Team Nigeria is banking on weightlifting, boxing, volleyball and others to finish top in Congo 2015.
HE who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Four years ago in Maputo, Team Nigeria surmounted many obstacles to place third overall behind South Africa and Egypt at the end of the 10th All Africa Games.
The excuse put forward then was that the host country, Mozambique, played politics by excluding sports like weightlifting and wrestling, which are considered as Nigeria’s traditional area of strength.
Another issue raised by the athletes, coaches and administrators as reason for the third position finishing at Maputo 2011 was that Team Nigeria also lost ground in table tennis and other combat sports.
The 11th edition of the Games will hold between September 4 and 19 in Congo Brazzaville, and Team Nigeria is dreaming big.
This time, the National Sports Commission (NSC) says it is operation break the barriers in Congo.
“We are targeting two things in Congo 2015,” Director General of the NSC, Al-Hassan Yakmut, told The Guardian on arrival from Brazil, where he attended a meeting of Chef-de-maison ahead Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“Our first target is to finish top at the end of the Games, but if by chance we fail to achieve that dream, we have to do everything possible to take the second position. We placed third at the last edition in Maputo and we have to surpass that record in Congo,” Yakmut said.
In 2003, Nigeria hosted the 8th edition of the Games in Abuja and at the end, the country was able to wrestle the top spot from Egypt for the first time amidst controversy.
The Egyptians had beaten Nigeria to the top spot during the second edition of the Games hosted in Lagos in 1973, and many Nigerians celebrated the feat recorded at COJA 2003 Games late into the night. Before then, Team Nigeria had lost the first spot to host, South Africa, at Jo’burg ’99 edition.
Eight years ago in Algeria (2007), Nigeria recorded one of its worst outings in the Games by placing fifth overall on the medals table.
The country climbed to third position at the last edition in Maputo 2011, gathering 31 gold, 28 silver and 39 bronze medals. Then, Team Nigeria lost the second place to Egypt by just a gold medal due to absence of some key sports like weightlifting and wrestling.
Now, wrestling and weightlifting have been included for Congo 2015, and Yakmut says Team Nigeria would be the one to beat when hostilities begin in September.
“It won’t be an easy task overpowering South Africa and Egypt in Congo, but I am very confident our athletes will be able to face the challenges going by their preparations,” Yakmut said. “They are doing well in our various camps in Abuja, Lagos and Ibadan. I can confidently say that it will be mission possible in Congo.”
In the absence of wrestling and weightlifting at Maputo 2011, track and field was the saving grace for Team Nigeria, contributing 10 of the 31 gold won by country. Track and field got a total of 21 medals (10 gold, six silver and five bronze).
The President of Nigeria Wrestling Federation, Daniel Igali, says he is targeting over six gold medals in Congo. Nigeria’s wrestlers won six gold and four bronze medals in their last outing at Algiers 2007.
The assistant coach of the boxing team, ex-Olympian, Jeremiah Okorodudu, told The Guardian the pugilist would pick at least two gold out of the ten available in the event.
Nigeria’s athletics team is currently in Beijing, China, participating in the 2015 IAAF World Championship, just as Nigeria’s volleyball teams (male and female) are contesting alongside other West African countries in the Africa Zone 111 championship in Ghana.
The President of Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), Habu Gumel, who doubles as President of the Volleyball Federation is optimistic the team will make it to the medal zone in Congo. The Lagos camp also has table tennis, gymnastics and Beach volleyball.
In the same way, Team Nigeria special sports athletes are strategizing in Ibadan camp, and the head coach of the para-powerlifting team, Aareh Feyisetan, told The Guardian they will get not less than ten gold medals.
The vice president of the weightlifting Federation, Yahaya Mohammed, also spoke from Abuja camp during the week saying they will sweep at least 15 medals in Congo.
The assurance from the various federations is giving the NSC confidence that Nigeria will conquer in Congo no matter the level of opposition from South Africa and Egypt.
Yakmut, who took over from Gbenga Elegbeleye as NSC Director General, went through a complete training mill as a sports administrator.
From his days as schoolboy athlete in the north, to his moment as national volleyball player, and through his time as Director of Grassroots Sports Development in the NSC, he has been an advocate of good welfare for athletes. He has served more than 13 sports ministers since the beginning of his career, which began in the early 1980s.
Yakmut is one of those who made the game of volleyball so popular in the north, especially the city of Kano, and one of the legacies he left in the game was leading Kano Superstars Volleyball team to beat the famous Zamalek of Egypt in front of their home fans in Cairo.
Though, his target is for Team Nigeria to surpass past records in Congo, Yakmut equally wants officials of the various sports federations to be prudent in their spending.
“They will account for every money spent,” he said. “As a former volleyball player, one message I always preach is that administrators should give the best treatment to athletes and coaches in preparation for major championships. We have to camp them in a conducive environment and also provide them good training facilities. The welfare of our athletes means so much to us in the NSC,” he stated.
The first All Africa Games in 1965 took place in Brazzaville, Congo, with 2,500 athletes from 29 nations in attendance. At the end, Nigeria finished second with nine gold medals behind the United Arab Republic (17 gold), while Kenya was third with 8 gold medals.
As African sports men and women return to Congo Brazzaville for the 11th All Africa Games, Yakmut’s prayer is for Nigerian athletes to be injury-free and also give 100 percent effort at the Games. “I want to win this Games as a special gift to all Nigerians, especially Mr. President,”