Nigerian sports, was noted first in the 1950s. Nigeria had its first appearance in the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952, and its first victory in 1954, when Emmanuel Ifeajuna won a gold medal in the high jump at the Commonwealth games in Cardiff. The Nationals Sports Council was established in 1962, and changed to the National Sports Commission in 1971, with the following responsibilities:
- To coordinate and integrate efforts to raise the standard of performance in sports in Nigeria.
- To encourage the development, organization and participation of sports in Nigeria.
- To make any arrangements on behalf of the States’ Sports Councils for Competitions, technical assistance, recruitment of coaches and for any other matters as the Commission sees fit.
- To promote physical fitness and general well-being of all persons in Nigeria.
SPORTS PLAYED IN NIGERIA
The National Sports Commission promotes about twenty four different sports, each being organized by a non-autonomous governing body. Some of the sports that are played in Nigeria include: Athletics (track and field), Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Boxing, Chess, Cricket, Cycling, Football (called soccer in the United States and in some other places), Gymnastics, Golf, Handball, Hockey, Judo, Tennis, Rowing, Shooting, Squash rackets, Swimming, Table tennis (called ping-pong in some other places), Taekwondo, Volleyball, Power- lifting, Wrestling, Traditional sports and a host of other Para- sports (sports for the physically challenged). The Federal, State and Local Governments make funds available for current expenditure, equipment, and facilities for the use of the Sports Divisions and its various governing bodies throughout the country. Stadia are being constructed in many parts of the country. The Abuja stadium, with capacity of 60,000, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a hockey astroturph and a velodrome has become the national rallying point. Another important stadium is located at Onikan in Lagos, Nigeria’s former Federal capital city. It is worthwhile putting the spotlight on the various sport activities now well established in the country.
The Nigerian Football Federation was created in 1945. It was the first year that a competition was organized bringing together clubs from Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar. The championship was also renamed the Challenge Cup replacing the Governor’s Cup as it had been known under their British colonizers. It was only several years later that the Challenge Cup became a national trophy when other top clubs from different provinces were invited to play. However, the clubs had to wait till 1990 for the professional league to be introduced.
Nigeria emerged on the international football/soccer scene in 1960 when it first entered the World Cup, but failed to qualify for the finals. It eventually qualified for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The Nigerian National League began in 1972 when five teams entered the league. This grew to 12 teams by 1978. By the 1980s, the national football team, the Super Eagles (formerly known as the Green Eagles) had become a team to reckon with at the international level. The Super Eagles was adjudged the best team in Africa and one of the best ten in the world at a time. Nigeria won the first World Cup in the under-16 category in China in 1985 and came second the same category two years later in Canada.
Its Under-20 soccer team won the bronze medal in the Junior World Cup competition in the Soviet Union in 1985, the silver medal in Saudi Arabia in 1989 and in the Netherlands in 2005. The national football team, the Super Eagles has won the African Cup of Nations in 1980, 1994 and 2013 and was the finalist three times in the competition. They reached the second round of the World Cup in 1994, 1998 and 2014. They were crowned Champions (Gold Medal) in Olympic Games in Atlanta, U.S.A in 1996, a performance which Nigerians and many Super Eagles fans across the world will remember for a long time. The under-17 team tutored by Coach Yemi Tella also won the Gold Medal in the 2007 Junior World Cup. The story of the Super Eagles is also that of individual star players that make the minds of football lovers vibrate, from Henry Nwosu, Segun Odegbami, Steven Keshi (RIP), Rashidi Yekini (RIP), Daniel Amokachi, Mudashiru Lawal, Sunday Oliseh, Taribo West, Samson Siasia, Tijani Babangida, Victor Ikpeba, Stephen Keshi(RIP), George Finidi, Emmanuel Amunike, Celestine Babayaro, Austin Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Victor Agali, Peter Odemwinge, Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa among others. The Super Eagles are now ranked among the best teams, not only in Africa but in the world. They put up an impressive performance in the 2014 World Cup championship in Brazil, attaining the second round.
Nigeria also boasts of a strong Women’s football team, the Super Falcons, which, as of 2007, has won the seven editions of the African Women’s Football championship organised since the creation of this championship in 1991. Driven by talented players, like Florence Omogbemi,Ajuma Ameh, Anne Chiejine, and Effionanwan Ekpo, among others. The Women’s team also reached the quarter final of the 1999 Women’s foot- ball World Cup and the 2004 Olympic Games.
Before Samuel Peter clinched the World Heavyweight title (2007), Nigeria produced three world champions (Hogan “Kid” Bassey, featherweight, 1957-1959): Dick Tiger, (middleweight, (1962 – 1963) and Bash Ali (cruiser weight, 1987).
