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Sports Analysis

The Need for Sports Diplomacy under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu



By Sadiq A. Abdullahi

As Senator John Owan Enoh, the 36th sports minister, under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, begins his four years tenure in the newly created Federal Ministry of Sports Development, he would need to use sports diplomacy to resolve regional conflict and attract foreign investment as entrenched in the National Sports Industry Policy.

On July 28, 2023, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) under the leadership of Director-General (Prof) Eghosa Osaghae, hosted the 1976 Olympians and the champions of 1980 African Cup of Nations in an event that was sponsored by Dr. Allen Onyema, the Chairman of Air Peace tagged “The NIIA’s “Sports Diplomacy Wall of Fame.” One of NIIA’s objectives is to “provide and maintain means of information upon international questions and promote the study and investigation of international questions by means of conferences, lectures, and discussions, and by the preparation and publication of books, records, as may be necessary to develop a body of knowledge on world affairs.”

Sports diplomacy (SD) is an emerging concept in foreign policy and in international relations. SD transcends tribal, ethnic, language, religion, pollical, economic, class and elitism. SD is often used as the instrument of choice by nations to promote cooperation, peaceful co-existence, diplomatic dialogue, and even to promote the virtues of democracy.

In 1976, the Federal Government of Nigeria joined 27 African countries boycotted the 1976 Montreal Olympics Games in support of the 1976 Soweto, South Africa massacre where many lives were lost. Sixty-two Olympians from Nigeria were denied the opportunity to compete among the best in thwe world at the Montreal Olympics in Canada. General Olusegun Obasanjo was the Head of the State then, and he ordered that the Olympians be returned home immediately after they had spent about 10 days at the Games Village. But the story was not the same for the Green Eagles, the champions of the 1980 African Cup of Nations (AFCON). Both events were poles apart but had lasting significant diplomatic effect.

In the 1952, Nigeria presented its first team at the Helsinki Olympics in Finland. From that moment on informal sports diplomacy has been part of Nigeria’s indirect foreign policy engagement, making it a prominent phenomenon that could no longer be ignored in the socio-political and economic life of the nation. The domination of the sporting world by the then USSR (now Russia and several other smaller countries) and her allies coupled with their unique organizational structure of sports, influenced the Federal Government of Nigeria to directly involve herself in the control, regulation, organization, and promotion of sports, which now needs to be extended to ECOWAS as the region contemplates using military invasion of one of its member states.

A renewed hope for sports stakeholders requires that a plan for effective sport for unity and peace programs should by initiated by Senator Enoh to address conflicts in the region and build peace using sport at the socio-political and individual levers Sports has become an instrument for building relations with countries and for gaining soft power with the aim of promoting the country’s national agenda among the comity of nations. Countries utilize international sport to promote peace, advance their economic interests and build political power and influence. As a domestic policy tool, sports can be used to enhance social order, combat some forms of social exclusion, and prevent crime by promoting projects that target deprived areas.

A new frontier in sports diplomacy offers new possibilities for renewed hope for ECOWAS and for Nigeria in particular if the political and business of sports can harnessed for youth and sustainable development. The Sports Diplomacy curriculum has the pedagogy to provide a new national orientation, a new vision of international relations, regional, continental, and global understanding. The curriculum will reflect the vision of a democratic, pluralistic, and diverse society. Regional and global challenges such as poverty, globalization, population growth, environmental degradation, human rights, and national and global terrorism could be reduced, and many youths are redirected to rethink sports in education and nations resolving conflicts using sports and diplomacy.


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Sports Analysis

Aruna reclaims top spot as Nigerian leaps to 17th in ITTF Ranking



Less than two months after surrendering the top spot in the continental ranking, Quadri Aruna has reclaimed his place after

Less than two months after surrendering the top spot in the continental ranking, Quadri Aruna has reclaimed his place after leaping to 17th place in Week 22 of the 2024 ITTF Ranking released on Tuesday, May 28 by the world table tennis ruling body.

However, Egypt’s Omar Assar slipped to 22 in the world rating after occupying the top spot in Africa in the last two months following his triumph at the last African Games in Ghana.

Aruna, who recently reclaimed the ITTF Africa Cup in Rwanda this month, rose by two steps up the ranking ladder to become the highest rated African in the world.

Assar’s drop in the world ranking was due to the expiration of the quarterfinal points he garnered at the Durban 2023 World Championships in South Africa, and this automatically made him lose some points that prompted his fall in the ranking.

While others are dropping from the pecking order of ranking, Aruna’s points remain static, and the freefall of others prompted his rise in the world ranking.

Africa’s biggest movers in May, Mohamed El-Beiali, who became the third-best-ranked player in the continent after finishing as runner-up at the 2024 ITTF Africa Cup after a 4-0 loss to Aruna in Kigali, dropped to 49th in the world rating.

Despite dropping by a step, Egypt’s Dina Meshref held on to the top echelon of Africa as the 24th best player in the world.

Meshref’s compatriot, Hana Goda, remained static as the best rated African in the world, ranked 31st in the world.

