Sports and recreation are fast-developing activities in Nigeria, a country of an estimated 177.5 million inhabitants, which counts many lovers of sports and adepts of leisure games. Sports have become a unifying factor in Nigeria and an essential ingredient towards nation-building. It has facilitated the country’s socio-cultural and ethnic integration. It is actually a very important aspect of Nigeria’s socio-cultural life. It is a medium through which competition, friendship, tolerance, endurance, diplomacy and unity are promoted amongst human beings within nations and internationally, irrespective of race, gender, class and other parameters. It impacts many of the individual’s precious personal mementoes and deepest values, male or female. An analysis of those actively involved in sports in Nigeria indicates that men constitute the greater number either as players, coaches, or administrators.
Nigerians enjoy a large number of indigenous games and sports. Among the Yoruba, traditional wrestling is popular. Names attached to the various forms of wrestling give some indication of their nature. For example, “Ija Kadi” suggests a fight that is a free-for-all and “Eke” suggests wrestling with distinct techniques and rules. The game known outside Nigeria as mancala is very popular. It is known as ayo among the Yoruba, dara among the Hausa, okwe among the Igbo and nsa isong among the Efik. It is a board game for two players, played with seeds or stones.
Sports such as swimming, lawn tennis, table tennis, handball, basketball, squash, cricket, judo, field hockey, weight-lifting and wrestling are supported by the government, corporate bodies and individuals. Wealthy Nigerians in the cities may belong to exclusive clubs, which have facilities for tennis, golf or swimming. A demographic analysis of people actively in sports in Nigeria indicates that men constitute the greater number either as players, coaches or administrators. Expenditure, equipment and facilities for the use of the Sports divisions and its various governing bodies, throughout the country. Stadia are being constructed in many parts of the country.
The Abuja stadium, with a capacity of 60,000, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a hockey astroturf and a velodrome has become the national rallying point. Another important stadium is located at Onikan in Lagos, Nigeria’s former Federal capital city. It is worthwhile putting the spotlight on the various sports activities now well established in the country majority of the athletic competitions in the country.
Sports Played in Nigeria
The National Sports Commission promotes about twenty-four different sports, each being organized by a non-autonomous governing body. Some of the sports that are played in Nigeria include Athletics (track and field), Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Boxing, Chess, Cricket, Cycling, Football (called soccer in the United States and in some other places), Gymnastics, Golf, Handball, Hockey, Judo, Tennis, Rowing, Shooting, Squash rackets, Swimming, Table tennis (called ping-pong in some other places), Taekwondo, Volleyball, Powerlifting, Wrestling, Traditional sports and a host of other Para- sports (sports for the physically challenged). The Federal, State and Local Governments make funds available for current clubs from different provinces invited to play. However, the clubs had to wait till 1990 for the professional league to be introduced.
Nigeria emerged on the international football/soccer scene in 1960 when it first entered the World Cup but failed to qualify for the finals. It eventually qualified for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The Nigerian National League began in 1972 when five teams entered the league. This grew to 12 teams by 1978. By the 1980s, the national football team, the Super Eagles (formerly known as the Green Eagles) had become a team to reckon with at the international level. The Super Eagles were adjudged the best team in Africa and one of the best ten in the world. Nigeria won the first World Cup in the under-16 category in China in 1985 and came second in the same category two years later in Canada. Its Under-20 soccer team won the bronze medal in the Junior World Cup competition in the Soviet Union in 1985, the silver medal in Saudi Arabia in 1989 and in the Netherlands in 2005. The national football team, the Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations in 1980, 1994 and 2013 and were the finalist three times in the competition.
They reached the second round of the World Cup in 1994, 1998 and 2014. They have crowned Champions (Gold Medal) in Olympic Games in Atlanta, U.S.A in 1996, a performance which Nigerians and many Super Eagles fans across the world will remember for a long time. The under-17 team tutored by Coach Yemi Tella also won the Gold Medal in the 2007 Junior World Cup. The story of the Super Eagles is also that of individual star players that make the minds of football lovers vibrate, from Rashidi Yekini (RIP), Daniel Amokachi, Mudashiru Lawal, Sunday Oliseh, Taribo West, Samson Siasia, Tijani Babangida, Victor Ikpeba, Stephen Keshi, George Finidi, Emmanuel Amunike, Celestine Babayaro, Victor Agali, Peter Odemwinge, Mikel Obi to Austin Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo; among others. The Super Eagles are now ranked among the best teams, not only in Africa but in the world. They put up an impressive performance in the 2014 World Cup championship in Brazil, attaining the second round.
Nigeria also boasts of a strong Women’s football team, the Super Falcons, which, as of 2007, has won the seven editions of the African Women’s Football Championship organised since the creation of this championship in 1991. Driven by talented players like Florence Omogbemi, Ajuma Ameh, Anne Chiejine, and Effionanwan Ekpo, among others. The Women’s team also reached the quarter-final of the 1999 Women’s football World Cup and the 2004 Olympic Games.