Nigerian University Games 2022 … A postscript
After a number of challenges that threatened to spoil the party, the 26th edition of the bi-annual Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA) Games, hosted by the University of Lagos (UNILAG), has come and gone. And the hosts are still basking in the euphoria of hosting games being referred to as, perhaps, the best in history.
From a very few sports in the maiden edition held at the University of Ibadan (U.I) in 1966 with the five universities in attendance, the games have grown to a 16-sport tourney with over 80 universities (private and public, federal and state-owned schools) jostling for honours.
Aside from athletics, badminton, basketball, chess, cricket, football, handball, hockey, judo, scrabble, squash, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis and volleyball, this year’s edition saw the introduction of some exhibition sports like weightlifting, water sports and canoe rowing.
The aim of NUGA games was to help in discovering young talents across the universities as future athletes for the country. Indeed, the games have produced noteworthy athletes over the years that had gone on to represent the country at various international competitions like the Commonwealth and Olympic games. Some of the notable athletes include Seyi Olofinjana (football), Vincent Enyeama (football), Bisi Afolabi (athletics), Olumide Oyedeji (basketball), Chika Chukwumerije (taekwondo) and Olusoji Fasuba (athletics), among others. and in recent times, not one single athlete has climbed to the national or international limelight.
However, stakeholders insist that with better support and funding, the university games would yield more talents than the abysmally low number it has produced so far over years. They claim that NUGA is a microcosm of the overall sports industry in Nigeria, which has over time suffered poor leadership and poor funding.
UNILAG’s Promises, Expectations
Not a stranger to most of the problems and setbacks the games have always experienced, UNILAG’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, promised to breathe a new life into it. A sports lover, Ogundipe’s vision ahead of this year’s games was to leave a legacy in the field of sports as well as a sports academy in the institution that would be a hub for talent, education and development.
This made the host institution invest heavily in the renovation and restoration of facilities as well as logistics. It upgraded most of its facilities to international standards and built new ones. The VC also assured that the new facilities would be maintained and used to generate funds for the university because the university was looking beyond the games. “UNILAG is looking forward to hosting the WAUG as well as other regional sporting competitions in the near future,” Ogundipe said.
IN the months leading to the competition, Ogundipe declared that UNILAG was hosting to win and were ready to dethrone the defending champions, the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT). To encourage athletes to represent the institution, their allowances were paid ahead. Promising to upstage UNIPORT, Executive Secretary of the just-concluded games and associate professor of sports administration and management, Dr. Joseph Awoyinfa, noted that they had understudied UNIPORT and would dethrone them. Eventually, however, UNIPORT came out tops in the end.
Speaking in the aftermath, UNILAG athletes chaperone, Prof Bola Dixon-Ogbechie commended the athletes, saying that in spite of the finishing second on the log, the athletes worked hard, performed well and have learnt from the experience and will do better in 2024.
“We will start preparing from now ahead of the next games and would love to encourage all including corporate bodies to support sports by giving our students scholarships to encourage them..”
Suggesting ways the institution could have fared better, the sports secretary, Faculty of Science, UNILAG, Iyiegbuniwe Ifunaya, a 500-level student in the Department of Marine Science, admitted that they could have been more strategic, taking a cue from UNIPORT, which excelled in individual events compared to team events.
UNILAG’s NUESA sports secretary, Oseni Adeola opined that UNILAG should design a programme to ensure every student in the school is into one sport or the other going into the next games as it would ensure better results.
Another student, who pleaded anonymity, said he was surprised that students went on to represent the school, as the school didn’t reward athletes well. “UNIPORT has one of the best sporting and schooling programmes in the country. So, it’s no wonder their athletes keep winning everything. They give their athletes sports scholarships and other incentives and encourage them to participate in sports. Here, training times were clashing with our lecture time and instead of the school working out an arrangement for us, they looked away. When students noticed they were lagging behind in their studies, they had to drop sports and focus on their primary responsibility.
UNIPORT’s Unending Domination
UNILAG once again fell short of glory, as UNIPORT won the games with a total of 120 medals to the host institution’s 86 medals. It was the seventh consecutive time UNIPORT was winning the games. They have also won the last five editions of WAUG.
