By Emmanuel Omolah
2018 has been a year Nigeria made appreciable progress in some sport events especially on the global stage while results from other sports activities fell short of expectations. In other words, it has been a year of mixed blessings for Nigeria in sports. It’s been a period during which the country puts up outstanding performance in various global sports meet while confronted at home with serious challenges particularly in the area of sports administration. In football, regarded as the most popular sport in the land, Lobi Stars of Makurdi were crowned champions of the 2017/18 Nigeria Professional League season under impromptu circumstances after a meeting between the League Management Company (LMC) and Football Club Owners Association of Nigeria held in Abuja. The Nigerian Professional Football League season was put on hold because of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals in Russia in which Nigeria participated and the League could not resume after the tournament due to leadership crisis that was rocking the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF. Lobi stars were leading on the league table, having garnered 43 points from 24 matches with 14 more games to go, and had to be crowned champions of necessity. The League Management Company LMC had to register the Makurdi-based club as Nigeria’s flag bearer in the Confederation of African Football CAF Champions League in order to meet the October 15, 2018 deadline of the African continental soccer governing body. On their own part, Enugu Rangers secured the ticket to represent Nigeria in the CAF Confederation Cup. Rangers were champions of the Aiteo Cup (formerly known as the Challenge or FA Cup). Turning to the men national football team, the Super Eagles could not replicate their second round performance at the FIFA 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil after they were dusted in the group stage of Russia 2018. No thanks to the painful 2-1 loss to Argentina in a tension-soaked match in group D. The Super Eagles had earlier lost by 2-0 to the world cup runners up Croatia in their world cup opener before redeeming themselves with a 2-0 victory over Iceland. Ahmed Musa scored the two goals for Nigeria. The three times African champions, just like their qualification for the 2018 world cup, clinched a ticket to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations AFCON with a game to spare in the group qualifying series. The qualification sent Nigerian soccer faithful into wild jubilation because the country failed to qualify for the last two editions of AFCON after winning the 2013 tournament in South Africa. The Super Eagles are going into 2019 as the 4th best team in Africa and 44th in FIFA ranking. For the first time, Nigeria’s Bobsled and Skeleton teams featured in the Winter Olympics at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea. The trio of Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga finished in the 20th position in the women’s category and that was regarded as splendid outing for them as first timers. They achieved their goal in raising awareness of African participation in future winter Olympics. Team Nigeria took part in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia and finished 9th on the medals chart with 24 medals (9 gold, 9 silver and 6 bronze medals). However, the team could not improve on its 2014 performance in Glasgow, Scotland wherein it won 11 gold, 11 silver, 14 bronze medals. At the Australian Commonwealth Games, powerlifting fetched Team Nigeria 4 gold, 2 silver. Athletics – 3 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze. Wrestling – 3 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze. At the African Youth Games in Algiers, Algeria in July, 2018, Team Nigeria bagged 105 medals from 19 events. 29 gold, 33 silver, 43 bronze medals. Nigeria’s strength as a powerhouse in weightlifting, again manifested, producing 18 medals, 12 gold, 5 silver, 1 bronze of the total medal haul at the youth games. In basketball, Nigeria’s women basketball team D’ Tigress set a record as the first African side to win more than one game in a single world cup tournament and also cruised into the quarter finals of the Federation of International Basketball Associations (FIBA) World Cup. They finished 8th in the final classification and became equals of their American and European counterparts. The Nigerian women recorded three victories in a row, beating Turkey, Argentina and Greece before succumbing to the dunking power of USA in the quarter finals much to the satisfaction of Nigerian basketball fans and the entire African Continent. Nigeria’s Evelyn Akhator was shortlisted as one of the best Rebounder in the FIBA championship. In the men’s category, Nigeria’s team – D’ Tigers also became the first to qualify for the FIBA 2019 world cup in China after demolishing the Central African Republic 114-69 points at the qualifying competition in Lagos, Nigeria. They will be joined by Tunisia and Angola on the road to China. D’ Tigers returned to the FIBA World Cup for the first time since 2006, having missed the 2010 and 2014 editions. However, the successes recorded by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams were almost marred by wrangling that has bedeviled the Nigeria Basketball Federation NBBF. The crisis continued unabated as both the factions led by Tijani Umar and Musa Kida refused to give peace a chance and the international governing body FIBA is yet to take any decisive action on the case. Nigeria’s Amputee Football team took part in the Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico during the year under review after three failed attempts in the past due to financial constraints. Nigerian youth featured in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina but their performance fell too far below expectations. They placed 48th on the medals table. Nigeria won just 1 gold and 3 silver medals. Rosemary Chukwuma and Alabama Akintola bagged the gold and silver medals in girls and boys 100 metres races. Oritsemeyiwa Ineh leapt a distance of 16.34 metres to clinch silver in triple jump for boys and Adijat Gbadamosi won silver in boxing 51 kilogrammes class. Asaba 2018: The 21st edition of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) senior championship dubbed Asaba 2018 was hosted in Asaba, Delta State. Team Nigeria finished 3rd on the overall medals table with 9 Gold, 5 silver, 5 bronze behind winners Kenya and the second placed South Africa. Nigeria failed to qualify for the Under-21 Volleyball world championship billed for Tunisia in 2019 after the qualifiers in Abuja. Egypt and Tunisia picked up the African slots. For the first time in several decades, the Nigeria Volleyball league competition was revived. Nigerian Customs emerged champion in both the men and women categories. Nigeria’s Super Falcons maintained their dominance of African women football in 2018. The Falcons retained the African Women Cup of Nations trophy after beating South Africa 4-3 on penalties in the final game decided at the Accra Sports stadium, Ghana. Nigeria has won 9 out of the 11 editions of the biennial tournament (1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2018). Equatorial Guinea prevented what would have been a clean sweep by the Super Falcons by winning on two occasions 2008 and 2012. Nigeria also made exploits in international Badminton. Team Nigeria emerged champion of the 2018 Zambia International Badminton tournament after winning 4 medals comprising 2 Gold and 2 silver. Dorcas Ajoke Adesokan humbled Zambian girl, Ogar Siamupangila in two straight sets in the final of the women’s singles. Dorcas paired with Anu Opeyori in the mixed doubles to upset the Jordanian pair of Bahaedeen Ahmed and Domou Amro. The Nigerian duo of Godwin Olofua and Anu Opeyori was not all that lucky as it went down against their Azerbaijan opponent in the final. The last major sports event in Nigeria in 2018 was the National Sports Festival. After waiting for six years, the 19th National Sports Festival was finally revamped in Abuja. Delta State dominated the games with astonishing results. The Delta State contingent won 163 gold medals, 88 silver, 101 bronze medals to emerge overall champions. The National Sports Festival, designed to promote national unity and discover new talents could not be organized since the 2012 edition hosted by Lagos State. It took the intervention of the Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung to put life back into the National Sports Festival. Edo State is the host of the twentieth edition in 2020. There were sad moments for the Nigerian football family in the year 2018, following the death of one of Nigeria’s most successful women internationals, ex-flamingos assistant coach, Ajuma Otache. During her career, she played for Nigeria at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece and also won the women Africa Cup of Nations the same year in South Africa. She had played for the Super Falcons at the 2003 All Africa Games in Abuja. In February, 2018, the Nigerian football family also lost Kano Pillars utility player, Chinedu Udoji who was killed in an auto crash in Kano, Nigeria. As we transit into 2019, hopes will be high that Nigeria should do better in the New Year than all that had been recorded in 2018.