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2023: A year of successes and failures of Nigerian Sports

For Nigerian sports, 2023 was a rollercoaster marked by both heartwarming peaks and depressing valleys in a variety of sports. In sports ranging from basketball…

For Nigerian sports, 2023 was a rollercoaster marked by both heartwarming peaks and depressing valleys in a variety of sports. In sports ranging from basketball to boxing, football to athletics, Nigerian sportsmen have seen both success and disappointment on the international scene.

Trust Sports takes a cursory look at some of the events which brought happiness as well as heartbreaks to Nigerians.

It was a tough year for football in Nigeria in 2023 with the the Super Eagles struggling in matches against underdogs like Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. There was a lot of talk about a change in in the coaching crew with Nigerians suggesting home-grown coaches like Finidi George if Jose Peseiro is sacked. However, that didn’t happen as Peseiro’s contract got renewed in September after he agreed to take a big pay cut while he was tasked to take the Super Eagles to the semi-finals of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire.

With the Super Falcons not bringing the satisfaction, the Super Falcons during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand performed to the admiration and adulation of Nigerians but were unlucky to have exited the tournament on penalties. The African giants didn’t lose a game throughout the tournament in regulation time.

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I wish all of you a very happy, prosperous and safe New Year

englan’s lauren james stamped on nigeria’s michelle alozie during the fifa women’s world cup round of 16 game
englan’s lauren james stamped on nigeria’s michelle alozie during the fifa women’s world cup round of 16 game

On the local scene, Enyimba emerged as Nigeria Premier Football League champions after nine years, defeating Rivers United in an intense penalty shootout in the final of the abridged season. Unfortunately, Enyimba’s fortunes took a hit after being knocked out of the CAF Champions League and the inaugural African Football League by Moroccan giants, Wydad Casablanca. Nigeria’s other representatives in the CAF Champions League, Remo Stars were eliminated in the first qualifying round of the competition. It is the same fate that befell Bendel Insurance and Rivers United in the Confederations Cup.

Despite these poor performances, Nigerian sports are becoming more and more viable commercially with corporate sponsorships have been rising gradually. Major sponsorship deals and investments were drawn to projects like the privately sponsored Naija Super 8 Football Tournament from companies like GTI Group.

In September, MTN Nigeria partnered with Propel Sports Africa to become the exclusive telecommunications partner for streaming NPFL games on mobile devices while the NPFL board signed a N1 billion five-year broadcast rights deal with StarTimes as the official broadcast partner of the domestic league.

However, the CAF Awards were a fitting end to the year as Victor Osimhen won the African Footballer of the Year title for Nigeria for the first time since 1999, and Asisat Oshoala continued her winning streak by winning the Women’s Footballer of the Year award for the sixth time, demonstrating Nigeria’s impressive dominance at the 2023 events in Marrakech, Morocco. Nigeria’s dominance in both the men’s and women’s slates was further demonstrated by Chiamaka Nnadozie, the Super Falcons goalkeeper who won the Women’s Goalkeeper of the Year title and the Super Falcons named Women’s Team of the Year.

It was no different in athletics with athletes like Favour Ofili having a breakthrough year on the tracks. She won the 200 and 400 metres in the 2019 African U18 competition, setting new personal records in both events, to receive Female Athlete of the Championship. Ofili set a new personal best of 7.14 seconds to qualify for the finals of the women’s 60-meter event. She did, however, really shine in the 200-meter event, clocking a scorching 22.11 seconds in the preliminaries. With her effort, she not only won the indoor 200-meter competition but also broke several records and became the fourth fastest woman in history.

It was however a mixed fortune for hurdler and former world record holder Amusan, who in 2022 became the first person from Nigeria to hold a world record in track and field, won the Diamond League again in 2023. She was impacted by problems with her whereabouts and a violation of WADA’s Athletic Integrity Unit, performed admirably in Eugene, Oregon, after her performance in Budapest.

Amusan had lost her World title crown in Budapest, but she had recovered well, winning in Oregon in an incredible time of 12.33 seconds, which was a season best for her.  She dominated the Diamond League event, winning gold each time and outperforming all of her rivals.

However, Divine Oduduru’s 4-year suspension for doping offences damaged the sport’s image. The case was connected to that of disgraced Olympic medallist Blessing Okagbare, who is still under ban. Shot putter Chuk Enekwechi and discus thrower Chioma Onyekwere both made history with their achievements, which was another plus.

Additionally, Nigeria’s gold medal in the women’s 4×100-meter relay at Birmingham 2022 was revoked by the Commonwealth Games Federation because Grace Nwokocha, one of the runners, tested positive for ligandrol and ostarine. The excellent quartet of Tobi Amusan, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma, and Nwokocha’s triumph was thus ruled invalid. Nwokocha was suspended without warning, and the Athletics Integrity Unit was notified of her case for additional action.

In boxing, Nigerian boxers, such as Ridwan “Scorpion” Oyekola, grabbed their opportunity to become champions. The youthful fighter defeated Manat Sopatip of Thailand via first-round knockout in January during a boxing match known as “Okinawa Mayhem.” Even though he ultimately lost to Ryan ‘The Bruiser’ Rozicki, his ascent paralleled veteran Olanrewaju Durodola’s quest for the vacant WBC Cruiserweight belt, signalling the beginning of a rebuilding phase in Nigerian boxing. Even after losing titles, more well-known fighters like Anthony Joshua ended the year with an impressive victory against Swiss boxer, Otto Wallin.

In basketball, D’Tigress won their fourth consecutive title after a thrilling 84-74 victory over Senegal in the final of the 2023 Afrobasket tournament in Kigali, Rwanda and made history to become only the second team ever after Senegal to win four consecutive titles with coach Rena Wakama becoming the first female coach to win the competition since its inception in 1966.

Nigerian table tennis star, Quadri Aruna, defeated Ahmed Saleh of Egypt 4-0 (11-2, 12-10, 11-6, 11-6) in the men’s singles final in Tunisia in September, successfully defending his ITTF Africa Senior Championships title. Aruna won his third continental title by making short work of the Egyptian. With a thrilling 4–3 victory over Omar Assar of Egypt, he claimed the second title in Algeria.

Nigeria equally made significant strides in cricket in 2023. The Yellow Greens, also won the inaugural West Africa Trophy with a perfect record in Lagos, while the Female Yellow Greens, took first place in the NCF T20i tournament.

As 2024 beckons, Nigerian athletes have the chance to redeem their images during the Paris Olympics after not-so-great performances in Tokyo and Rio while athletes like Osimhen, Oshoala, Amusan are expected to continue dominating both on club and country levels with young talents like Favour Ofili are ready to make their mark and become the next generation of Nigerian sporting icons.

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