The Nigeria Boxing Federation (NBF) usually features prominently in most of the international and open championships. In the Olympic games, Nigeria have prominent boxers and many others who have done the country proud in the game of boxing. These are Nojim Maiyegun (Tokyo 1964), Isaac Ikhouria (Munich 1972), Peter Konyegwachie (Los Angeles 1984), David Izonritei and Richard Igbineghu (Barcelona 1992) and Duncan Dokiwari (Atlanta 1996) Also, as early as 1976, some Nigerian Boxers such as Davidson Andeh, Christopher Ossai and Monday Addis, won most of their fights during the National team’s tour of the defunct German Democratic Republic and the Scandinavian countries.
Nigeria’s athletes have also won Olympic medals in long jump, 4 X 400m relay and several other track and field events. Nigerian athletics have been constantly in the international spotlight, with dozens of Nigerians becoming professional athletes in Europe and America.
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) runs majority of the athletic competitions in the country. Primary and secondary school sports are, however, organized by the Ministries of Education in each state. There is a National School Sports Federation which organizes competitions at which the Hussey Shield is vied for by boys, and the Lady Manuwa Cup by girls. This is in addition to other Athletic championships sponsored by Mobil, Nestle Milo etc. The country has done exploits in track and field, particularly in the Sprints and Relays.
In the area of sports for the physically challenged, Nigeria has made her mark at both continental and Olympic levels. Several medals have been won by Nigerian athletes in the various sports, particularly, power lift events.
NIGERIA AND THE INTERNATIONAL SPORTS ORGANISATIONS
At the apex of the international organizations is the International Olympic Committee under whose umbrella the individual International Sports Federation come together once in four years to celebrate the Olympic Games. The IOC also tries to keep the Olympic flame burning in the years between the games with its Olympic Solidarity Programmes. Affiliated to the IOC are the National Olympic Committees which are responsible for presenting teams for the Olympic Games. The National Olympic Committees have the additional responsibility of preparing teams for the Commonwealth Games and the All-Africa Games where relevant. The International Sports Federations, which are said to be over 100, manage their sports at the Olympic Games subject to the approval of the IOC.
However, the International Sports Federations which belong to the General Assembly of International Sports Federation (GAIF) with headquarters in Monte Carlo are independent and wield considerable power over their sports throughout the world. The International Sports Federations set the rules for the worldwide organization and officiating of their sport at the amateur level and, to some considerable degree, at the professional level. World bodies like the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) and the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) have considerable financial and political muscle and their rules trans- verse amateur and professional realms. Nigeria, at the National level, has over 25 associated sports which are affiliated to the International Federations and the relevant continental bodies.
Military sports is another field which is doing well internationally and Nigeria already belongs to regional (Africa) and sub-regional (West Africa) military sports bodies. Other organizations like the World Health Organisation and the UNICEF have a fringe interest in sports although United Nations agencies are looking to UNESCO as “the major co- coordinating agency for matters relating to sports at inter-governmental level.” Major commercial companies like Coca-Cola which are sponsoring big sports events and large sports equipment manufacturing companies are also having increasing impact on the direction and organization of inter- national sport. How has Nigeria fared in international and regional sports bodies? Nigeria has over 25 sports associations affiliated to African and International Federations but at the end of 1987, only one association (badminton) had a continental president. It was only in the first quarter of 1989 that a Nigerian became the president of the African Table Tennis Federation; a sport the country had dominated for over a decade on the continent. It was also in 1988 that Nigeria got the presidency of the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa after the post was elevated to ministerial level with the exit of Mr. Abraham Ordia in 1983. Nigeria also got the presidency of the West African Football Union in the same year.
Once a popular traditional recreational activity, swimming is today a sport for which communities like the Ijaws, Itsekiris, Abohs and Urhobos and other riverine areas in the country are renowned. The sport is officially conducted under the control of the Nigeria Swimming Federation. The country is blessed with lots of talents and has been able to develop these through the construction of standard swimming pools across the country and through the sponsorship of competitions by government and individuals.
Wrestling as a sport has been practised by Nigerians all the time. It is organized during special occasions, notably the new yam festivals, anniversaries of ancient wars or commemoration of local heroes. Towns and villages or sections of the same town compete with one another in wrestling contests. No trophies or prizes are given to winners. The honour of being a champion is the reward. Good wrestlers are usually held in high esteem in their communities. There are good Nigerian wrestlers especially who are acclaimed world title holders like Power Uti. The Nigeria Boxing Federation is in charge of the sport nationwide.
This game is played in all parts of the country and has gained popularity since world class players like Nduka Odizor emerged. There are tennis courts in almost every city in the country and many more are being constructed. Several championships in the country attract a good number of international tennis stars from many African countries, the United Kingdom, Russia, Italy and the United States of America. Besides, the Nigerian Lawn Tennis Association has featured in a number of international open championships.
The Country’s performances in many other sports are quite encouraging. In team sports like Hockey, Basketball, Handball and Volleyball the Country’s teams have been victorious in many international competitions. Cricket, cycling and Judo are other sports which are gaining popularity in the country. Badminton and Squash Racket are the most recent sports where Nigerians have performed creditably in the last few years.