Nigeria will be making another attempt at qualifying for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as the West African nation battles 33 others in the men and 29 teams in the women at the 2020 World Team Olympic Qualifying tournament holding in Gondomar, Portugal on January 22 to 26.
From the men and women events, 18 teams made up of nine men and nine women teams are expected to pick their slots to compete in the Olympics table tennis event from the tournament.
According to the playing format, the matches will be in knockouts stages with the first stage made up of a knockout of 64. The eight teams, which make it to the quarterfinals will qualify to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. while the quarterfinals, semifinals and final matches will not be played.
The 9th and final qualification place for both Men’s & Women’s Teams will be determined via a 2nd knockout stage between teams losing in the round of 16 of the first stage. The matches are best of five individual matches consisting of a doubles and four singles.
Nigeria is Africa’s only representative at the qualifying event and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has confirmed the men’s team made up of Aruna Quadri, Olajide Omotayo, Segun Toriola, Bode Abiodun and junior sensation, Taiwo Mati.
The women will be represented by Edem Offiong, Olufunke Oshonaike, Fatimo Bello, Ajoke Ojomu and Cecilia Akpan.
The tournament would give Nigeria another chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020 after missing the continental only slot to Egypt at the 2019 African Games in Morocco.
The Multiusos de Gondomar, in Portugal will host the tournament with 9 teams (men and women) qualifying to Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and subsequently be entitled to confirm two athletes to take part in the singles events.
As part of preparation for the first round of the African qualifying race for the Women’s Football Tournament of next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Super Falcons’ Head Coach, Thomas Dennerby has invited 30 players to start a camping programme in Abuja as from Thursday, 8th August.
Nigeria has been drawn to face Algeria in the first round of the qualifying fixtures, with both legs of the fixture to be concluded between 26th August and 3rd September 2019.
The Nigeria Football Federation has announced that the return leg of fixture, which first leg will be in Algeria, will take place at the Agege Stadium, Lagos – one of the venues inspected by a FIFA team on Tuesday as possible host venue of the 10th FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup that Nigeria is bidding to host next year.
All invited players are expected to arrive at the Abuja camp on Thursday, 8th August 2019.
Goalkeepers: Jonathan Alaba (Bayelsa Queens); Christy Ohiaeriaku (Delta Queens); Tochukwu Oluehi (Rivers Angels); Chiamaka Nnadozie (Rivers Angels)
Defending champions Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will seek to tighten their grip on this year’s Formula One world championship with a fifth triumph in five years at the Russian Grand Prix.
No other team has tasted a ‘vodka-laced’ victory since the event began at the former winter Olympic Games venue in 2014, Hamilton winning then and in 2015, Nico Rosberg in 2016 and Valtteri Bottas last year.
And with a 40-point lead on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the title race, four-time champion Hamilton looks set to go into the final six races of the season in confident fashion after registering four wins in his last five outings.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, however, has warned against complacency as they enter the championship’s most critical spell.
Hamilton’s dazzling triumph in Singapore, where his pole lap was widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time, may have lifted him into a position with a clear advantage, but Wolff has stressed that rivals Ferrari will be a serious threat in every contest.
“Obviously, it’s better to have a lead than not to, but there are six races to go and plenty of points to score –- so it doesn’t give us any comfort,” he said.
“We will continue to concentrate on every single session, trying to optimize the car in every possible area –- and we will go for the race win.
“There is no naive optimism about our situation within the team.
“Our mindset is very positive, we are energized, the factories are buzzing and we’re excited for the fight that we will certainly have in the next six races.
“We have a good track record in Sochi, but we know that Ferrari and Red Bull will give it everything to break our winning streak so we must fight as hard as ever.”
Wolff made it clear also that he will not be surprised to see Bottas recover his best form at a circuit where he won last year despite slipping out of serious contention in the title race.
“For every racing driver, it’s a very difficult situation because everything you dream about and everything you work for is to win the world championship,” he said.
‘Botta’s work ethic’
“When you realize you’re not in the hunt anymore, it’s very difficult to handle, but Valtteri has shown that he has the speed, the talent, and the work ethic to win in a Mercedes.
“He has always been a team player and that is one of his greatest traits. He could have won races this year, but the odds were against him.
“But luck isn’t a one-way street and I know Valtteri has every ingredient required to win at this level. He needs to work hard and trust that the tables will turn for him.”
Vettel, also chasing a fifth drivers’ crown, knows he also has to deliver this time after an unexpected struggle to third place in Singapore.
