2020: Loaded year with tough challenges

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The New Year will post challenges at various levels and the administrators must be up to the task if Nigerian sport is to move forward. However, it is important to evaluate last year to look at the mistakes and how best to correct them and also consider the best way to consolidate on the successes recorded in the year 2019.

Anthony Joshua, with Nigerian blood flowing in his veins, regained his three world heavyweight boxing belts from Andy Ruiz to put smiles on faces of sports fans. It was a major highlight of 2019. Coming second at the African Games in Morocco sounds nice but the difference between Nigeria and champions Egypt is just too wide for the country to be celebrating her position. Team Nigeria ended the games with 46 gold, 33 silver and 48 bronze medals.

The total number of 127 medals is a far cry compared with Egypt’s 273 medals comprising 102 gold, 98 silver and 73 bronze medals. It was learnt South Africa and some other countries did not attend with all their elite athletes but the gap calls for concern. At the World Athletics Championships, Ese Brume clinched Nigeria’s only medal, a bronze in women’s long jump. Tobi Amusan was close but she finished fourth in the 100m hurdles .

The wrestlers have been fantastic at continental and global stages while table tennis athletes are playing catch-up with Egypt. It was sweet victory for Nigeria in the men’s singles event which had an all-Nigerian affair final. Jide Omotayo surprisingly won the gold at the AG but the country only clinched two gold medals out of the available seven. It used to be a clean sweep of seven by Nigeria. Where did we get it wrong?

The technical arm of the sport needs evaluation if not a complete overhaul. In basketball, D’Tigress ruled Africa again, clinching the AfroBasket title after beating Senegal in the final. The men lost in the final to settle for a silver medal. Football recorded a string of defeats and setbacks.

The male and female teams failed to qualify or the Olympic games football event, while the home Eagles fumbled at the WAFU tournament and also failed to make it to the CHAN finals. The U-17 and U-20 teams performed woefully at the FIFA World Cup respectively while the teams representing the country on the continent also did not make impact since the league is in a poor state.

The NFF will have to be serious with the World Cup qualifiers Going forward, it is an Olympic year and some athletes and federations are still in search of tickets to be part of the Tokyo 2020 Games. Federations should think of how best to get things done for the athletes because in the past, some federations failed to attend qualifying tournaments due to financial constraints.

This time, early preparations are required technically and also financially. Alternative plans should be made for money to enable the athletes to participate and seek for tickets. Badminton, boxing, table tennis, taekwondo and even athletics are some of the sports still seeking for slots at the Games.

The ministry of sports should work with the federations to source for money to boost the country’s participation for Tokyo Games. It is pertinent to state that the crises that enveloped many of the federations like basketball, hockey, athletics and also football must not continue this year.

Basketball and athletics have two factional presidents currently and this is bad for the development of sports. Year 2020 promises to be heavy in international sports and Nigeria must be among the shining lights at world stage. The talents are there but the problem has always been adequate planning to get the desired results. The elite athletes also need huge motivation to be at their best at the global stage.

The sports minister, Sunday Dare, was spot on with the adopt-an-athlete project. Some of the top athletes already have sponsors to boost them for the Olympics and other events. Dare and the Nigeria Olympic Committee should get serious from this month to evaluate athletes and federations on a more regular basis till the games start in August.

The qualifiers should be taken seriously while the prime areas of prospective medals like wrestling, boxing, taekwondo and athletics must be given attention. The state of facilities in the country also calls for concern because athletes need to prepare for international tournaments with modern facilities that could be comparable to the ones abroad. It is better to get used to modern facilities than to start learning how to cope with it during tournaments.

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