigeria since independence.

“Just look at the way our athletes soared in the last African Games in Congo finishing second. Which other department can claim second in Africa?” he asked repeatedly.

On his part, former President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Kojo Williams said, “Nigeria sports have witnessed good times and bad times. All we need to do is to find out where our problems are.

We had very good boxers in the past, our athletes were world beaters and in 1994 our national team was rated 5th best in the world. We need to ask ourselves, where did we go wrong?’’

He said, “the problem with us is that we like too much grammar. We talk too much. It is about putting the structures in place. Only that way can we move forward again.