Following the conclusion of all continental quotas for the Olympic Games, players are now eager to pick up their tickets to Paris through the world ranking, which will be in force on June 11 as ITTF concludes the list of participants at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in France.


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Sports Analysis

Which Way Nigerian Football?




Once again the issue of hiring a coach for the Super Eagles has come to the front burner of our national discuss. It is a huge debate and I must say, it is very healthy for sports development ,particularly as it concerns football, the opium of Nigerian people.

It is equally encouraging to see the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) throw the job open by calling for applications from qualified coaches both local and foreign.

Advertising the post which is a massive difference between this board and its predecessor which simply handpicked Gernot Rohr and later Jose Peseiro, is proof that the Ibrahim Musa Gusau-led board is headed in the right direction.

While commending Gusau’s right step, I must advise the NFF President to beware of his aides and football agents.

Experience has shown over time that many of the aides, technical committee members and advisers of the NFF President and even the Sports Minister at a time like this are easily compromised.

Most of them have a vested interest as sponsors or agents of foreign or local coaches. The advice they give in situations like this isn’t for the interest of the nation’s No. 1 sport but to line their pockets and sustain their strongholds.

It may interest the NFF President to listen to this story. Before Tunisia AFCON and USA ’94 World Cup, a dummy was planted in a section of the media to run negative stories about Anderlecht’s central defender, Chidi Nwanu, who at that time was the best central defender in Europe.

Each time, the Super Eagles list was drawn, Nwanu’s name was omitted. They said he shunned invitations. Some said he was arrogant…and others said he gave conditions to honour the national call by demanding among other things, a first-team shirt and a private jet to fly him to and fro Lagos and Brussels.

Ace sports journalist now Saturday Editor of Vanguard newspapers, Onochie Anibeze who covered Super Eagles like no other journalist did approached me then as a board member of NFF.

Onochie gave hints to Nwanu, that contrary to the lies peddled around him, there was no official communication between him and the NFF (as now called). I discussed this with our boss then late Air Comdr Emeka Omeruah, rtd) who was shocked, to say the least. He decided to personally invite Nwanu. We moved to his Ikoyi office from where we sent a fax message to Anderlecht and Nwanu respectively.

Nwanu replied within two hours stating that he had never received any invitation let alone rejected or shunned such….neither did he give any condition to play for his country. He was glad to have been invited and promised to honour the invitation. His club Anderlecht equally appreciated the invitation sent to their player. He arrived and showed class all through Super Eagles preparatory games leading to the Mundial. That was how Chidi Nwanu got into the USA ’94 squad to show what Nigeria had missed all along having missed Tunisia ’94 due to the activities of the fifth columnists in NFF. I guess the President of the NFF may see one or two lessons to learn from this story.

I have no issues with the idea of hiring a foreign coach for the Super Eagles. But I must say that such a coach should have what indigenous coaches don’t have. Westerhof succeeded because he was more of a manager than a coach. He knew the hotel arrangements, vehicles for training and other logistics that may not suit the boys, so he took charge. He even had more access to Aso Rock than the administrators. He lived in Nigeria, watched our local league matches, ate our food and fell in love with our women or the other way round, I’m not sure. Bonfere and Christian Chukwu were more involved with the technical details under his supervision.

Days are gone when you bring in a backyard, a jobless coach from Europe who hasn’t the pedigree, relatively unknown in coaching circles in his native country to lead a big brand like the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Football is a global sport. It speaks one language. It carries one identity. A football personality cannot be hidden. Certainly not in today’s world where a touch on your keypad will give you all you need to know about anyone around the world.

Thankfully, Gusau didn’t want to repeat errors of the past in hiring coaches for the national team without due consultations. Advertising the post as I said earlier shows the maturity and experience in management and administration as displayed by the present NFF leadership.

However, given the situation of Nigerian economy, particularly the demoralizing parity between our currency and the foreign currencies, can we afford to hire a world class foreign coach? If we must,
NFF should go preferably for a coach who has handled a first-division club or any of the top five clubs in Europe’s top eight leagues. Of course, playing the game to the level of featuring in the World Cup could be a plus.

One only hopes the NFF can pay this class of coaches. Aside from securing the services of any of the aforementioned classes of coaches, the NFF must issue a set of conditions to which the coach must agree.

One, he must live or stay here during the period of his contract. Living here makes it easier for him to work with the NPFL on how best to develop the domestic game. The whole idea is to come up with a working plan to incorporate local players into the national team.

Two, he will work with the coaches of Golden Eaglets, Flying Eagles and U-23 Eagles which are feeder teams to Super Eagles. Working with these teams will help shape the quality of players to make up the numbers for the senior national team when their foreign counterparts arrive at world-classcamp for any game.

If the NFF cannot hire a world class coach and the coach cannot live in Nigeria then, the only option left is to employ an indigenous coach.

Rather than bring in coaches like Rohr or Peseiro, I would prefer we use what we have to get what we need. There are coaches here who are better than Rohr or Peseiro.

