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Highs And Lows Of Nigerian Sports In 2023 – thewill news media

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December 24, (THEWILL) – The year 2023 was an eventful one for Nigerian sports, filled with inspiring highs and disappointing lows across various sporting disciplines. From football to athletics, boxing to basketball, Nigerian athletes experienced both triumph and heartbreak on the global stage.
As always, football garnered a lot of attention and headlines. The year kicked off with rising star Victor Osimhen continuing his goal-scoring heroics for Italian giants Napoli, outshining even the great George Weah and iconic Samuel Eto’o Fils in the number of goals scored in a single Serie A season by an African. His prolific partnership with Georgian striker Khvicha Kvaratskhelia powered Napoli to their first Scudetto in over 30 years.
However, Nigeria’s World Cup absence after failing to qualify for Qatar last year remained a sore point for fans. In 2023, the Super Eagles continued to struggle under manager Jose Peseiro, with uninspiring draws against minnows like Sierra Leone and Ethiopia. A leadership change was part of an ongoing debate throughout the year, with the Nigeria Football Federation urged to turn to local coaches like Finidi George in the event of Peseiro’s exit.
In September, however, Peseiro’s contract was extended after he agreed to a significant wage reduction. The NFF struggled financially due to the high salary initially agreed upon. The renewal involved a nearly 30 percent pay cut, aligning his earnings with previous coaches. Peseiro had already secured Nigeria’s spot in the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations and he was tasked with reaching the tournament’s semi-finals. He introduced new players for the international matches that followed, including Gift Orban, Victor Boniface, and Jordan Torunarigha. Additionally, he was given charge of coaching the CHAN team, composed of domestic league players competing in the CAF Africa Nations Championship.
The domestic league also faced issues in 2024, with the Nigeria Professional Football League suffering from mismanagement, an unstable calendar, and poor infrastructure. A mid-season takeover brought hope of a revival through corporate investments from the likes of tech company Propel Sportz Digital. In the previous season, Enyimba emerged league champions after nine years, beating Rivers United in a dramatic penalty shootout in the abridged season’s final. The People’s Elephant has seen a decline in fortunes since they were knocked out of the continent’s biggest tournament, the CAF Champions League and the inaugural African Football League. They could not withstand the firepower of Moroccan giants, Wydad Casablanca.
In athletics, Nigeria endured similar high highs and low lows. Sprinter Favour Ofili enjoyed a breakout year, claiming sprint doubles at both the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. The athlete emerged the Female Athlete of the championship at the 2019 African U18 event after winning the 200 and 400m with new personal bests in both. In February this year, she demonstrated her remarkable talent at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March 2023.
In the women’s 60m event, Ofili qualified for the final with a new Personal Best of 7.14s. However, it was in the 200m race where she truly excelled, storming to a blistering time of 22.11s in the heats. This performance not only secured her victory but also set multiple records, establishing her as the 4th fastest woman ever in the indoor 200m category. Her achievement included a new Personal Best, School Record, NCAA Lead, Championship Record, and the fastest time globally for the year 2023.
Hurdler and former World Record holder Amusan, who made history as Nigeria’s first track and field world record holder in 2022, retained her Diamond League title in 2023. Following issues regarding her whereabouts and a violation of WADA’s Athletic Integrity Unit, which impacted her performance in Budapest, Nigeria’s 100-metre hurdle standout made an impressive comeback in Eugene, Oregon.
Despite losing her World title crown in Budapest, Amusan bounced back strongly, securing victory in Oregon with a remarkable time of 12.33 seconds, marking her season’s best. Dominating the Diamond League event, she clinched gold consecutively, surpassing all her competitors. As the Diamond League in Oregon marks the final event of the year, Amusan aims to build on this success when the event resumes in 2024.
However, the sport’s reputation took a hit when Divine Oduduru received a 4-year ban for doping violations. The case was linked to that of disgraced Beijing Olympics medalist Blessing Okagbare, who remains sanctioned after a marathon 11-year suspension for numerous breaches. More positives came from discus thrower Chioma Onyekwere and shot putter Chuk Enekwechi, who both etched their names in the record books.
Also, the Commonwealth Games Federation stripped Nigeria of its gold medal in the women’s 4×100 metres event won at the Birmingham 2022 due to one of its runners, Grace Nwokocha, failing a doping test for ostarine and ligandrol. As a result, the victory of the outstanding quartet of Tobi Amusan, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma, and Nwokocha was invalidated, and England, Jamaica, and Australia were awarded upgraded medals. Nwokocha faced immediate suspension, and her case was sent to the Athletics Integrity Unit for further action.
