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Nigerian Sports Awards: A reward for excellence

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Having conquered Egypt’s Mohamed El-Beiali 4-0 in the semifinal, Aruna Quadri showed his class to beat Omar Assar 4-3 in the men’s singles final to the admiration of the fans at the venue.

One of the more curious things about Nigeria, a nation with a line of its anthem that reads thus: “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain”, is that the practice of acknowledging and rewarding merit is not ingrained very deeply in our culture. The reasons for this vary – ethnic and tribal considerations, the inordinate influence of money, you get the idea – but that is the uncomfortable reality we wrestle with.

As such, when there is a conscious effort to transcend these and promote those who have actually proven themselves deserving, we must sit up and take notice. That precisely is the story of the Nigerian Sports Awards, an award ceremony which set out in 2012 to fill this vacuum for the very first time.

It has gradually risen to a position of relevance and legitimacy, and that is thanks to its neutrality with respect to outside influences. With no large bloc bankrolling, the Awards have been able to side-step controversy, or any suspicion of coercion, to remain largely untainted.

On its panel are seasoned names in the field of sports journalism and administration, the likes of which include Basketball great Olumide Oyedeji, highly-respected Dr. Kweku Tandoh, the legendary quarter-miler Falilat Ogunkoya, AIPS-Africa president; Mitchell Obi and broadcast icon Fabio Olanipekun, and that’s only naming a few. By putting their names to this award, these eminent Nigerians have ensured that the quality remains high and that merit remains the primary criterion in every category.

Also admirable is the fact they have resisted the temptation to be all about football. While the spectre of the nation’s most popular sport – by a mile, I might add – is impossible to escape altogether, the organisers have managed to give attention and recognition to other sports as well. As such, a category has been created for football (men and women), separate from another for “Ball Sports”, and there are even categories dedicated specifically to wrestling and special sports, both disciplines in which Nigeria has traditionally done well.

Journalists as well who have distinguished themselves across various platforms get to see their efforts crowned with awards, as do coaches.

Administrators are not left out, with awards going both to heads of sporting associations as well as state governments that have displayed a keen interest in advancing sports development. So often given to tooting their own horn, these categories of awards now provides something tangible by which their efforts can be evaluated.

This year’s awards saw table tennis sensation Aruna Quadri named sportsman of the year, and there can’t have been any complaints at all, as this column chronicled his rise a couple of weeks ago: in 2017, the 29-year-old became the first African ever to win an ITTF title outside of the continent at the Polish Open. 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Odunayo Adekuroye won the award for Sportswoman of the Year, as well as Wrestler of the Year, following a stellar year that saw her claim a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the World Wrestling Championships in France this year.

Unsurprisingly, Enitan Oshodi and Daniel Igali, head honchos at the table tennis and wrestling federations respectively, shared the accolade for Administrator of the Year.

For the athletes who work tirelessly away from the limelight in order to represent Nigeria, the appreciation from back home goes a long way. It might not be a monetary reward necessarily but, as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts. In a nation with Nigeria’s population, standing out in your chosen field is not to be sniffed at, and sometimes all it takes is to know you have support back of you to take you to the next level.

So, hearty kudos to ‘Unmissable Incentives Limited’, a Sports Media Agency offering Direct Marketing/Sport Marketing, who set out five years ago to acknowledge and reward excellence, and who have created a credible brand worthy of approbation. It presents a challenge to all, as well as an opportunity to partner with a worthy cause.

While they may not necessarily need to go cap in hand, these things do require substantial funds to pull off, and investment from the private sector in particular would go a long way toward helping them maintain healthy neutrality, while preserving the integrity of the award.


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