The drama of Nigeria's football team at the recently concluded FIFA World Cup is one for the history books. Well, maybe a Nollywood film at least. The Nigerian team, for all it's chances managed to repeatedly come up short and the disappointment drove Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan to announce a ban on all football teams. That ban soon led to a showdown between Jonathan and FIFA in a testy match where FIFA flexed its muscles and the Nigerian President soon reversed himself.
And in the weeks since that incident, Nigeria's female athletes have proven that they can restore the dashed hopes of a nation desperately seeking athletic success. Nigeria's female footballers represented the country at the FIFA U-20 Women World Cup in Germany and earned a silver medal having beaten the defending champion, USA and Colombia. At the 17th African Athletics Championships in Kenya, seven of the eight gold medals won by the Nigerian team were also won by female athletes. That performance was quickly followed by gold medals from Nigerian athletes at the 2010 Youth Olympics Games in Singapore. Specifically, Josephine Omaka & Nkiruka Florence Nwakwe won gold in 100 and 200 meters races. Additionally, Bukola Abogunloko won a bronze medal in the 400 meters race and Rachael Ekoshoria won a bronze in weightlifting.
It is indeed wonderful to see Nigeria's female athletes doing well and undoubtedly, there are male athletes that are equally succeeding in their sports. But, the fact remains that Nigeria is still far away from the days when it was a strong and consistent competitor on the international sporting scale. To get back on track and indeed exceed previous successes, Nigeria will have to put money into sports and not just football. If, however, the federal government chooses to not provide the financing that is needed to improve sports, then it should create incentives to encourage private enterprise to step into the financing gap. This route could create complications and conflicts of interest, particularly for athletes that may eventually represent the country. Nevertheless, it is a means to getting much needed monies into the domestic sporting industry. Failure to do so will mean more athletes abandoning the country for other nations with better funded sporting programs.
Whether the federal government will pony up and give athletes the financial support they need is yet to be seen. What is certain is that Nigerian sports need money, equipment and incentives to give athletes a chance at not only doing well, but giving the country the joy and pride it desperately seeks.
* Photo credit - 234next.com
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