A new wave of Nigerian boxers like Ridwan “Scorpion” Oyekola seized their chance for glory. The young pugilist notched a first round knockout in a boxing show tagged, ‘Okinawa Mayhem’ in January against Manat Sopatip of Thailand. His rise coincided with veteran Olanrewaju Durodola’s challenge for the vacant WBC Cruiserweight title, as Nigerian boxing entered a rebuilding phase even if he eventually lost to Ryan “The Bruiser” Rozicki. More established names like Anthony “Showtime” Joshua lost titles but remained determined to fight on.
Elsewhere, the Nigerian women’s national basketball team recovered from a disappointing absence at the FIBA Women’s World Cup 2022 to create history. The D’Tigress won their fourth straight FIBA Women’s AfroBasket title, led by MVP Amy Okonkwo. Her dominant double-double performances demonstrated Nigeria’s enduring pedigree in African basketball. Newly appointed coach Rena Wakama etched her name in the record books too as the first female tactician to claim the AfroBasket.
The year also exposed flaws in Nigerian sports governance. Athletics and football federations were engulfed in unnecessary leadership tussles and factional infighting instead of promoting athletes’ interests. Meanwhile, ageing former sports heroes continued to suffer from financial neglect and inadequate welfare provisions.
Disturbing events like the gun attack on lower league club Sunshine Stars highlighted security issues. Criticism also persisted around decrepit national stadium facilities like the Moshood Abiola complex falling back into disrepair shortly after costly renovations.
However, on a positive note, corporate sponsorships steadily increased, indicating a growing commercial appeal and viability of Nigerian sports. Partners like Sterling Bank aided Bendel Insurance’s fairytale promotion to the elite division and their remarkable title challenge. Initiatives like the privately funded Naija Super 8 Football Tournament also attracted sizable investments and sponsorship deals from the likes of GTI Group. Such collaborations provide templates for future progress.
In September, MTN Nigeria solidified its position as the exclusive telecommunications partner for streaming NPFL games on mobile devices. Partnering with Propel Sports Africa, this collaboration was entered to broadcast eight live games weekly, totaling over 300 games per season. The deal includes real-time highlights delivered to MTN subscribers through the NPFL Live OTT platform. With commitments from MTN and accolades from various stakeholders, this partnership is meant to transform the NPFL’s reception and elevate football viewing experiences for fans nationwide.
In December, the NPFL set its sights on reintroducing Friday night matches, citing specific sections of the NPFL Framework and Rules for justification. Davidson Owumi, the Chief Operating Officer, highlighted the intent to schedule fixtures on Friday nights in conjunction with CAF Club Licensing procedures. This move follows the league’s recent expansion onto various streaming platforms, aiming to engage a broader audience. Clubs have been instructed to ensure their facilities, especially floodlighting, are in optimal condition.
The NPFL plans to coordinate with selected clubs to confirm readiness for these Friday night fixtures, with Owumi emphasising the aim to boost the league’s value chain and create opportunities for local businesses. This follows the N1 billion five-year broadcast rights deal signed with StarTimes as official broadcast partner of the domestic league.
The year wrapped up very well with the CAF Awards. Nigeria’s remarkable dominance at the 2023 events in Marrakech, Morocco, was a clear picture of their football quality as Osimhen claimed the African Footballer of the Year title for Nigeria for the first time since 1999, while Asisat Oshoala continued her streak winning the Women’s Footballer of the Year for the sixth time. Additionally, Chiamaka Nnadozie, the Super Falcons goalkeeper, secured the Women’s Goalkeeper of the Year award with the Super Falcons taking Team of the Year in the women’s category, reinforcing Nigeria’s strength in both men’s and women’s slates.
As 2024 dawns, Nigerian sports ambitions remain sky-high. New NFF President Ibrahim Gusau eyes improved governance, competitive national teams and talent development through better grassroots and youth structures. With Paris 2024 on the horizon, the Olympics also beckons as a redemption shot for Nigerian athletics after below-par displays in Tokyo and Rio.
For household names like Osimhen, D’Tigress and the IAAF World Champion Amusan, the expectations are to consolidate their dominance on both club and country. Younger talents like Favour Ofili are also set for breakthrough campaigns to become the next generation of Nigerian sporting icons.
If adequate investments are sustained and enabling environments created for athletes, 2024 promises a platform for Nigerian sports to foster national unity, spur development, and project positive perceptions of the country globally. The raw potential abounds – it now must be harnessed judiciously.
Jude Obafemi is a versatile senior Correspondent at THEWILL Newspapers, excelling in sourcing, researching, and delivering sports news stories for both print and digital publications.
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