Nigeria made her debut at the Olympics in Finland at the Helsinki Games in 1952. No medal was won by the country at the big global event, same as in Melbourne 1956 in Australia and in Rome, Italy, at the 1960 Games. However at the Tokyo games in 1964, the country’s first ever Olympics medal was won in the boxing event. Nojim Mayegun achieved the feat in the light middleweight category. Boxing also gave Nigeria her second medal at the games and that was in 1972 in Munich, Germany. It was another bronze medal courtesy of Isaac Ikhuoria in the light heavyweight category.
At the 1984 games in Los Angeles, USA, Peter Konyewachie clinched a silver medal in the featherweight boxing event. At the Barcelona games in Spain in 1992, two silver medals were won in the boxing event. Richard Igbinebu in the Super Heavyweight and David Izonritei in the heavyweight category were the glorious boxers who made the country proud. Nigeria recorded her best performance at the Atlanta Games in 1996 with boxer Doncan Dokinwari winning bronze in the Super heavyweight category.
With three silver, three bronze medals and a total of six medals, boxing is next to athletics where the country has won 13 medals at the games. Football has one gold, one silver and one bronze to be among the top three of the five sports that have given Nigeria medals at the Olympics. Others are weightlifting (two medals) and taekwondo (one medal).
It must be noted that in 2008, following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to strip the American 4 × 400 metre relay team of their medals after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performanceenhancing drugs, the Team Nigeria’s second-placed athletes were awarded the gold medal.
In all, Nigeria with three gold, 10 silver and 12 bronze medals at the all-time Olympic Games table have not done enough considering the enormous talents available in the country. Boxing is one traditional sport in the country that has been consistently prominent at international stage just like athletics and football but the attention being accorded the sport is so poor over the years. Only during the week, the Olympic Games qualifiers scheduled for Paris, France were cancelled due to the effects of COVID-19 second wave in that part of the world.
It is a very sad development for the country’s boxers warming up to be part of the qualifiers to enable them to pick a ticket for Tokyo Olympics later in the year. Now, qualifiers for the 53 slots remaining in various categories will be determined via current rankings of the boxers. The criteria and details of how the African amateur boxing body will do this are unclear. This development however brings to fore the inability of the country’s boxers to travel to Senegal for the African Olympic qualifiers last year. The reason was same old story of no funds and one wonders why we kill our talents in the country slowly due to poor planning and maladministration.
Let us assume the ministry of sports, as usual, says no money for the Senegal trip, what couldn’t the Nigeria Boxing Federation salvage the situation? There should be a deliberate effort by federations to gradually be independent because government cannot satisfy over 25 sports in the country.
It is sad that a major sport like boxing could be so affected despite the exploits of the country’s boxers at the continental and global stage in the past. For now, no Nigerian boxer has qualified yet for the games and the country is at the mercy of the decision of the African boxing body on the current rankings. The NBF body led by General Kenneth Minimah should cover their faces in shame. The federation should have sponsors and rich individuals that could be relied upon at crunch times to execute its important programmes.
The federation itself has very little or nothing to offer the boxers as there are no events to evaluate their talents from time to time. There are few national boxing competitions available to the boxers but how well the national coaches and the federation key into these events is another issue. Going forward, the current problem of the NBF is a big lesson to other sports federations to always have a plan B for all their programmes. Depending on the sports ministry alone is not good for the federations because there are too many bottlenecks involved in getting money from the government. It is important to continually strive for the eventual autonomy of the federations but the ministry should also try and help when a promising sport like boxing approaches for an event as big as the Olympic qualifiers.
God bless Nigeria.