Sport  

A wake-up call for Nigerian sports

PHOTO: GUSTAVO ANDRADE / AFP

PHOTO: GUSTAVO ANDRADE / AFP

The Federation Cup, in its previous iterations, has always had pride of place in Nigerian football. It was not until 1972 that organised league football began in Nigeria, and by that time the Challenge Cup (as it was known) had already been in existence for 27 years.

It is therefore sad to see how appalling this historic competition has become. This year’s final between Nassarawa United and FC Ifeanyi Ubah will take place amidst controversy surrounding their paths to the final, especially so in the case of the latter.

Indeed, it is only in the past week that FC Ifeanyi Ubah’s participation was ratified. Their semi-final victory over Crown FC in Kaduna was marred by crowd trouble as a result of perceived refereeing bias against the Ogbomosho side, who had what appeared to be a legitimate goal ruled out.

In isolation, refereeing errors are fairly commonplace. However, placed side-by-side with some of the allegations that have trailed the club’s benefactor, as well as the perception in many quarters that he is tight with the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), there is enough to give pause. There is, as is said, no smoke without fire.

FC Ifeanyi Ubah may well go ahead to win the competition, and this is not necessarily to say it would be an injustice. What it does say though is that the NFF owes it to itself, as well as the Nigerian footballing community, to keep its affairs above board. So long as mystery surrounds the Federation Cup – games are played nationwide, a logistical challenge worsened by a sense of administrative nonchalance – there will always be suspicions of underhand dealings.

What the NFF can do is what has served the Nigerian Premier League (NPFL) so well: put Federation Cup games on TV. This may not be feasible all the way through, but can be done from the quarterfinals through to the final. Else, the credibility of Nigeria’s oldest cup competition will continue to erode.

From the highs of Rio!
It was heart-breaking to read Funke Oshinaike’s Facebook post this week bemoaning the absence of the Nigerian contingent at the ITTF African Championships in Morocco.

Apparently, the female team was walked over, as she was the only one present in Agadir. The rest of the contingent was unable to travel due to a lack of funds.

Nigeria is Africa’s highest-ranked nation in Table Tennis and, Olympic football bronze aside, Aruna Quadri’s admirable run in the summer was one of the few highlights of a miserable Olympics outing for Team Nigeria in Rio. This makes the inability of the Sports Ministry to intervene all the more puzzling.

While there can be no denying that, in terms of appeal and followership, all other sports come a distant second to football, the Ministry of Sports has a duty to ensure that adequate funding and attention is given to other sports.

Oshinaike, for all her years of service to the nation, surely deserved better than to be stood up in that fashion, and it should serve as a wake-up call. Do we have a Ministry of Sports, or a Ministry of Football?

Rangers Ready?
So, the carnival mood of Enugu Rangers’ seventh title win, after 32 years of hurt and longing, has come and gone. Winning the biggest prize in Nigeria’s football league is a momentous achievement for coach Imama Amapakabo, who only a year ago was still seen as a placeholder.

However, staying at the top is a lot more tasking than getting there. The question of whether Rangers can push on is a knotty one, and their recent decision-making does not inspire a great deal of confidence.

While they have now sorted out the matter of Amapakabo’s contract, it was surprising they let the season end without moving to renew the man’s contractual agreement. This left them in a weak negotiating position, and opened the door to all kinds of speculation.

It may seem trivial now, but considering the poor recent record of Nigerian clubs on the continent, and Rangers’ own relative inexperience, this sort of indecision could be the difference between success and failure. This is exactly the opposite of the meticulous, leave-nothing-to-chance attitude that helped Enyimba win the CAF Champions League back-to-back in the mid-2000’s. Rangers would do well to clean up their act.

RIP to the Brazilian coach Nigeria never had
Carlos Alberto Torres, who has died at the age of 72, will be remembered as the captain of Brazil’s brilliant 1970 World Cup-winning side and the scorer of the tournament’s defining goal in their 4-1 defeat of Italy in the final. ‘The Captain’ died after a heart attack in his native country. But our local media completely ignored his African venture with Nigeria in the mid-90’s.

Following Clemens Westerhof’s departure as Nigeria’s manager in 1994, Shaibu Amodu, one of the most successful coaches on the domestic scene was named caretaker manager and was promised he would be given full charge of the team.

Unconvinced about Amodu’s ability to guide the team to success, officials approached Ivica Osim but the Bosnian rejected Nigeria’s offer forcing the NFA to quickly turn to Carlos Alberto Torres.

After a visit to the NFA offices in Lagos, the Brazilian’s disgust with the abysmal organisation of football in the country prompted him to have a rethink and he abandoned the ship. He travelled back to Brazil and NEVER returned.

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