By Ikeddy ISIGUZO

MOST awards are doused in controversies over their criteria but the recognition of 60 Icons of Nigerian Sports, is drenched in irreconcilable misses, three of them were Olympic Games silver medalists. The event held Friday 16 October 2020 was to mark the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence.

Nigeria has won a total of 3 gold, 10 silver, 12 bronze medals from participation in 16 Olympic Games. If we decided to reward all of them, there would have been 25 spaces to use for other sports icons.

The Olympic Games are considered the peak platform for amateur sports performances. How could Nigeria treat her Olympic heroes with disdain?

“As the first Africa and Commonwealth woman to have won an Olympic Golden silver medal in weightlifting for Nigeria, I was unrecognised. This is unbelievable. Recognition is being recycled in Nigeria and not on sports merit,” Mrs. Ruth Balofin wrote in the WhatsApp Group Family United By Sports, FUBS.

How could we have missed four Olympic silver medal winners, incidentally two women, from the 2000 Games, one a man from the 1992 Games, and incredibly, men’s football in 2008?

Mrs. Balofin as Ruth Ogbeifo missed the gold medal in the 75kg by the slightest of technical margins. Glory Alozie won a silver medal in 100m hurdles under excruciating circumstances. Both are not icons.

Anyone who remembers the stories of Ruth Ogbeifo and Glory Alozie will see how injurious this iconic injustice meted to them is.

Ruth possibly could have won the gold but for an injury she was treating months to the Games. An NGO, HOPE Worldwide Nigeria, not the National Sports Commission, NSC, assisted with funds for her medicals. She lifted 245kg same as Colombian Maria Urrutia who won the gold medal because of her lower body weight. Now her medal is treated with indifference.

Glory almost did not compete in Sydney after her fiancé Hyginus Anugo died in a car accident in Sydney days to the opening of the Games. She locked herself up for days mourning. She would not eat, she lost so much weight that it was a wonder that she competed. Her silver medal was drenched in tears and sorrow; the medal was an addition to a silver at the 1999 World Championships. She is not an icon.

How would anyone forget Richard Igbinehu, a super heavyweight boxer, who won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympic Games? At the 1991 All Africa Games in Cairo he won gold in the same weight. His medal was one of the three silver medals won in Barcelona. Two, including team mate’s David Izonrite, were recognised but not his.

The fourth and possibly the most incredible, since we love football, is the 2008 men’s Olympic team that Samson Siasia coached to a silver medal in Beijing. Mikel Obi was the captain of that team.

“My dear Ruth, I must say this in defence of the Nigeria Weightlifting Federation, NWF, that a list of past and present lifters was submitted as requested and Ruth Balofin’s name was No 1 as the first African to win a silver medal in weightlifting at the Olympics. We were therefore surprised that her name did not feature. Perhaps, there are other criteria used,” Dr. Steve Olarinoye, a former Secretary of the NWF, posted in the FUBS WhatsApp Group.

One of the Minister’s aides when asked about criteria for selecting the 60 icons had retorted, “There is a committee”. Voting on the social media could not have been a strong criterion when most of those who voted knew little about the history of Nigerian sports. What criteria would defend the inclusion of Olympic bronze medalists when those who won silver medals were excluded or the feeble efforts to search for champions in less popular sports or for performances decades ago?

Innocent Egbunike anchored the men’s 4x100m bronze winning team at the 1984 Olympics for Nigeria’s first athletics medal in the Olympics. He was not recognised for that or his 1987 silver medal in 400m at the World Championships or coaching the men’s 4x400m gold medal quartet at the 2000 Olympics.

We do not have too many Olympic medalists to have forgotten them.

In an exercise so iconic, certain omissions question the criteria for the selections. Davidson Andeh, 62, in 1978 won the world title in the lightweight division at the 2nd World Amateur Championships, held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, defeating Vladimir Sorokin from the USSR. The 1976 Olympian had won the first round of the featherweight division over India’s Rai Sik before Nigeria withdrew from the Montreal Games. He was not an icon. Nobody remembered him.

Youth football had a first taste of international success in 1977 when Christ the King College, Onitsha, won the World Secondary School Football Championship in Dublin, Ireland. This feat was not recognised. Eziama High School, Aba, also won the World Secondary School Football Championship, years after CKC, Onitsha. They were not on the list.

The same fate was visited on high jumper Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who as a schoolboy at Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, won a gold medal, with a record, at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada is not an icon.

Names of the unveiled 60 sports icons follow:

1. Chioma Ajunwa

2. Mary Onyali

3. Jighere Wellington

4. Odion Aikhoje

5. Duncan Dokiwari

6. Austin Okocha

7. Kanu Nwankwo

8. Feyisetan Are

9. Blessing Okagbare

10. Garba Lawal

11. Lucy Ejike

12. Falilat Ogunkoya/Atlanta 96 Women’s 4x400m Quartet

13. Sunday Bada/Sydney 2000 Men’s 4x400m Quartet

14. Football Dream Team, Atlanta 1996 Olympics

15. Emmanuel Amunike

16. Chika Chukwumeriji

17. Davidson Ezinwa

18. Odunayo Adekuoroye

19. Modupe Oshikoya

20. Peter Konyegwachie

21. Olusoji Fasuba

22. Nduka Ugbade/Sebastine Broadricks Imasuen/1985 Golden Eaglets

23. Hogan Bassey

24. Dick Tiger

25. Samuel Peters

26. Barcelona’92 quartet (men’s 4x100m relay)

27. Funke Oshonaike

28. Segun Odegbami

29. D’Tigress

30. Segun Toriola

31. Roland Ezuruike

32. Nojeem Mayegun

33. Sam Igun

34. Israel Adesanya

35. Super Eagles 1994

36. Olumide Oyedeji

37. Blessing Oborududu

38. Tompraba Grikpa

39. Chidi Imoh

40. Christian Chukwu

41. Ajibola Adeoye

42. Stephen Keshi

43. Atanda Musa

44. Muda Lawal/Emmanuel Okala/Green Eagles 1980

45. Daniel Amokachi

46. Rashidi Yekini

47. Teslim Thunder Balogun

48. Perpetual Nkwocha

49. Super Falcons

50. Power Mike

51. Flora Ugwunwa

52. Lauretta Onye

53. Sam Okwaraji

54. Nduka Odizor

55. David Izonrite

56. Chief MKO Abiola

57. Dr. Larry Izamoje

58. Mazi. Ernest Okonkwo

59. Alhaji Aliko Dangote

60. Chief Sir Kesington Adebutu

Congratulations to all the icons. The “mistakes” of the notable omissions have lowered the credibility of the 60 Icons of Nigerian Sports. Clear criteria for the selections should have taken care of these situations. Someone should accept responsibility for these unacceptable slips.

What would be the fate of the forgotten? It possible to adjust the list by taking individuals whose teams were honoured backed to the teams to accommodate the omitted icons. More than 12 of such places are available.

Please share. Your comments, complaints, concerns, and commendations are welcome.

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