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2020: Expecting more encouragement in sports

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AT LAST  the year 2020 is here. Nigeria is not new to the term ‘vision 2020”.  Vision 20:2020 is a well laid out development blue-print covering almost all sectors of the national development including sports. The fundamental elements of sport make it a tool to support the achievement of the vision.

It was stated in the document that Nigeria will aim at becoming the best sporting nation in Africa, the best four in the Commonwealth of Nations and arguably one of the top 50 sporting nations in the world.

A lot is expected of Nigeria this year from her citizens and the world at large.  Highlights of what is expected from the sport sector this year includes World Cup qualifiers, for the nation’s football team.

The World cup qualifiers will resume this year; this month to be precise and a lot of countries will love to feature in Qatar 2022. The Super Eagles of Nigeria will be grouped alongside their African counter parts this month.

The past years were kind enough to produce super stars in respective football leagues across the globe, for the Super Eagles, likes of Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi, Samuel Chukwueze,  Victor Osimhen, Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Moses and so on, while Super Falcons had stars like Asisat Osoala and Nnadozie.

There have been ups and downs in the country’s football, such as  Nigeria being  eliminated from the 2010 World Cup with just one point – the worst World cup record for the country, so much so that Goodluck Jonathan as president of Nigeria, suspended the national football team from international competition for two years.

This suspension put the team at risk of being banned from international football by FIFA for reasons of political interference.

On 5 July 2010, the Nigerian government rescinded its ban of the national football team from FIFA/CAF football competitions, but the sanction of suspension was applied by FIFA some three months after. On 4 October 2010, Nigeria was indefinitely banned from international football due to government interference following the 2010 World Cup.

Four days later, however, the ban was “provisionally lifted” until 26 October, the day after the officially unrecognised National Association of Nigerian Footballers (NANF) dropped its court case against the NFF.

Nigeria failed to qualify three times in 2012, 2015 and 2017, despite the array of stars in the team. Such embarrassment should be avoided completely.

However  in 2013, Nigeria won the AFCON, beating Burkina Faso by a lone goal and finished third in 2019. Presently, there is an alledged tension between NFF and the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr. The tension should be addressed as all distractions should be avoided for the two important competitions that will take place this year – the Olympics in Japan and the World Cup qualifiers.

Furthermore, Nigeria took a bold step in bidding for the to host the under 20 Women world cup last year, although FIFA gave the hosting privileges to Costa Rica and Panama. It shows that Nigeria is taking sports seriously as a very important sector.

Enough questions were raised ranging from the availability of standard stadia, to the media coverage of the sports events and secure environments for athletes, fans and officias.

Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba in Delta State hosted African Championship Games in 2018. Some argued that the event was a total success and as usual, others were critical of the event, but the point is that of the availability of stadia.

Between 2012 to 2018, three new stadia were commissioned which includes, Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, with 30,000 capacity, located in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State. It was commissioned in 2012; Adokiye Amesieamaka Stadium in Rivers with the capacity of 38,000 commissioned in 2015, and Stephen Keshi Stadium  commissioned in 2018. Nigeria has over 30 stadia but most are just for football activities.

Another area of concern is investing in and encouragement of athletes and creating environments for athletes to thrive in order not to scare them away. For instance, Anthony Joshua has made a name for himself in boxing. Originally a Nigerian by birth and fortunately for him, a British by nationality, the 30- year old can boast of three titles and is expected to defend them twice this year, against Deontay Wider and Andy Ruiz. Anthony Joshua is not just seen as an athlete from Nigeria. He also symbolises Africa.

Current UFC welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman and Isreal Adesanya who are dominated the mixed martial arts in the last quarter of 2019 are not left out when it comes to talents that are thriving but have little chance in Nigeria.

July 24, 2020, is the date that the Olympics will officially commence. And the big question remains, is team Nigeria prepared? 2016 was quite an embarrassment as we bagged only one medal in the Olympics. What steps are being considered to rectify and make sure that such situations is not repeated? The Olympics will take place in Japan.

The Minister for Sports, Sunday Dare, last year, made it known that there was a memorandum of understanding signed by Nigeria and the mayor of the city of Kisarazu, Yoshikuni Watanabe, who said the measure fits well with the new orientation of the early preparation of the tournament.

Dare said he was happy to have started preparing for the Olympics well in advance, which was a sign of how good it would come. “I am pleased that we can follow this morning the initiatives of former ministers and ambassadors who acted correctly on behalf of this country,” he said.

Nigeria is blessed with highly rated and talented athletes, ranging from Blessing Okagbare, Divine Oduduru, Ese Brume, Abejoye Oyeniyi, Ese Brume and the rest of them.  But majority or considerable amount of athletes are based outside the country, as a result of poor training facilities and incentives and only arrive the country when they are called upon to represent the nation in respective competitions.

In other to retain stars and discourage them from representing other countries in competition, the Nigerian government and wealthy individuals should create an encouraging, enabling and sustainable environment. Nigeria has over 40 stadia but frankly, most of them are just strictly for football.

Private entities can decide to either build, partner, or buy other stadia to make it accommodating, attractive and enabling for the athletes to practice and easily spot out upcoming stars.

Also, the issue of media coverage needs to be addressed. The media deserve to be showered with accolades for their consistent coverage of atheletes in different competitions hosted home and abroad, and their interest in upcoming stars should not go unnoticed.

Research centers should also be created in other to keep track of events and stars, or to source for statistics and logistics for various seasons.

Having a research center in sports will definitely help to monitor the progress in sport.

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