Japan 2020: Team Nigeria’s Shambolic display a lesson to learn or a sign of terrible things to come
Team Nigeria’s Shambolic Display in Japan: A Learning Experience or Bad Portent
When the Nigerian team walked out in mismatched sportswear during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympics, many were not surprised and some even predicted such. After all, something similar happened in Rio 2016. The ensuing drama that followed took a lot of people by surprise. First, there was the ongoing drama amongst administrators of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) over the Puma sponsorship deal. In 2019, the AFN signed a $2.7 million contract with the German sports brand to produce kits for each athlete. This should have ensured all of the athletes would have more than one pair, but there were some members of the committee who rejected the deal, citing fraud.
In addition to the uniform issue, there was also the disappointment of 10 athletes being disqualified from the games. Their disqualification was due to the athletes’ failure to meet the minimum testing requirements of the Athletics Integrity Unit. The lack of testing is cited as another piece of the incompetence of the administrators and not a mark against the athletes. Despite the protest of those 10 athletes and the acceptance of blame by the Vice President of Nigeria’s athletics body, Fidelis Gadzama, five years of preparation went down the drain.
While most of the sports betting sites in Africa didn’t give much of a chance to Nigeria’s medal hopes, the team managed to leave the Olympic Games with two medals to its name. A Bronze for women’s long jump thanks to Ese Brume, and a Silver earned by freestyle wrestler Blessing Oborududu who fell just short of gold in her final match. Nigeria has not taken home a gold since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney and it appears they lack the necessary leaders and structure to change that. Unless things start to take a turn in the positive direction, the failures in Tokyo might just be a taste of things to come. All hope is not lost as Nigeria boasts a population of around 200 million people and is one of the biggest economies on the continent of Africa. There are certainly opportunities to have better showings in International sports. Here are some possible solutions on how things can be improved.
Lack of Preparation & Negligence
Before the drama of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo this summer, the Nigerian team had already developed the wrong type of reputation from the previous games in Rio in 2016. The Olympics men’s football team, who secured the country’s only medal (bronze) at Rio, were left stranded in the United States where the team was camped in preparation for the Olympics. It took the intervention of former Chelsea midfielder, Mikel Obi and an anonymous benefactor to secure a flight to Rio, a few hours before their opening match against Japan.
Mikel Obi initially denied donating a large sum of money to help in the team’s preparation and welfare, but later admitted whilst pointing out the failures of the sports administrators in Nigeria. Some athletes who represented Nigeria in Rio had to source funds publicly to travel to Brazil, while others were left stranded. When asked why the country’s athletes were in such a dilemma and difficulty, Nigeria’s Minister of Sports at the time offered the rhetoric that no one forced the athletes to represent the country.
Who can forget the opening ceremony drama back in Rio 2016, as the official outfits for team Nigeria failed to arrive in Brazil on schedule. The country’s athletes were left walking around the Olympics stadium in mismatched tracksuits. Another typical example of poor preparation on the part of the administrators. While other countries begin preparations for the next Olympic Games after the previous one, Nigeria is notorious for the fire-brigade approach of waiting till the last minute before preparing for the competition. The country’s trials took place too close to the tournament, which leaves some of the athletes way too fatigued and unprepared to have any hope of an impact.
The majority of the athletes who put on the green-white-green of Nigeria at the Olympics are either based outside of the country or are privately funded. Unless the proper infrastructure is put in place in Nigeria itself, the country has no chance of improving its performance at future Olympic competitions. This is all incredibly disheartening when considering how blessed Nigeria is with an abundance of talented and driven people. All one needs to do is look to the talents of Bam Adebayo, Chindu Utah, and Akinradewo Foluke who won medals representing other countries in Tokyo.
Politics & Sports Don’t Mix Well
There’s always an element of politics involved in sports, after all, one needs a certain number of votes to be voted FIFA President or President of the International Olympics Committee (IOC). Politics seem to be taking over the Nigerian sports scene at this point. It seems one must be politically connected before receiving an appointment or a job in any of the sports federations in Nigeria.
A famous Nigerian politician once advised the country’s leaders to separate sports and politics. Just as can be seen with the most successful countries and federations like the US, Great Britain, France, and Germany whose plethora of medals in the just concluded tournament is evidence of the absence of political influence. They cited the performances of the country or local sports teams in major competitions as down to the interest of the leaders in sports. That advice has fallen on deaf ears. The Puma kit drama at the Olympics is a result of internal politics in both the sports ministry and the AFN, and the athletes came off worse from the needless bureaucratic infighting. A faction of the AFN accused the administrators who agreed to the Puma deal of fraud. Despite those officials being cleared of any wrongdoings, high-ranking members of the Nigerian sports ministry still opted against using the hundreds of kits provided by Puma. Instead, they opted to spend state funds to secure kits for the athletes, which in turn led to the lack of sufficient apparel for those athletes.
