Akpodonor got it wrong; we recorded major feats in Sports post-1999

 It is shocking that Akpodonor, a senior reporter who has been part and parcel of sports and sports journalism in Nigeria and beyond for over three decades could write that: other major achievements witnessed in the history of the sports sector had come before 1999.

Akpodonor got it wrong; we recorded major feats in Sports post-1999

While reviewing the performances of Muhammadu Buhari Sports Ministers, Solomon Dalung and Sunday Dare, who performed poorly, Gowon Akpodonor, joined all major actors in sports from 1999 to 2023 together and claimed that all noteworthy achievements in sports happened before 1999. Olukayode Thomas reports that the erroneous claim is a figment of the writer’s imagination 

Journalism they say is history in a hurry but reporters in our haste to beat deadlines must also realize that fact-checking is equally important as bogus claims will not only embarrass us and our medium but damage the reputation of others.

An example is the recent article by Gowon Akpodonor: Vanity of rich talents as football declines, team sports wobble without laurels published in The Guardian on May 26, 2023.

It is shocking that Akpodonor, a senior reporter who has been part and parcel of sports and sports journalism in Nigeria and beyond for over three decades could write that: other major achievements witnessed in the history of the sports sector had come before 1999.

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Dalung and Dare may have taken our sports backwards in the last eight years but to say we did not record any major achievements in sports since 1999 is not only false but the assertion rubbishes the feats of a few individuals whose selfless efforts ensured Team Nigeria athletes and officials recorded remarkable success between 1999 and today. Some of the feats recorded even surpassed what we have achieved since Nigeria joined the modern Olympics family at the Helsinki’52 games.

Take a bow Orji Uzor Kalu

Before 1999, one trophy that eluded football clubs in Nigeria was the CAF Champions League trophy.

All our great football clubs from 3SC to Rangers, Stationary Stores, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Leventis United, and others made several attempts to win the trophy but they all failed.

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 At a point, the media and the stakeholders in the football family concluded that we have been jinxed not to win the trophy.

Then came Orji Uzor Kalu the then Governor of Abia State and Kadri Ikhana. With Kalu’s organizational skills and Ikhana’s tactical acumen, Enyimba International of Aba not only broke the 38-year-old jinx in 2003 but also retained the trophy in 2004.

Abuja 2003 All African Games

If Gowon probably forgets that the curse of the CAF Champions League was broken post-1999, he will not be forgiven if he did not remember that one of the biggest and probably the most beautiful sports edifice in Nigeria, the M.K.O Abiola Stadium, Abuja, was built post-1999.

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Though not given desired attention today, M.K. O. Abiola Stadium is still a beauty to behold.  Apart from the main bowl, several training pitches, the velodrome, tennis courts, indoor sports halls, and several other facilities used for the Abuja 2003 All African Games, there is also a world-class Games Village which is today a luxurious housing estate, a resident of choice for thousands in the Federal Capital Territory.

It is also important to mention that Nigeria never won the All African Games until Abuja 2003, even when we hosted in Lagos in 1973, we did not win the African ‘Olympic Games. 


Bio moved against the cabal

Nigeria football has the potential to be one of the best in the world but it has been held down for decades by a cabal that has resisted every attempt to overhaul the sector by the threat of a ban by FIFA, the world governing body of football.

The cabal thought it was still business as usual when in the lead-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa; they went to acquire a roadside hotel for the Super Eagles.

The nation was aghast when it was reported that the Super Eagles will be staying in a roadside hotel.

Like it was tradition with the cabal their spin doctors went to town with all manner of stories about how good the hotel was.

Not satisfied by reports of both sides, the then Minister of Sports Ibrahim Isah Bio decided to visit the hotel in Durban, South Africa.

Bio and the accompanying team were dissatisfied with what they saw; they immediately cancelled the booking and paid a fine of $125,000.

The cabal didn’t see that as a yellow card to stop their culture of impunity rather they carried on believing it will be business as usual.

