NIGERIA’S EXPLOITS IN SPORTS UNDER THE BUHARI ADMINISTRATION

BY LEKAN SOWANDE

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Nigerian sports has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. It started as a mere recreation and pastime amongst the colonialists. It has however developed to became a vocation where in this modern era, sportsmen and women professionalize in their area of strength or advantage.

Sports has become more than a means of employment for the army of youth who hitherto were roaming the streets in search of jobs. Today we have highly rated sports personalities adding to the Gross Domestic Product of the country. Millions of dollars are shipped in annually by these professional sports personalities.

Realizing the importance of sports in Nation building, the outgoing Administration in Nigeria gave the sector priority by laying emphasis on grassroots sports development with the “catch them young” policy. The athletes were given regimented training up to maturity, which enabled them attain world class status.

When the Muhammadu Buhari administration came to power in 2015, it revived the moribund National Youth Games. The revival of the games led to the discovery of young, up and coming talents who represented Nigeria on the global scene.

Over 250 young athletes were discovered in the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Games and over 300 in the 2018 edition. Several of the young discoveries represented Nigeria at the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina, where they won medals. Many of these athletes have now formed the bulk of the new generation of athletes representing Nigeria.

In addition, the biennial Nigerian National Sports Festival, another platform for the discovery of budding talents, which had also been moribund was revived. In 2017, the Ministry of Sports democratized all the 42 National Sports Federations for efficiency, accountability and professionalism.

In international competitions, Nigeria emerged African Champions in nine sporting events including Women’s Football, Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball, Volleyball, Badminton, Cricket, Wrestling, Para powerlifting and Taekwondo.

Nigeria became the first African country to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Federation of International Basketball, Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain in 2018. The Nigerian National Women’s Basketball Team, the D’Tigress who emerged African Champions in Mali, improved their world ranking from 32nd to 8th position by that feat.

For the first time in almost 100 years, Nigeria also qualified for the International Cricket Council ICC, World Cup. The Under-20 Nigerian Cricket team defeated known African Cricket playing nations to emerge African Champions and booked a ticket for the World Cup in 2020.

In football, the Super Falcons won the 8th and 9th editions of the African Women’s Football Championship, in 2016 and 2018, setting an unprecedented record of winning the competition nine times in Africa. The Super Falcons also qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France and the 2023 edition to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

The men’s team, the Super Eagles in 2018, qualified for the FIFA World Cup with a match to spare, the first time an African Country could achieve such a feat to reach the finals in Russia. They also qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations hosted by Egypt in 2019, having failed to qualify since lifting the trophy in 2013.

The exploits of Nigeria at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, United States, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, proved to be the crowning glory for the country under the Buhari Administration. US-based Tobi Amusan created a new world record when she won gold in the 100 metres hurdles event at the World Athletics Championships in the US. Her compatriot, Ese Brume, also leapt over seven meters in the long jump during the Championships, to win silver in an unforgettable night for Nigerians, home and abroad.

Both Amusan and Brume also won gold medals in their respective events the same year, at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The 2022 Commonwealth Games was Nigeria’s best ever performance in the quadrennial event, where the country won 12 gold, 9 silver and 14 bronze, totaling 35 medals, finishing as the best African country on the medals table.

Another feat achieved by the Buhari Administration in Sports is the strategy for the general development of sports where the Ministry of Sports opened up the sponsorship of individual athletes or teams through the “Adopt-an- Athlete” policy.

This gesture has enabled the private sector to partner with government to exploit the commercial potentials and benefits of the sports sector. As a result, the private sector has begun to invest heavily in sports by building or renovating sports facilities, sponsoring sporting events, providing monetary rewards and scholarships, as well as sponsoring free international travel for deserving athletes.

The incoming administration is expected to build on the gains recorded by the Buhari Government for Nigeria’s flag to continue to be hoisted at International events.

 

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