As Nigeria celebrates her 60th Independence anniversary today, it is imperative to understand the growth and development of the sports sector which more than any other sector, puts the country on the global map. In 60 years, football has proven to be the most successful and dominant sports in the country as the Nigerian male national football team, the Super Eagles gave the African continent a run for their money after winning the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 1980 and going further to win the 1994 edition while also featuring at the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 1994, winning Gold in the men’s Olympic football event at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, and winning the AFCON for the third time in 2013.
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Nigerian cadet football team, the U-17 Golden Eaglets boasts more FIFA U-17 World Cup titles more than any other country in the world with five titles. Featuring in the FIFA World Cup finals six times leaves Nigeria as the second African nation with more World Cup outings. Nigerian women’s national team, the Super Falcons, is the most dominant in Africa with 11 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations titles. In athletics, Nigeria’s outing at the 1996 Olympic Games remains the country’s best international outing as Chioma Ajunwa clinched Gold in the women’s long jump event. The country also won one silver in the 4x400m relay, three bronze medals in the women’s 400metres relay, women’s 200 metres, and men’s super heavyweight boxing, alongside the Gold won by the men’s Olympic football team.
The Nigerian male and female basketball teams have equally been dominant in African basketball. D’Tigers, the male national basketball team is the only African team in history to qualify for Summer Olympics through the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2012. The team would go on to clinch the FIBA title in 2015 becoming African champions for the first time. On the other hand, the female basketball team has won the Women’s AfroBasket four times. In Boxing, Nigeria has produced some of the finest boxers in the world with the likes of Samuel Peters, Anthony Joshua, among others.
Despite Nigeria’s achievements in the world of sports, poor infrastructures, poor welfare packages for athletes, as well as neglect for national heroes are some of the challenges that have hindered the growth of sports in the country. Until the present Nigerian Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, took interest in reviving sports facilities in the country, some of the finest sporting complexes in the country such as the National Stadium, Surulere, and the MKO Abiola Stadium, have been left in a poor state for long. Poor welfare packages saw the Super Eagles threaten to boycott their 2014 FIFA World Cup second-round clash against France due to unpaid bonuses.
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It is not impressive to note that some members of the Nigerian national team that won the 1994 AFCON have not received house gift promised by the Nigerian government. Such gestures discourage upcoming athletes and have seen some of the country’s talents raised abroad, switch allegiance from Nigeria. The recent initiative by the Ministry of Sports to renovate the MKO Abiola and Surulere stadiums is a welcome development, the welfare of athletes needs to be well catered for as noticeable in developed countries of the world, as well as honour national heroes in the world of sports. Happy Independence Day Nigeria.
Featured image source: The Guardian NG
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