“I think Russia has been getting better for us in the last few years,” he said.
“It should suit our car too. I don’t think we have to fear any of the tracks that are coming up now.
“Our car is working pretty much everywhere and that’s a strength.”
Yet Vettel has claimed only one win in five as he has slipped behind an in-form Hamilton since his Singapore Sling.
Another victory on a weekend when he could claim his 80th pole and a 70th win would leave him, Hamilton, knowing that he can finish second in all five final races and, even if Vettel wins, still be crowned champion.
Red Bull could be a serious threat to both Ferrari and Mercedes, however, as Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who will turn 21 on Sunday, try to make the most of the tight street track that may favor their car’s performance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to organise an alternative competition for Russian athletes banned from the Winter Olympics over a doping scandal, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
The Kremlin leader also told athletes who are due to compete in Pyeongchang next month, as independent competitors, that he was sorry officials had failed to protect them from the fallout.
“Forgive us for not having been able to shield you from this,” Putin said during a reception at his residence outside Moscow on Wednesday, adding that the scandal had contributed to “very difficult conditions” for athletes ahead of the Games.
“You should focus on the result and on your victory,” he added. “Nothing should distract you from this.”
“I wish you luck,” Putin said, adding he wanted them to be “courageous”.
He said the exclusion of many Russian sports men and women over doping was “strange”, reiterating his pledge to support those who have been prevented from taking part.
The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics after a report on a vast, Moscow-backed doping scheme in previous Games.
Only 169 of Russia’s athletes have been allowed to take part in the Games, under a neutral flag as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia”.
– ‘Russian Olympics’? –
Speaking to reporters, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president had tasked ministers with organising an alternative competition for those banned from the 2018 Games.
Putin “reminded the cabinet of the decision to organise a competition for those of our athletes who had not been allowed to take part in the Olympic Games,” Russian news agencies quoted Peskov as saying.
The Kremlin spokesman added that athletes who win at the alternative event would receive compensation equal to what Moscow normally awards Olympic medalists.
Pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestiya reported this week that the alternative competition for banned athletes would take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Speaking to the athletes, Putin reiterated his complaint that the ban against Russia was politically motivated.
“For us certain things are truly strange,” he said.
At the same time he admitted Russian officials might have been guilty of “oversight, mistakes” and a lack of proper attention to “things that are very important and key in modern sport.”
He said he hoped that international sporting organisations would not become annexes of “certain countries”, a thinly-veiled jab at the United States.
Last year, Putin claimed United States was behind Russian sports doping allegations to influence March presidential elections widely expected to extend the Russian leader’s Kremlin term until 2024.
Putin has consistently denied the Russian state has run a vast doping scheme, instead blaming individual sporting officials.
– ‘Greatest sporting nation’ –
The athletes thanked Putin for his support, with hockey player Pavel Datsyuk presenting the Kremlin chief with a jersey featuring the slogan “Russia in my heart” and players’ signatures.
Luger Roman Repilov for his part said the Russian athletes should emerge winners at Pyeongchang to show the world that “Russia is the greatest sporting nation.”
“We should prove to them all that we are Russians, that we are strong, that those who are banning our teammates will not be able to break us,” Repilov said.
“We should pull ourselves together and go there and win.”
Snowborder Alena Zavarzina said the exclusion of other Russians was utterly unfair.
“I believe that what happened with our colleagues who cannot go to these Games is an egregious injustice,” she said.
“We will fight and do everything in our power to bring home the medals that we deserve.”
The 23rd Winter Olympics will open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9, featuring 102 events in 15 sports and athletes from all over the world.
Nigeria’s Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, has cleared the air on his interview with the Voice of America, Hausa Service where he was reported to have said the Super Eagles do not need to attend the 2018 World Cup since they can’t win the trophy.
Mr Dalung said that the interview which he granted four months ago was misinterpreted, insisting he has total confidence in the team to pick the sole tick in their group for Russia 2018.
He said that the interview was edited midway into a more comprehensive conversation and the act has sent a misconception about his commitment to the ongoing World Cup campaign.
“The statement was taken out of context. It was part of a comprehensive interview I granted four months ago when I was reacting to the status of African nations in global competitions and also football administration globally. Where do we stand?
“The question also was that whether Nigeria or any African country is likely going to host the World Cup. My reaction was what was captured.
“Unfortunately, the interview did not avail those who listened the complete narrative so that they can benefit from the background with which the response was taken,” he explained.