After collecting a million dollars from FIFA for preparation for the world cup and about a billion Naira from the Federal Government, the cabal hired a faulty plane to fly the Eagles from London to South Africa but the plane could not fly because of some technical issues.

The players called Bio all night and he had to arrange another plane that flew empty from Port Harcourt to London to pick up the players to Durban.

Despite threats of FIFA ban and other forms of subtle blackmails, the heads of NFF were for the first time in the history of Nigeria football detained by EFCC and prosecuted. Leaders of NFF then were also removed. It has never happened in the history of Nigerian football before.

Bolaji Abdullah’s pragmatic leadership

Gowon could not have said Bolaji Abdullah’s pragmatic leadership was before 1999. Though his tenure was short it was filled with achievements. They include but are not limited to the Youth Games, a bi-annual game to discover talents at the grassroots and give them elite athlete training at younger ages as it is the norm in successful sports nations.

Abdullahi also established High-Performance Center, a first in the country, staffed by experts in different sports.

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Under him, we not only won the Africa Nations Cup in South Africa but also won the U-17 World Cup in the United Emirates.

Nigeria’s home-based Super Eagles qualified for the African Nations Championship, CHAN, for the first time and won the bronze medal at the event. Under his brief tenure, Team Nigeria's athletics team was the African champion at the youth, junior, and senior levels.

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Athletes ruling the world today like Tobi Amusan and Ese Brume were discovered under Abdullahi. He also revived our league by establishing the League Management Company (LMC) and signed a broadcast rights agreement with Super Sports worth 4 million USD.

Team Nigeria's male basketball team, D’Tigers, qualified to represent Nigeria at the Olympic Games for the first time in 2012 thanks to Abdullahi’s support for the team.


Individual and team achievements

Gowon with his assertion is not also fair to some of our athletes who made landmark achievements that surpass that of their predecessors.

They include our women's basketball team qualifying for the Olympic Games for the first time in Athens 2004 Olympics, while our men also qualified first time in London 2012.

At the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare won the silver medal in the long jump and silver in 200m becoming the first to win the double at the world championship.

In 2014, Okagbare won the Commonwealth sprints double beating one of the greatest athletics stars of that era Veronica Campbell.

In 2015, the former fleet-footed queen of athletics now serving 11 years for using performance-enhancing drugs entered the Guinness World Book of Records for the most appearances in the Diamond League.

The Nigerian cricket team also for the first time ever, made it to the highest cricket league in Africa – League Five.

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The achievements of Blessing Oborodudu who was recently declared the best wrestler in the world and Odunayo Adekuoroye who became the first-ever African female wrestler to win a medal at the World Wrestling Championship event in Paris in 2017, in France are the stuff of legends.

Samuel Peter nicknamed the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ won the WBC world crown in 2008, not 1998.

One cannot forget the men’s 4 x 400 metres at Sydney 2000 that won the gold medal. Brume recently broke the African record in the long jump.

Few Nigeria football in the pre-1999 has been coveted like Jon Obi Mikel or celebrated like Victor Osimhen

Asisat Oshoala has dominated African women's football in the last decade while Aruna Quadri's achievements in the last decade dwarf the feats of those before him.

Akpodonor contradicted himself.

In the same article, Akpodonor contradicted himself when he wrote, “D’Tigress, Africa’s most successful women’s basketball team of the past two decades, had qualified for the World Cup after defeating France and Mali in Group B of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia.

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But FIBA replaced them with Mali when Dare engineered a needless two-year suspension of Nigeria from international basketball.

He refused to listen to the sterling plea of Nigerians, who wanted the issue resolved amicably. Instead, he towed the path, which many felt was laced with arrogance and ignorance.”

Dalung and Dare no doubt performed poorly but to claim we didn’t record any great achievements post-1999 is false.

Though journalism is history in a hurry like the Pirelli advert power is nothing without control, we reporters should control our pens because of the sociological implications of our stories.

PULL QUOTE: Gowon could not have said Bolaji Abdullah’s pragmatic leadership was before 1999. Though his tenure was short it was filled with achievements.