Criticism trails list of 60 Nigerian sports icons

The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development’s list of 60 sports icons in celebration of Nigeria’s 60th Independence on Friday has generated a lot of criticisms from the sports sector.

The 60-man list was released on Friday at a ceremony attended by the sports minister, Sunday Dare, at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.

But prominent stakeholders insist that certain names shouldn’t have been on the list, while those that should have made the list were excluded.

Notable names missing on the list are the late Shuiabu Amodu, former Super Eagles coach, who qualified the national teams for the 2002 and 2010 World Cups; Mikel Obi, ex-Eagles captain and one of the country’s most decorated footballers; Ruth Ogbeifo-Balofin, weightlifting Olympics silver medallist and the first African and Commonwealth lifter to win a medal at the global sports showpiece; Kadiri Ikhana, a 1980 AFCON winner who led Enyimba to win Nigeria’s first CAF Champions League title in 2003, amongst others.

Ace sports journalist, Godwin Enakhena, said the idea was laudable, but was not properly implemented.

He also questioned the inclusion of businessmen Aliko Dangote and Kesington Adebutu, while late Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, sponsor of the Asoju Oba Table Tennis Cup, which has been held for over 50 years, was excluded.

“The minister should be commended for thinking about a brilliant idea like this, but unfortunately, a very good idea has been rubbished by not capturing the true heroes of Nigerian sports.

Enakhena said, “Yes, some of them are on the list but you cannot have 60 icons and the first man to win a medal for Nigeria – Emmanuel Ifeajuna – was not captured, you can’t have a list where Okoya-Thomas is not captured.

“You can’t have a duplication where you have Garba Lawal, Daniel Amokachi and the rest standing on their own and you also list them in the team that won the Olympics football gold.

“I think it was well-thought out, but the implementation was wrong. A list like this shouldn’t be thrown open for the public to vote. The ministry should have made the list of 200 athletes across board for people to vote from the list, not that people will just vote randomly.

“The list did not do justice to what it should be. There are a lot of minuses. You’ll ask yourself, what is Dangote doing on that list, or Kensington Adebutu? This is a list of icons for 60 years, not what they did yesterday. So, it doesn’t capture it at all.”

Enakhena wondered why Israel Adesanya, who represents New Zealand as a UFC fighter featured on the list while there wasn’t a place for Hakeem Olajuwon who is regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time or boxer Anthony Joshua.

Olympian and former hurdler Moses Oyiki also buttressed Enakhena’s view, saying the selection process should have been left in the hands of professionals.

“This type of exercise ought to be done by a committee or panel, not by popular votes or nominations. Such committee or panel would have requested for input from members of the public especially stakeholders. This oversight wouldn’t have happened,” Oyiki, who competed in the 110m hurdles at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, wrote on WhatsApp platform Family United By Sports

Sports journalist, Effiong Nyong, also faulted the list.

“With great respect to all those listed, I have not stopped to wonder about the criteria used to arrive at those chosen. I’m sure that sports history was not part of it. Generational performance was also not in the minds of the people, I can say that they should have allowed the ever sleeping dog to remain in its abode,” he stated on FUBS.

“Nigeria’s sports history tells us of a UK Tourist Team of 1949, the Hall of Famers chose (only) one of them,” he added.

According to Nyong, others who deserved to be in the list include long-serving ex-CAF secretary-general, Oyo Orok Oyo; Tony Eke, ex-YSFON boss, who helped discover players for the Golden Eaglets that won the inaugural U-17 World Cup in China in 1985, and Abraham Ordia, a former Secretary of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa.

“They (also) left out the Nigerian Football Supporters Club founded in 1952 by late pioneer sports commentator Ishola Folorunsho and co, a club that got FIFA and CAF’s attention. In 1998, FIFA president urged the world to emulate the Nigerian Football Supporters Club.”

Ogbeifo-Balofin still can’t believe she was left out of the list despite being the country’s best performing weightlifter.

“As the first African and Commonwealth woman to have won an Olympic silver medal in weightlifting for Nigeria, I was unrecognised. This is unbelievable. Recognition is being recycled in Nigeria and not on sports merit,” she also added on FUBS.

Former Nigeria 100m record holder, Seun Ogunkoya, questioned the criteria used in arriving at the list.

“This list has shown that sports in the country has become politics and not based on achievements,” Ogunkoya said.

“I am still yet to get over how I was excluded from the list. I was Nigeria’s 100m record holder for close to 10 years, I ran sub 10s more than many other athlete in Nigeria. If they were using Olympics to judge, I was at the Olympics, I was also at the World Championships and the World Cup, so I don’t know how they could exclude me from the list. “

Another issue that drew controversy on the list of sporting icons, was the inclusion of athletes who had been banned for drug-related offences in the past.

“As far as I’m concerned, anybody who has had any issue with drugs shouldn’t be on that list,” former heptathlete Brown Ebewele said.

“For you to be caught using drugs means there was an intention to cheat, so, why should you give an award to a cheat?

“Whether they were banned and unbanned and they came back doesn’t matter. What matters is that they cheated at one time or the other and they were punished, the fact that they came back after they were banned doesn’t mean they should be celebrated.”

Lauretta Onye, the 2016 Paralympic Games gold medallist, who was not on the list, added, “For me, anybody that has been banned before is not qualified to be called an icon because they have disgraced the country.”

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