Explaining the reason for its dominance, one of the athletes who gave her name simply as Gold said the school and coaches encourage and enforce the highest discipline in them. “Also, there is room for studies and sports; both are well managed. When we go for classes in the morning, we must attend training in the evening daily; we take it very seriously and train in and out of season.”
Despite their excellent showing at university games nationally, regionally and within the continent, most of the athletes have struggled to replicate the feat at national and international competitions. Gold explained that this is beyond their control. “Yes, we have not won medals for the country and we would be happy to represent Nigeria at international competitions but there is a lot of corruption involved at the bigger stages and the country doesn’t encourage her athletes to put in their best. Nigeria doesn’t take care of her athletes and it’s no wonder that when most of us leave here, that is usually the end of professional sports.”
Games’ Great Moments
The games shone a light on newcomers, Nile University, who came third with a total of 38 medals, finishing ahead of other established universities. Nile shocked the hosts at the basketball final, coming from behind to claim gold. They are definitely a team to watch come 2024.
Also, for the first time ever, the games saw two athletes celebrating a marriage proposal, which Ogundipe described as a major highlight of the games. “Two Abubakar Balewa University students got engaged right here and I’ve accepted to be the father of the day when they get married. Their first child should be called AdeNUGA after the games,” he quipped.
Ogundipe also revealed that local and foreign scouts were present during the games and have selected outstanding athletes who will be going to China and London later this year to represent their schools and the country respectively. Stressing that future Olympians were at the games, Ogundipe said it would be fully revealed at the next Olympics.
Stella Anyaleke said NUGA helped get her back into form as she was sidelined for a year due to a broken arm. Anyaleke returned and raced to a gold medal in the 110m women’s hurdles. The 400-level Human Kinetics student from UNILAG said NUGA made her return to training where she was able to win her medal. Most athletes who spoke to The Guardian said they enjoyed the experience basically and wished it were longer.
The games also saw Gracious Ushie named the best athlete in athletics and would look to exceed expectations at the next World University Games. All eyes would also be on Abasiono Akpan who emerged as the most outstanding female athlete after she won four gold medals (800m, 4x400m, 4x400m mixed and 400m hurdles) and a silver (100m hurdles). Mercy Honesty is also another athlete to watch as she won three medals in Long Jump, Triple jump and the 4x100m women’s race. In 2011, she represented UNIPORT in WAUG.
UNN’s Kingsley Oryia, who won three gold medals in the men’s 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m and also won the Enugu marathon race last year, is another athlete that shone at the games and would do the nation proud at the national and international events if well nurtured.
It wasn’t all sports though as the games village was open all day and night to fun-seekers. The nights were also dominated by shows headlined by established and emerging artistes who thrilled the students, athletes and visitors and were given a platform to showcase their talents to thousands of attendees.
One of the most recurring complaints from athletes was poor accommodation and feeding. Victoria Edidi, a 500-level student from UNIBEN who competed in taekwondo, said the accommodation could be better. “Some athletes have complained that their areas of residence are very dirty but my major problem is with the food. I did not have a good experience so far with food and amala has been the only manageable thing for me.”
Abayomi Animashaun, a 400-level student of Human Kinetics from Ekiti State University, won three medals for his school. He stressed that athletes’ welfare must be improved upon in the next competition. “The hostels were dirty most of the time and not very conducive for us. Things like this affect morale and performance. Also, feeding has been a major issue for most of us and we would like this to be adequately taken care of in the next games.”
Others complained that the games were packed, leaving little time for rest and relaxation, which affected many athletes as they succumbed to fatigue and injuries.
The tartan track was also not laid till the end of the games and it remains to be seen if they would still be laid as Prof. Ogundipe promised before the games started.
UNIJOS As Next Host
IN spite of all these, UNILAG must be applauded for hosting a very successful tournament and passing the torch to the University of Jos (UNIJOS) who will host the games next in 2024. UNIJOS said the bar has been raised for subsequent tournaments but they remain undaunted as they are going to exceed expectations. “Our state government is solidly behind us. Thank you for the trust, we won’t betray it and will do everything possible to continue the excellence from where UNILAG stopped. You’ll see more excellence in UNIJOS come 2024.”