The Puma deal also had incentives for athletes, as the German sports brand pledged to offer cash rewards of $15,000, $5,000, and $3,000 for Gold, Silver, and Bronze finishes respectively. However, after the debacle of failing to see their branded kits on the Nigeria Olympic team, Puma was forced to cancel the deal, leaving athletes high-and-dry and without a chance of earning such cash rewards.
Another habit of the administrators in the country is promising to offer cash and lucrative rewards to athletes should they achieve a certain goal rather than providing an environment where those athletes can successfully prepare for the games. Because let’s face it, if you offer me $100,000 to cut down a tree and you ensure I’ve no option of sharpening my ax, I’m never going to successfully cut down the tree. Cash rewards are good, but until the Nigerian administrators and government start to provide its athletes with the necessary tools to compete, not only will shambolic outings like Tokyo continue, a host of these athletes are bound to search for better opportunities with other countries.
A Glimmer of Hope
The Nigerian Men’s Basketball team might have exited the Olympics in Tokyo with three losses to Australia, Germany, and Italy with a bottom finish. However, they offered hope of what the country can achieve with effective planning. The Nigerian Men’s Basketball team is sponsored and funded by private individuals. Eight of the team’s players ply their trade in the NBA and the team has a partnership with the Golden State Warriors. The D’Tigers, as they are known, ignited excitement in Nigeria after their shocking victory over the United States and Argentina in their pre-tournament games. The team, led by Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown, failed to make it to the quarterfinals but showed a glimpse of the great things that can be achieved should this level of preparation be maintained.
Their female counterparts qualified for their second Olympic Games in Tokyo, and despite losing all three group-stage games, the future of the team looks bright. Players like Erica Ogunmike, Elizabeth Balogun, and Kunaiyi Akpannah are all under the age of 24. The possible future additions of Arike Ogunbowale and Chiney Ogunmike should have the makings of a team that can do well in 2024 in Paris.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for team Nigeria. Enoch Adegoke, 21 years old sprinter, qualified for the finals of the men’s 100m. A hamstring injury meant he couldn’t finish the race, but the potential is there. Nigeria can also look to the likes of Usheoritse Itsekiri, who just narrowly missed a chance to qualify for the 100m due to injury, and Divine Oduduru, who also barely missed the men’s 200m final, as the bright future for Nigeria’s hopes in Paris.
Tobi Amusan exceeded expectations by qualifying for the women’s 100m hurdles final and finishing in fourth place. Amusan’s outstanding display in Tokyo provided a bright spot for the women’s track team whose star athlete, Blessing Okagbare, was disqualified after she tested positive for Human Growth Hormone.
There’s a popular saying in Nigeria “Naija no dey carry last” meaning Nigerians don’t finish last, maybe it’s time for the country’s leaders and administrators to start targeting the first-place finish rather than hoping they don’t finish off as the worst of the worst.
Blais scores twice, Canada beats Germany 5-2 to win gold at men’s hockey worlds
TAMPERE, Finland — Sammy Blais scored twice as Canada beat Germany 5-2 to capture gold at the men’s world hockey championship today.
Lawson Crouse, captain Tyler Toffoli and Scott Laughton also scored, and Peyton Krebs pitched in two assists for Canada.
“It feels really good,” Blais said. “We’ve been in Europe for a month and we’ve all waited for that moment to play for the gold-medal game. And we’re lucky enough to have won it.”
JJ Peterka and Daniel Fischbuch scored for Germany, which was in the gold-medal game for the first time since 1992 when the playoff format was introduced at the world championship. Moritz Seider added two assists.
Goaltender Samuel Montembeault made 21 saves for Canada, while German netminder Mathias Niederberger turned away 23 shots.
Canada won gold for the second time in three years after losing to Finland in overtime in last year’s world championship gold-medal game. It’s Canada’s 28th title at the event, the most of any country. Canada also has 16 silver and eight bronze medals from the tourney since 1931.
“I could not be more proud of this group. We battled through a lot of adversity and doubt to get to this point, and this win is so special,” Toffoli said. “We have such a close-knit team that came together quickly, and we always believed in each other.
“Everyone bought in and we played a great game today, and I am incredibly happy to be going back to Canada with a gold medal.”
Peterka opened the scoring for Germany at 7:44 of the first period with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle off a breakout that beat Montembeault.
Blais responded three minutes later, scoring in his third consecutive game after finishing off a pass from centre Peyton Krebs on a two-on-one to tie the game at 1-1.
Fischbuch gave Germany the lead again on a one-timer from the slot that trickled into the net 13:47 into the second period.
Canada replied with Crouse deflecting a pass from Krebs on the power play with 2:32 remaining in the second frame.
Blais then buried his second of the game 4:51 into the third period with a backhand off a rebound to put Canada ahead.
