2011: YEAR NIGERIAN SPORTS DIED
To many followers of sports in the country, especially football, the outgoing year could pass for nothing but a disaster.
It was a year in which Nigeria failed virtually on all fronts and from as early as January 2012, when the Nations Cup fiesta will begin in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, Nigerians will begin to feel the impact of the country's failure in sports in 2011.
The Super Eagles, for the first time in 26 years, will not be featuring in the Nations Cup when the competition gets underway on January 18 in Malabo. The team tutored by Coach Samson Siasia, who has since been fired, failed to qualify for the African 'World Cup' despite been drawn into a very weak group that had soccer minnows like Madagascar and Ethiopia.
The Eagles failed to dazzle in most of the games capping their epileptic showing in the home game against Guinea, which they drew 2-2 at the Abuja National Stadium.
Before the Nations Cup show-of-shame, Nigeria had equally failed to pick any of the soccer tickets (male and female) to the Maputo 2011 All Africa Games. The so-called Dream Team V tutored by Austin Eguavoen, who has since resigned (as he didn't wait to be sacked), failed to get past Ghana during the qualifiers.
The Super Falcons, on its part, also fell to the same Ghana. Nigeria, therefore, went to Maputo without her soccer teams.
As if losing out of the Maputo Games was not enough, Eguavoen and Eucharia Uche (Falcons' handler) embarrassed the nation again during the qualifiers for the London 2012 Olympics soccer event. The Dream Team V went to Morocco for the maiden edition of CAF's 8-Nation tournament, saw, but failed to conquer.
Eguavoen's men lost 0-1 to Morocco in their first game, bowed 1-2 to Senegal and managed to beat Algeria 4-1, a result that was not good enough to see them to the semis, thus shattering Nigeria's Olympic dream in soccer.
Coach Uche and her girls did not in anyway fare better, as they bowed to Cameroon in Yaounde via penalty shootout after the aggregate score stood at 2-2.
It would be recalled that earlier in the year, the Flying Eagles raised some hope for the country with their victory at the South Africa 2011 African youth soccer championship, where Nigeria overpowered Cameroon to emerge the African champion.
But that feat was literally rubbished by the same team, when the boys went for the big one in Colombia – The FIFA Under-20 World Cup – and failed to go beyond the quarterfinal after losing to France in a game that went into extra time.
Many Nigerian soccer pundits had tipped the team coached by John Obuh to equal Ghana's feat of winning the trophy. The Black Meteors had, on African soil in Egypt, emerged the champion of the world in 2009. To lift the trophy, Ghana sent football's No.1 superpower, Brazil to the cleaners.
Even at the sub-regional level, Nigeria failed to raise its game above the base, as the Home Eagles bowed to Togo in the Ogun State government-sponsored WAFU Cup, which took place in Abeokuta.
Little wonder, Nigeria is now ranked 43 in the world going by the latest ranking released by world soccer governing body, FIFA. It would be recalled that Nigeria, after the USA '94 World Cup, was ranked 5th in the world and the second most entertaining team after Brazil.
Away from football, the story was the same in athletics, as Nigeria failed to shine at the biggest stage in Daegu, South Korea, where the World Championship in athletics took place. While the like of Kenya, Ethiopia and even lowly rated Botswana wrote their names in gold, Nigerian athletes returned home without a single gold medal.
Nigeria finished 34th on the final medals table after winning only a bronze medal, while Kenya surprised the world by finishing 3rd behind USA and Russia with seven gold medals. Ethiopia finished 9th and Botswana 11th.
Just like football, this game which in the past, brought Nigeria honour, is in a state of comatose. The only Nigerian boxer that came from nowhere to emerge WBC champion, Samuel Peter, has since been having nightmares in the rings. In April, he lost to Finland's Robert Hellenius in Germany, a result that has effectively ended his come back bid.
At the moment, no Nigerian boxer is rated by any of the world bodies, while our amateur boxers keep fumbling at major international meets.
In Maputo, during the All Africa Games, they failed to win any gold medal.
All Africa Games
Nigeria could be said not to have done badly at the Maputo 2011 All Africa Games given the way the host, Mozambique, manipulated a few things. Mozambique, it would be noted, ensured that events like wrestling, weightlifting and powerlifting, where Nigeria had advantage did not feature at the Games. Despite the abracadabra by the host country, Nigeria finished third behind South Africa and Egypt.
The Director General of the National Sports Commission (NSC), Dr Pat Ekeji, had before the Games, predicted rightly that the country would finish among the top three. He had in fact given up on the first position when the hosts connived with their South African brothers to expunge events where they knew Nigeria would amass medals.
However, one man who does not agree with the general notion that Nigerian sports has been in shambles this year is the spokesman of NSC, Tony Ohaeri.
Ohaeri said it would be wrong for anybody to conclude that Nigerian sportsmen didn't do well in 2011 simply because the country failed in football.
'When it comes to football, I agree that we didn't do well, but for other sports, I beg to totally disagree. At the All Africa Games, we did well by finishing third despite all the 'wuruwuru' done by Mozambique and South Africa. In athletics, we are No.1 in Africa. In weightlifting, we did well in South Africa during the African and Commonwealth Championships. They equally performed well during the World Championship in France.
Back home, we organised the best-ever National Sports Festival in Port Harcourt. It was a world-class event.
The problems in football, which led to our free fall in the sport is being addressed. The NSC is putting structures in place to address our football problems,' he said.
Ohaeri's stand did not in anyway differ from that of the 2nd Vice President of Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), Mr. Jonathan Nnaji.
Nnaji told Saturday Sunsports that to say that 2011 was not a good year for Nigerian sports would amount to saying that Nigerian sports starts and ends with football.
His words: 'Sports in Nigeria does not start and end with football. There is no disputing the fact that we had a poor run in football, but in some other sports we didn't do badly. I must tell you that in taekwondo, we are celebrating. We have since taken over as Africa's No.1 in the male category and we are No.3 in the female category.
'Our fighters, like the Chukwumerije brothers are doing very well. Chukwumerije Jnr recently returned from Germany where he won gold in one of the Grade A international tournaments.
'Now, we have state-of-the-art taekwondo facilities in the country, which were not there before and there absence affected our athletes badly. With these, I can assure you that we will qualify for the London 2012 Olympics when the African qualifiers begin in Egypt from January 8-12.'