After the Abysmal Low of 2016, Expectations High in the New Year

On a general note, 2016 will be remembered as the year when sporting expectations were not matched by Nigeria, reports OLAWALE AJIMOTOKAN in Abuja
The dawn of the year 2017 unfurled with Nigerians highly yearning for positive outbreaks in sports seen as opium the country has a huge knack for.
The aspirations in the New Year can be clearly understood in the context that in the year 2016, Nigerian sports reclined into the reverse gear because of the dysfunctional policy direction of those saddled with the administration of sports in Nigeria.
Though, there were flickers of standout performers, including Aruna Quadri, who reached the quarter final in table tennis at the Olympics, and Kelechi Iheanacho, the young Manchester City forward, who is full of vibes and wiles, generally Nigeria did not sparkle on the horizon dominated by half-baked and self-serving administrators.
It is now so bad that Nigeria will be absent when the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in the middle of this January in Gabon, with the contenders bidding for the coveted trophy of unity plus the precious FIFA ranking points.
In the past, the Africa Cup of Nations used to be seen as Nigeria’s birthright and a seal to rubber stamp Nigeria’s pride as the giant of Africa given the Super Eagles impressive record at the summit. But that is no longer the case as the national team failed to qualify for three of the last four editions in 2012, 2015 and 2017.
So pervasive was the acrimony in Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) that Chris Giwa led a parallel board to the FIFA-recognised leadership of the federation board headed by Amaju Pinnick
As the crisis reached the boiling point there was no need to look into the crystal ball to know that Nigerian football was heading in the wrong direction.
So intense was the feud between Pinnick and Giwa that they spent more days in the court rooms in bid to secure the soul of Nigerian football with the national team paying the ultimate price.
The manifest lack of cohesion in administration infested the national team, when the Super Eagles coach, Sunday Oliseh, fell out with the establishment over sundry matters, making him to jump ship, few days to a crucial Africa Cup of Nations tie against Egypt in Kaduna on March 25, 2016.
Though Nigerian football experienced some outstanding moments in 2016, notably at the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil where it won a bronze medal, the Super Falcons’ Africa Women Cup of Nations record extending exploit in Cameroon, where they won their eighth continental titles in 10 appearances, in addition to the Eagles impressive march to Russia 2018, football still failed to match public expectations.
For instance, the poor financial state of the game assumed an embarrassing dimension that placed posers on the capacity of NFF to muster the required funds without relying on government’s generosity.
NFF struggled to pay the allowances and bonuses of coaches and was queried by FIFA for improper auditing of over $800,000 development fee granted it by the world body.
The Nigerian federation only relied on government bail- out from global outrage when the national team was stranded in Atlanta and only arrived in Brazil on eve of their first match at the Olympic Games in September.
But its dirty linen was washed in the public space, when the Falcons embarked on a street protest over the non-payment of their match bonuses at the African women tournament in Cameroon.
In the heat of the crisis, the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, stoked the fire when he made a rather harsh and insensitive comment that the money was not paid because government did not project that the team would win the championship.
The unyielding resolve of the players in addition to the global attention the protest was attracting, prompted government to clear the pile-up by ordering the Central Bank to indemnify the team when the players matched on the Presidential Palace.
The woes that characterised the outing at the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil where Nigeria only won a bronze medal, underlined the perilous state of sports in the country. The result reflected the lack of planning, underfunding, lack of preparation and the absence of well designed programme as the woes of sports in the country.
And most importantly the setback is a reflection of the leadership deficiency at the very top of the Ministry of Sports. So ill prepared was the Nigerian team in the days before Brazil due to poor funding that federations could not embark on local and international training tours, while athletes were tasked to pay for their flight tickets to Rio because government shirked in its obligation to the contingent.
And the Sports Minister Solomon Dalung lowered the morale of the team, when he justified the shoddy preparation, saying that a foreign training tour was not compulsory for the team to excel in Brazil.
But the outstanding performance of Team Nigeria at the Paralympic Games also in Rio, Brazil in September made up for the glitches at the Olympics and reinforced the old mantra that there is ability in disability. The contingent won 8 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals to place 17th on the medal table.
There heroics lifted Nigeria as the best African team at the multi-sport event for athletes with disability.
Their performance was recognized by the House of Representatives which donated N18million as reward to the team.
Two of the athletes-Paul Kehinde and Josephine Orji-shone out of the pack. Kehinde won two gold medals and twice broke the men’s 65 kg world record in the powerlifting event, while Orji, in the +86kg powerlifting event, grabbed Nigeria’s eighth gold medal when she shattered  the world record with a lift of 154kg.
Instructively, the display of gut, determination and patriotism by the paralympians was in stark contradiction to the pedestrian and dismal show by Nigeria at the Olympic Games, also in Rio in August, where national expectations were not sufficiently matched with podium presence.
Indeed it was a triumph against adversity and a thing of pride to see the athlete, in spite of limited funding and lack of access to modern training facilities.