Toffoli added an insurance marker with eight minutes left, scoring with a wrist shot on a two-on-one to make it 4-2 in favour of Canada.
Laughton scored into an empty net with two minutes left to put the game out of reach.
“The commitment of everyone on our team was unbelievable. We knew we had to come here and play for each other and commit to a team game. We came here to represent Canada and make our country proud, and I am so blessed to be a part of this group,” said head coach André Tourigny.
“Our players wanted to win so bad. They wanted to bring a gold medal back to Canada, and when you have that mindset you can accomplish great things, and we did that tonight.”
Following the gold-medal game, MacKenzie Weegar was named best defenceman of the tournament and was selected to the media all-star team. Crouse, Montembeault and Weegar were also named Team Canada’s three best players of the tournament following the semifinals.
LATVIA 4 UNITED STATES 3 (OT)
Defenceman Kristian Rubins scored his second goal 1:22 into overtime to lead Latvia to victory over the United States and earn a bronze medal earlier Sunday.
It’s the first top-three finish for Latvia at the tournament. Its previous best was a seventh place it managed three times.
The U.S. lost in the bronze-medal game for the second straight year. The U.S. team was cruising through the tournament with eight straight wins until it was defeated by Germany in the semifinal, 4-3 in overtime.
Rubins rallied Latvia with his first with 5:39 to go in the final period to tie the game at -33 to force overtime.
Roberts Bukarts and Janis Jaks also scored for Latvia.
Rocco Grimaldi scored twice for the U.S. in the opening period to negate Latvia’s 1-0 and 2-1 leads.
Matt Coronato had put the U.S. 3-2 ahead 6:19 into the final period.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2023.
Stars stay alive with 4-2 road victory over Golden Knights
Dallas Stars celebrate after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference finals Saturday, May 27, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
By Mark Anderson in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS (AP) — With Dallas’ season on the line, the Stars got two critical goals from a player who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the Western Conference final.
Ty Dellandrea’s goals came within a 1:27 span midway through the third period, and the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup final to face the Florida Panthers.
“He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 27 saves. “He deserves every opportunity he gets, and there’s no one happier for him than the guys in this room.
“It shows how special you are when you get taken out. He didn’t make it about him. He needed the opportunity to step up, and that’s what he did.”
The Stars escaped elimination for the second straight game and head to Dallas for Game 6 on Monday night down 3-2. Dallas is attempting to become the fifth team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.
And look who’s back for the Stars? Captain Jamie Benn returns after a two-game suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in Game 3. That was the only game in this series that was decided early, and until Saturday the Stars hadn’t even had a multigoal lead.
“I know our group, and we weren’t happy about being in the hole we were in, and they decided to do something about it,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now we’re rolling.”
The only problem for DeBoer was waiting two days to play Game 6.
“Drop the puck,” he said.
DeBoer said before the game if his team won, the pressure would shift to the Knights. Now it’s up to them to respond after twice being a period away from playing in the Stanley Cup final and letting both opportunities slip away.
“I don’t think we brought our best the last two games,” Stone said. “We were still in a good spot to win the game. We’ve got to bring a little bit better effort and start playing a little more desperate.”
Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said “it’s a very good question” why his team didn’t play with more desperation, but he also wasn’t thrilled with the Knights’ execution.
“We had 24 giveaways,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways. That’s no disrespect to Arizona, but it’s not the right way to play.”
Dellandrea found the right way to play and put together the first multigoal playoff game of his career. Jason Robertson and Luke Glendening also scored, and Thomas Harley had two assists.
Chandler Stephenson and Ivan Barbashev scored for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had two assists to extend his points streak to four games. Adin Hill made 30 saves.
Dellandrea scored from the right circle to put Dallas ahead, the puck deflecting off Vegas defenceman Alex Pietrangelo with 9:25 left for a 3-2 lead. Then, Dellandrea scored from the slot with 7:58 remaining.
Dellandrea said the older players kept him motivated when he was temporarily sidelined.
“There’s no denying it’s hard,” he said. “I’m thankful for a good group of character guys, and you’ve just got to stay ready.”
The teams traded goals in the first two periods.
Jack Eichel battled two Stars players for the puck in Vegas’ offensive zone, and then Barbashev swooped in and made a fantastic move to glide past Oettinger and score with 6:24 left in the first period. The Stars wasted little time in answering when Glendening scored on a deflection less than two minutes later.
Dallas was robbed of what looked like a sure goal when Hill snagged a point-blank shot from Roope Hintz, who then threw his back in disbelief.
Like in the first period, the Knights had a goal in the second quickly answered by one from the Stars. Stephenson scored from the left circle at 16:40 of the period, and Robertson knocked his own rebounds 2:09 later to make it 2-2. Stephenson tied the Knights’ record with his eight playoff goal this year, and Robertson had his fifth of the series.
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