He maintained that the Nigerian government and the Ministry of Sport remain committed to ensuring that Nigeria re-positions itself as a global player in football and lead other African countries to the top of the game.
He urged Nigerians to support the Super Eagles to ensure that they do not lose the momentum that is in their favour in the 2018 World Cup qualifying series.
He added that his selfless contributions so far in Super Eagles’s quest for qualification, particularly ahead of the away win in Zambia, contradicts the impression that he was not in support of the team.
Against all odds, Aruna Quadri, has maintained his status in the November ITTF world ranking as the number 25th rated player in the world.
Many had expected the 2014 ITTF star player to slide in the ranking following his first round exit at the ITTF world cup in Germany as well as the men’s singles final match he lost to Egypt’s Omar Assar at the ITTF Africa senior championships in Morocco.
The Nigerian added four points to his world ranking to remain in top 25 in the globe.
Also, African women’s singles champion, Olufunke Oshonaike made the list of biggest movers in the world as the Germany-based star rose from 256 to 206, while seven-time Olympian, Segun Toriola moved from 109 to 101.
Egypt has reclaimed the men’s table tennis team title it lost to Nigeria at the 2015 African Games after beating the West African giant 3-2 in the final of the 2016 ITTF Africa Senior Championship holding in Morocco.
The victory recorded by the Egyptian women team against Tunisia was not as sweet as the win the men’s team had over Aruna Quadri-inspired Nigerian side.
The encounter had the quality expected of it and the players gave the fans something to cheer throughout the match with Aruna Quadri showing his worth against the Omar Assar-led Egyptian side.
The trio of Segun Toriola, Bode Abiodun and Rio Olympic Games quarterfinalist, Aruna Quadri matched their Egyptian counterparts strength-for-strength and it was the same Mohamed El-Beiali that lost the final game at the 2015 African Games to give Nigeria a 3-2 win in Congo Brazzaville that saved the day for the North Africans as he won came from 2-0 down to beat veteran Segun Toriola 3-2 to give throw the Egyptian fans into ecstasy in the 3-2 win.
An excited Ahmed Saleh said: “We knew from the start of the match that Segun Toriola is a dangerous player and we planned that we could take the lead 2-1 and hoping that Omar Assar will defeat Aruna Quadri in the fourth game.
“Unfortunately Omar Assar lost and we were confident that Mohamed El-Beiali will deliver and I am so happy that he did it for us.
“This victory is sweet because that was our main mission in Morocco to reclaim our men’s team title which we lost to Nigeria at the 2015 African Games in Congo Brazzaville.
“I am so happy that I am part of this team and I will cherish this victory for a long time.”
The Minister of Sports, Mr Solomon Dalung, says he has not been officially informed of the appointment of a new foreign coach for the Super Eagles by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
The NFF had in early August, appointed a German, Gernot Rohr, to manage the Eagles, despite Mr Dalung’s preference for a local coach.
He claimed that Coach Samson Siasia, who led the Nigeria’s U-23 football team to win a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, had not resigned, contrary to media reports, although his contract with the NFF had lapsed.
Siasia had told reporters that he had on August 27 resigned as the coach of Nigeria’s U-23 football team because of what he describes as “a disrespectful system”.
Mr Dalung’s frowned at the treatment meted to Siasia by the NFF, alleging that they withdrew his official car in Abuja while he was battling to secure a medal for Nigeria in Rio.
While hinting that he had met with Siasia on Monday, he said Nigeria needed him in football development.
The Sports Minister further pointed out that even if the NFF would not re-engage him, the Federation should at least, give him some peace of mind to enable him make his contributions in a personal capacity.
He noted that it would be sad to have such coach leave Nigeria for another country out of frustration, just like many athletes did as witnessed during the Rio Olympics.
Abysmal Outing Of Team Nigeria
Dalung also cleared the air on the $390,000 donation to Siasia and his team by a Japanese surgeon, saying that after he met the donor in Rio, he was convinced there were no strings like match-fixing attached to the donation.
He attributed the abysmal outing of the Nigerian Olympic contingent to late release of funds and inability to develop home-grown talents.
The Minister emphasised the need for the National Sports Commission which he said was unfortunately scrapped by a government committee that recommended merger of ministries.
He was at the State House on Tuesday in Abuja to brief President Muhammadu Buhari on Nigeria’s outing at the just concluded Olympics in Rio, Brazil.
Since Team Nigeria were able to win bronze medal in football, Mr Dalung urged the President to host the team.