On January 3, sports minister Solomon Dalung evoked several reactions from the sporting populace after he outlined sports achievements under his watch in 2017, at a press conference in Lagos.
While some slammed the Plateau State-born minister for claiming credit for the sports achievements of the outgone year when he didn’t play any role, others praised him for moving the sports sector forward.
Though the year 2017 was filled with so much drama before, during and after the federations elections, several of these federations still recorded some commendable successes.
Some of the country’s major sporting highlights of 2017 were the Super Eagles qualification for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the women’s basketball team triumph at the AfroBasket championship in Mali, wrestler Odunayo Adekuoroye winning Nigeria’s first silver medal at the World Championships in France and the excellent performance of its athletes at the World Para-Powerlifting Championships in Mexico.
However, 2018 even poses a bigger challenge for the country’s sports sector going by the number of top global events lined up.
Dalung at the conference acknowledged that the New Year was packed full with activities and was optimistic that the country would even perform better.
“The year 2018 is an intense sporting year for the nation. It is our hope that the year will see the consolidation of the successes of the 2017,” he stated.
Truly, it’s an intense year of activities across the globe, with the African Nations Championship, scheduled to hold from January 13 to February 4 in Morocco, the first major international tournament the nation would attend this year.
The Super Eagles B, Nigeria’s home-based national team would be attending the event and hope to better the achievements of 2014, when they came third at the event in South Africa four years ago.
They are drawn against 2014 champions Libya, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea in Group C of the competition meant for only footballers playing in their home leagues.
Coach Salisu Yusuf released a 23-man list of players last week that would fly the country’s flag in Morocco with former IfeanyiUbah goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa as captain.
The players and their officials are expected to fly out of the country in a few days to continue their preparations in Morocco ahead of Nigeria’s first match of the campaign against Rwanda in Tangier on January 15.
The unlikeliest event to participate in, Nigeria will be making a first-ever appearance at the Winter Olympic Games courtesy of her female bobsleigh team, who qualified for PyeongChang 2018, scheduled for February 9 to 25.
Perhaps, that was why Dalung didn’t mention the Winter Olympics as part of the major championships Nigeria would attend in 2018.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omega made history after successfully completing five races held across North America in Utah, Whistler and Calgary, meaning the three athletes will become the first in any sport to represent Nigeria in the competition.
Adigun, who represented Nigeria in the 100m hurdles at the London 2012 Olympics, started a Go Fund Me campaign in 2016 to raise the $75,000 (£66,000) needed to fund their Olympic bid, and she achieved her target in just 11 months.
Former Athletics Federation of Nigeria president, Solomon Ogba, said, “Their hard work was inspiring and I hope Nigerians can appreciate what it took for them to achieve this.
“They are all very successful people in their own right – in sports and out of it, and somehow they are still motivated and still push for more success.
“I have watched them train and work hard to represent Nigeria at the Winter Olympics in a very technical and high-risk sport and they have achieved that.”
Another Nigerian, Simidele Adeagbo, could become Africa’s first woman skeleton athlete at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Adeagob, a retired track and field athlete based in Johannesburg, is just a race away from qualifying for the Winter Olympics. The final qualifier, her fifth race, is scheduled for Lake Placid, New York, on January 11.
The 36-year-old’s interest in skeleton was sparked, when she heard about the amazing Nigerian bobsleigh team.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games, tagged Gold Coast 2018, holds from April 4 to 15 in Australia. The sports ministry began its first phase of camping for the event on December 17, 2017 in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja.
Boxers, table tennis and para-table tennis players are camping in Lagos, while the weightlifters are in Abuja. Port Harcourt is camp of track and field and para-athletics athlete.
Sixteen athletes and 14 officials are also camped at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research Yaba, Lagos.
Nigeria has competed at 13 Commonwealth Games since 1950, but did not attend four Games, in 1962, 1978 (in protest at New Zealand’s policies), 1986 and 1998.
The country’s highest medal haul — 37 — at the Games was recorded in 1994 in Canada. Overall, the country’s athletes have won 61 gold, 66 silver and 85 bronze at the Games, with high jumper Joshua Majekodunmi winning Team Nigeria’s first-ever medal, silver, in 1950.
The Super Eagles under German coach Gernot Rohr emerged the first African side to qualify for the Russia 2018 with a game to spare.
The Eagles qualified from a tough group that included African champions Cameroon, Zambia and Algeria. But the three-time African champions stunned their critics with some amazing displays beating Chipolopolo home and away, hammering the Indomitable Lions 4-0 in Uyo before holding them to a draw and then beating the Desert Foxes 3-1 at home and then losing their final game of the qualifiers in bizarre circumstances.
The country’s qualification was almost thrown into disarray when it was discovered that right-back Abdullahi Shehu was ineligible for the final qualifier against Algeria in Constantine last November.
But despite FIFA stripping the Eagles of the point earned in the 1-1 draw and handling the three points to the North Africans, it was not enough to stop the country’s trip to Russia for the Mundial.
The Eagles are drawn in Group D against perennial foes Argentina, Croatia and debutants Iceland. The Nigerians begin their campaign against Croatia in Kaliningrad on June 16 before taking on Iceland in Volgograd six days later. They end their group games against Argentina on June 26.
The World Cup takes place in Russia from June 14 to July 15 in Russia.
FIBA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL WORLD CUP
African champions D’Tigress will be heading to this year’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain, having never won a game at the competition.
In their FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup debut in 2006 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nigeria lost all their five games. This year, they will chase more than their first win in the history of the competition.
Nigeria and Senegal will represent Africa at the 16-team FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018, which will take place from September 22 to 30 in Tenerife, Spain.
Both countries, finalists at last year’s AfroBasket Championship for Women in Mali, join hosts Spain and reigning Olympic champions USA, Argentina, Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Belgium, France, Greece, Latvia and Turkey.
Nigeria will host the 21st Africa Senior Athletics Championships scheduled for July 30 to August 5 in Asaba, Delta State, while the country’s young athletes would compete at the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina in October.
Nigeria also won the hosting rights for the 2018 Africa Wrestling Championships with Port Harcourt, Rivers State, as host city.
Nigeria Professional Football League champions Plateau United and MFM will campaign in the CAF Champions League with Enyimba and Akwa United representing the country in the CAF Confederation Cup.
The national football teams, men and women, would also be involved in several continental qualifiers, at various levels.