2021 was an interesting year for sports in Nigeria. During the year, sports lovers had reasons to cheer just as they were times the tears flowed freely.
From football to athletics, January to December, there were moments that redefined a sporting year punctuated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Channels Television highlights some of the low and high moments of sports in Nigeria in the outgone year.
Iheanacho Wins Big
In March, Kelechi Iheanacho’s brilliant form saw him become the fourth Nigerian to win the Premier League Player of the Month award.
Peter Odemwingie, Austine Okocha, and Odion Ighalo were the others to have won the prize before the former Manchester City star’s feat.
The 24-year-old Leicester City forward was in devastating form for Brendan Rogers’ side in the period under review, scoring five goals in three league outings.
In total, he netted seven goals for the Foxes in all competitions in March 2021.
Months after Iheanacho’s record in England, Nigeria had a major upset at the Olympics after star athlete Blessing Okagbare and ten others were disqualified from the Games.
The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the body managing all integrity issues in sports, said the Nigerian medal hopeful at the Tokyo Games was suspended after testing positive for Human Growth Hormone hours before she was billed to take part in the semi-finals of the 100m race.
Before Okagbare’s suspension, the body had taken similar action on ten other athletes, citing non-compliance to out-of-competition drug testing requirements.
In September, the Nigerian lost an appeal to overturn the AIU decision and is reportedly serving a four-year ban.
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) had in the wake of the suspensions expressed shock at the decision but took responsibility for the lapses.
Something To Cheer
Despite the setbacks, Nigeria managed two medals at the competition – bronze and silver from Ese Brume and Blessing Oborududu respectively.
Paralympians Shine In Tokyo
Although the Olympians performed below expectations, Nigerian had a fairly good outing at the Paralympics.
At the end of the 2020 Paralympic Games in early September, the country raked in ten medals – four gold, a silver, and five bronze medals.
Nigeria, making its eighth appearance, had gone to the competition with 22 athletes.
Wild Beasts Clip Eagles’ Wings
In football, and what many believe was one of the lowest moments in Nigerian sports in recent times, the Central African Republic stunned the Super Eagles 0-1 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier in Lagos.
The lowly-rated Wild Beasts needed a 90th-minute goal to silence the home crowd at the Teslim Balogun Stadium on October 7. But the Nigerian team avenged the loss in the reverse fixture a few days later, beating their opponents 2-0 in their adopted Cameroonian ground.
Pinnick Lands FIFA Job
Earlier in the year, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, became a member of the FIFA Executive Council. Pinnick was elected during the 43rd CAF Ordinary General Assembly in the Moroccan capital of Rabat in March.
He defeated Malawi’s Walter Nyamilandu to become the third Nigerian to be elected into the FIFA Council. Late Etubom Orok and Amos Adamu were former members of the council.
Osimhen’s AFCON Wrangling
While Pinnick may have gotten his foot into the FIFA Council and a new CAF president elected in the year, the squabbles over Europe-based players’ availability for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) made headlines for weeks.
In Nigeria, star striker, Victor Osimhen, was the subject of debate. The Napoli forward had earlier been ruled out of the competition following a head injury. But about a month later, the player indicated his availability for the competition, a move which saw him included in Nigeria’s 28-man team for the Cameroon party.
But the Italian club were not happy with the former U-17 World Cup winner’s decision, and had in multiple reports, frowned at the move. A few days after the list emerged, the Naples side said the player had contracted COVID-19 and would follow the recommended protocols.
The development forced the NFF to remove Osimhen from the team heading to the competition. Reports indicated that the player had also asked to be left out due to health reasons.
He was also not the only player replaced in the team. According to the football body, three others including Watford’s in-form striker, Dennis Emmanuel, were replaced.
Rohr Bows Out, Peseiro Steps In
Players’ availability for the 2021 AFCON was not the only major issue ahead of Nigeria’s participation in the competition. With less than two months until the AFCON, the NFF sacked long-time coach, Gernot Rohr, as the Super Eagles manager.
Pinnick told Channels Television the decision was taken to avoid a “disaster” as he claimed that the German had lost the dressing room.
In his place, a former international and one-time coach, Austine Eguavoen, was mandated to take charge of the three-time African champions on an interim basis.
Although weeks after the move, Nigeria appointed Portuguese, Jose Peseiro, as the new head coach, the NFF said the former Real Madrid assistant coach will be on observer mission at the biennial football showpiece.
A Historic Feat
Away from football, Nigerian sports had one of its proudest moments in 2021 when the senior women’s basketball team, the D’Tigress, won a historic third Afrobasket championship in a row.
They defeated Mali 70-59 in Yaounde, Cameroon, adding to their previous wins in 2017 and 2019.
But the team’s stellar showing was marred by wranglings over payment of bonuses. The girls had protested over unpaid wages and allowances weeks after winning the competition.
South Africa Stun Nigeria
As the D’Tigresses continue to dominate the continent, the Super Falcons’ superiority in Africa appears to be fading fast. South Africa stunned the Nigerian girls to win the maiden Aisha Buhari Cup in September.
Bayana Bayana defeated the defending African champions 4-2 at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Onikan, Lagos State to emerge champions of the six-nation invitational championship.
Usyk Ends Joshua’s Reign
A few days after South Africa’s win, Anthony also Joshua lost his heavyweight belt to Oleksandr Usyk in front of the Londoner’s home crowd.
Usyk triumphed with a unanimous points decision, hampering dreams of a ‘Battle of Britain’ unification bout with fellow world title-holder Tyson Fury.
The Ukrainian won 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113 on the scorecards of the three judges in just the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion’s third bout as a heavyweight.
Adesanya’s Suffers First Career Loss
Like Joshua, Israel Adesanya equally lost to Jan Blachowicz. It was Adesanya’s first professional loss
Judges scored the fight 49-46, 49-45, and 49-45 in the Pole’s favour to retain his world light heavyweight title at UFC 259 in Las Vegas in March.
The 31-year-old middleweight titleholder was aiming to become the fifth double-weight world champion in UFC history.
Kamaru Retains Title
And just a little over a month ago, Nigeria’s Kamaru Usman defeated Colby Covington by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-7, 49-46) to retain the UFC welterweight championship.
November’s fight – was held at UFC 268 at the Madison Square Garden in New York, US – was Kamaru’s second-time victory over Covington.
Before the recent win, the Nigerian beat Covington in the first fight with a fifth-round knockout but admitted that his opponent had gotten better after the first loss.