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What are the sports of the future in Nigeria?

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Nigeria’s Aruna Quadri serves to a teammate during a table tennis training session at the Riocentro complex in Rio de Janeiro on August 4, 2016, ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. / AFP PHOTO / JUAN MABROMATA

Nigeria is a sport-crazed country that has shown dedication in several sports, including football, basketball, boxing and athletics. However, no sport made a significant impact last year, including soccer. Of course, that affected the fortunes of a couple of sports that rely on the good feeling created by the Super Eagles success. Unfortunately, when football gets into a stormy road like last year, the result also affects other sports.

In Nigeria, football is ultimately the all-time favourite for many punters and local citizens, making it the undoubted king. However, domestic leagues remained on life-support for the better part of 2019 in terms of funding domestic competitions. Even worse, television support left the game lurching in its shenanigans, with misappropriation allegations and scandals taking a toll in the industry. As a result, the domestic league went without a major sponsor for two seasons. 

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As we enter a new decade, the music might start changing in 2020. Nigerians are developing new interests, and there are promises of support from different stakeholders. At the international scene, the crisis affecting Nigeria’s football crippled meaningful sport development programs, rendering the NFF very unattractive to prospective team sponsors. Serious issues also affected the country’s basketball and athletics scene, leaving the federations in charge of the two sports close to football in terms of fan followership. 

While several Nigerian players have managed to secure a spot in 5 of the best football clubs in Europe, their sports scene may witness an overhaul in the coming decade. That’s because many fans, sponsors, and governments are starting to diversify in other sports. Additionally, sites like Betway are continually influencing the popularity of other sports by including them in their betting offering. For instance, Betway punters can wager on wrestling, table tennis and horse racing, to mention a few.

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In 2019, wrestling had a great year under the management of Olympic gold medalist Daniel Igali. The sport is still doing great and achieving results, even with minimal support from fans and governments (state and federal). Igali’s passion, personal funding, and commitment have been supporting the sport and the future looks bright for the sport. That means wrestling might be among Nigeria’s best sports in a few years with enough support from the government and sponsors.

Table tennis is also another promising sport in the Nigerian gaming scene, even though the game has existed in the country for decades. However, the game has been largely ignored for years, though it’s still ripping the benefits from the strong foundation laid in the early 70s by adapting China as Nigeria’s base of tennis. 

Thanks to the several generations of Chinese coaches that have been supporting the game at the grassroots level, the sport has managed to rise to its current status today. Last year, Nigeria’s table tennis players maintained high ranking on the global scene, proving that football isn’t the only game the country is good at. In 2019, Nigeria’s Tajudeen Agunbiade claimed gold in the ITFF table tennis championships, ending the competition in the 16th position.

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