We looks back and reflects on the wobbly, fumble and ugly points of the 2020 year in Nigeria’s sports sector.
2020 is a year that has tested humankind as individuals, families, communities and nations having to deal with the loss of loved ones and acquaintances, to bear witness to communities collapsing and local businesses going under, economy pushed beyond imaginable limits and many sporting events around the world postponed or cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 2020 National Sports Festival tagged ‘Edo 2020 Games, Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which are now planned to take place in 2021.
No sport was truly outstanding, including football no thanks to deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019-20 Nigeria’s domestic football league seasons were cancelled without promotion or relegation due to the rampaging coronavirus. The top-flight league, Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) was initially suspended on March 18 after matchday 25, as part of preventive measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in the country. But four months after its suspension, the NFF approved that the 2019/20 NPFL season should end at matchday 25 and the teams should be ranked by Points Per Game (PPG), with the top three teams automatically qualified for the 2020-21 CAF Inter-club competitions (two slots for Champions League and a slot for Confederation Cup).
It was also agreed that the 2020-21 Nigerian top-flight campaign, subject to the approval of health authorities, should start between September and October 2020, and then end in May 2021. But the league is yet to start even after the approval of the Presidential Tasks Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and health authorities in the country.
In the year under review, Super Eagle failed to confirm their qualification for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon following back-to-back draws with the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone. The dismal performance against low rated Lone Stars has left Gernot Rohr’s job as Nigeria coach hanging in the balance with the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare questioning the competence of the German tactician.
“The performance of the Super Eagles from their last two matches calls to question the suitability and competences of Technical Adviser, Rohr. Nigerian football deserves better. The needful will be done,” Dare tweeted.
Nigeria’s ‘orchestra’ of foreign-born players’ hits record high in the year under review and for the first time ever, 10 players born or raised abroad were part of the Super Eagles squad that played out a disappointing 4-4 draw and drab goalless draw against the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone in Benin and Freetown respectively.
Nigeria’s Flying Eagles failed in their bid to qualify for the 2021 U-20 Africa Cup of Nations following their defeat at the WAFU U-20 Zone B tournament, just as the country’s representatives in the Africa’s inter-club competitions, Plateau United and Kano Pillars, were also bundled out of the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup in the second leg of the first preliminary round.
There were very serious internal and external crises within the basketball and athletics federations. These are the two federations that come close to football in terms of their followership in the country.
The scouting and use of Diaspora basketball players and athletes has become a very attractive option. These are the athletes that still managed to qualify the country for the men and women’s Olympics basketball events, and that the country would depend on for track and field at the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
The Leadership crisis in the Athletics Federation Nigeria (AFN) which was inbred into this year from 2019 is still dragging in court. The embattled AFN President Shehu Ibrahim Gusau is seeking an amicable resolution on the crisis rocking the federation but the Sunday Dare-led Ministry of Youth and Sports Development insists on contesting the Appeal Court judgment, which recognised Ibrahim Gusau as the president of the AFN at the Supreme Court.
The AFN and the supervisory ministry had been at loggerheads after a faction led by Olamide George, the federation’s vice president, suspended Gusau as the AFN president, which forced the Gusau-led board to declare autonomy from the sports ministry in December 2019 at the federation’s congress in Awka, Anambra State.
In table Tennis, Nigeria legend, Funke Oshonaike, in February made history as she qualified for her seventh Olympic Games, a feat no woman from Africa has ever achieved. Oshonaike defeated Cameroon’s Sarah Hannfou 4-1 (12-10, 11-4, 4-11, 11-7, 11-6) in the deciding match to make it to the table tennis event of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. While in boxing, Nigerian born world heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua knocked out Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev to retain his IBF, WBO and WBA belts.
Nigeria’s sports mourned the unfortunate demise of members in the outgoing year, including the tragedy in one of the Nigeria Professional Football League games where a Nasarawa United player, Chieme Martins, slumped and died. According to witnesses, Martins slumped after a collision with a Katsina United player, and efforts to revive him by the medics and subsequent rush to the hospital were unsuccessful.
The player was attended to by medics of the two clubs when he slumped and was later rushed to Dalhatu- Araf Specialist Hospital in Lafia where he was pronounced dead.
Also, two Nigerian internationals, Ifeanyi George and Emmanuel Ogbu – were killed in a car crash in Abudu that also claimed the life of a third person. The pair, who played for Nigerian league side, Enugu Rangers, were involved in a crash on the Benin-Agbor road whilst travelling to Lagos. Super Eagles forward George, who won two caps for his country in 2017, was 26.
Also in the outgoing year, Remo Stars player, Kazeem Tiyamiyu fondly known as Kaka was knocked down and killed by a car in an apparent hit-and-run. The 21-year-old, who played in defence for second tier side Remo Stars, was being detained by police in a vehicle before his death in Sagamu, Ogun State, south-west Nigeria, according to his club.
Three members of the NFF Executive Committee, Chidi Ofo Okenwa, Musa Adamu Duhu, Mr. Emmanuel Ibah and NFF’s Head of ICT, Tolulope Abe, also passed just as the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and Nigerian Women Premier League (NWPL) witness the untimely death of veteran athletics coach, Adu Uruemu at age of 54 and Henrietta Ukaigwe, a leading women football promoter and administrator respectively.
Uruemu, until his death, Uruemu was the Secretary General of Nigerian Athletics Masters. Sprinter cum jumper, Ruth Usoro is one of the athletes Uruemu produced for Nigeria. Ruth is fourth in the Nigerian all-time indoor list for long jump after leaping to a new 6.57m personal best last February.
On 28th July 2020, the Sports Industry Working Group (SIWG) comprising the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports (“the Ministry”), and critical sector stakeholders presented the National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP) draft document virtually to the Minister for Sports and Youth Development, Sunday Dare. This development is regarded as an important product of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Ministry and NESG on 17th December 2019.
The NSIP is aimed at leveraging Nigeria’s remarkable sporting talent, passion, interest and excellence to advance and navigate diplomatic relations, and more importantly, generate employment, create jobs, increase government revenue, and bolster the economy. The NSIP also identifies four (4) key trigger factors essential to realizing these aims – Infrastructure, Incentives, Investment and Policy (popularly christened the 3 ‘I’s & 1 ‘P’).
Following the presentation of the draft NSIP, the much-talked-about paradigm shift in the sporting mindset from mere recreation to an emergent major business sector of the economy appears to have found a suitable takeoff tarmac.