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Big challenge for Nigeria’s male athletes in Birmingham

By Gowon Akpodonor
28 July 2022   |   2:56 am
In today’s sports, Nigeria’s male team seem to have taken the back seat, allowing the women to dominate the stage. From football to athletics, male competitors are no longer the force they used to be in major sporting events.

[FILE] Nigerian athlete (right) is among the quartet of men’s Team Nigeria that finished sixth at the Oregon 2022 World Athletics Championship in USA.

In today’s sports, Nigeria’s male team seem to have taken the back seat, allowing the women to dominate the stage. From football to athletics, male competitors are no longer the force they used to be in major sporting events.

This year, Nigerian women have made major headlines by bringing more honours to the country than their male counterparts.

Before the just concluded Oregon 2022 World Athletics Championships, where Nigeria made history by picking her first ever gold medal, the ladies had been the ahead in sports, leaving the male as ‘mere spectators.’

The gap seems to be widening on daily basis.
• Sprint hurdler, Tobi Amusan, set World Record and won gold medal at Oregon 2022, the first Nigerian to do so.
• Ese Brume grabbed a silver medal at Oregon 2022 to set a record as the only Nigerian athlete (male or female) to win two medals at the World Championship.
• Nigerian women’s 4×100 relay team set an African record at Oregon 2022, after the men crashed out in the heat event.
• The Super Falcons qualified for 2023 World Cup, while the Super Eagles fumbled in the race to Qatar 2022.
• The Falconets (U20) qualified for the World Cup holding in Costa Rica.
• The Flamingoes (U17) qualified for the World Cup in India.
• Asisat Oshoala won African Best player award for the fifth time. No Nigerian male player among the top list at the CAF Award held in Morocco last week.
• Rasheedat Ajibade was named joint top scorer at WAFCON.
• Mimisen Iyorhe Onwuka officiated at the WAFCON final in Morocco.
• Mimisen Iyorhe Onwuka is the only Nigerian referee selected for the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup.
• Ndidi Madu officiated at the WAFCON in Morocco, becoming the first Nigerian referee (male or female) to use the VAR.

In football, Nigeria’s senior men’s national now finds it difficult to beat some countries seen as minnows in the round leather game. Unlike in the past, when some countries developed cold feet at the mention of the Super Eagles, the situation has changed, no thanks to poor administration and ‘sit-tight’ attitude of top officials of the NFF.

Even at continental tournaments, Nigeria’s male clubs have become easy prey to their opponents from Sudan, Egypt, South Africa and Morocco.

How did Enyimba succeed in the CAF Champions League in the early 2000?
Till date, many athletics-loving Nigerians still remember the historic moment at Sydney 2000 Olympics, where Nigeria grabbed a silver medal in the 4×400 metres through the efforts of Clement Chukwu, Jude Monye, Sunday Bada and Enefiok Udo-Obong. The silver has since been upgraded to gold.

In Nigeria, the women are largely seen as the ‘weaker sex,’ but the situation seems to have changed as far as sporting events are concerned. Nigeria’s men are now the ones playing second fiddle to women athletes and players. Men hardly climb the podium at international events to receive medals.

But for Tobi Amusan’s record-breaking effort last Sunday at Oregon 2022, Nigeria’s national anthem would not have been heard in the history of the World Athletics Championship.

Perhaps, the best effort by Nigeria’s men in the championship was in Athens, Greece, in 1997, where the 4x100m team comprising Osmond Ezinwa, Davidson Ezinwa, Francis Obiekwelu and Olapade Adenikan ran 37.94m to win a medal (not gold) with an African record.

Two years later, the 37. 91seconds of Asonze Innocent, Francis Obikwelu, Davidson Ezinwa and Deji Aliu at Seville, Spain (1999) also gave Nigeria a podium mention (not gold).

Before then, Innocent Egbunike ran 31.97 seconds in 400m to retire his own African record in 1986 in London (not gold).
Before Sunday’s historic moment by Tobi Amusan, other Nigerian women had dominated the World Championships, though their efforts could not fetch Nigeria gold.

The feats of Mary Onyali in 100m and 200 metres, Falilat Ogukoya in 400m, Chioma Ajunwa, Olabisi Afolabi, Fatima Yusuf and Charity Opara, among others cannot be wished away.

Former Spokesman of the Nigeria Olympics Committee (NOC), Tony Nezianya, who is now the Managing Director/CEC, PhilTon Communications Ltd, said Nigerian women have always been great.

“They are regularly doing the country proud. Their efforts can never be in vain. I tuwale for our Women.” The Technical Director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Samuel Onikeku, in his response to a message from The Guardian said: “I am sure our men will take up the challenge very soon. We now have some young and talented athletes, who are capable of taking Nigerian athletics to its good old days. Watch out for them at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.”