Emmanuel Amunike, Samson Siasia (if he’s eventually off the hook), George Finidi, Daniel Amokachi and Sunday Oliseh are the names mentioned loudest so far by stakeholders. One or two names here stand out amongst the rest.
Arsenal Wenger wasn’t a known footballer but he remains one of the best-celebrated coaches globally. Fanny Amun was not known to have played for a notable club in Nigeria but he won the U- 17 World Cup as a coach.

Nobody has told us what laurels Rohr or Peseiro had won before getting Super Eagles appointments.

Which player(s) from the U-17 level has Rohr or Peseiro nurtured to stardom that is as big as Kanu Nwankwo, Victor Ikpeba, Celestine Babayaro, Mobi Oparaku, Kelechi Ihenacho, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze. But some indigenous coaches have nurtured some of these superstars.

It is thoughtful of the NFF to keep Austin Eguavoen in his office as Technical Director rather than allow him to shuttle between that exalted seat and the Super Eagles training ground.

If Eguavoen had been handed the interim job as earlier rumoured, it would have been a disaster in the waiting. His office should be busy formulating a playing pattern for our national teams. All national team coaches should be under his department.

This is why the interim assignment given to George Finidi should be a wake-up call to the former Ajax and Real Betis winger. How he handles the games against Ghana and Mali will go a long way in how he would be viewed or rated.

Sadly, the debate over hiring foreign coaches or not seems to be taking away our attention from the real issue…which is the repositioning of Nigerian football.
The Honourable Minister of Sports should reject the idea of not having an oversight function in the activities of the NFF except it’s for personal aggrandizement. Late Emeka Omeruah(PhD), remains in my opinion, the best NFF president and Sports minister both in terms of achievements and style. As a Sports Minister, he held regular meetings with the leadership of the NFF during which times he conveyed to the board, the feelings and expectations of the Nigerian football family. He never rebuked or gave them directives publicly. ( He was a three-time Sports minister of the Federal Republic).
The present minister must know that football is the opium of the Nigerian people. ( the number of Nigerians that died during the just concluded AFCON should be an eye opener). The success of his tenure will essentially be measured by our achievements in football. He must get involved, albeit remotely.

This ritual of recycling coaches is destroying what is left of our football. Imagine the calamity created by Ladan Bosso in Ghana at the 13th All African Games.

Yet a certain Salisu Yusuf is queueing for a Super Eagles job. Yusuf has been in and around the various national teams for more than one decade without any meaningful contribution or achievement. Same with Bosso who has had four appointments with Flying Eagles in the last 17 years and yet has nothing to show for it. When people say the NFF is micro Nigeria, what it means is that all the drawbacks in Nigeria’s development are present in the Football House. Namely; Religion, Tribalism and the quota system.

Truth be told, the national teams shouldn’t be jobs to rehabilitate or recycle coaches. A coach has to prove that he can handle any of the national teams. When jobs are given on ethnic or religious sentiments, we are bound to either remain stagnant or continue with our retrogressive steps.

• Fan Ndubuoke is former Special Adviser on Sports to Late Sports Minister Comdr. Emeka Omeruah. He was also the national President of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN). Ndubuoke was a board member of the NFF and the immediate past Executive Chairman Imo State Sports Commission.


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Sports Analysis

Inter Miami vs Real Salt Lake – MLS preview: TV channel, team news, lineups and prediction



The Herons endured a pretty disappointing preseason international tour, picking up just one win against Hong Kong team while losing to the likes of Al Nassr, Al Hilal and Vissel Kobe.

Superstars Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez all picked up knocks along the way – which angered not only the fans but also the Hong Kong government – but all three are expected to take part in the opening league fixture.

RSL, meanwhile, picked up two wins in preseason, also drawing against fellow MLS franchise Toronto FC.

What time does Inter Miami vs Real Salt Lake kick-off?
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Stadium: DRV PNK Stadium
Date: Wednesday 21 February
Kick-off Time: 20:00 ET / 17:00 PT / 01:00 GMT * 22 February 2024

Inter Miami vs Real Salt Lake H2H record
This is the first-ever meeting between Miami and RSL.

Current Form (all competitions)
Inter Miami: LLWLD
Real Salt Lake: WLLWW

How to watch Inter Miami vs Real Salt Lake on TV and live stream

Country          TV channel/live stream

United Kingdom

Apple TV – MLS Season Pass

United States        Apple TV – MLS Season Pass

Canada                   Apple TV +


Inter Miami team news

After sustaining injuries during Miami’s international preseason tour, many thought Messi, Suarez and Busquets wouldn’t be ready to go for the first game. But based on the Herons’ starting llineup against Newell’s Old Boys last week, all three ex-Barcelona figures should be good to go.

Messi appears to have fully recovered from his adductor problem, while Suarez’s case was more of a precaution with his peculiar knee situation. While Busquets didn’t feature against Messi’s boyhood club, head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino confirmed last week that the midfielder should be alright for their clash with RSL.

Jordi Alba featured in each preseason game and hasn’t picked up any knocks as of yet. Miami will be a little bit short in their midfield ranks, as Gregore was recently transferred to Brazilian side Botafogo in order for the Herons to be roster compliant.

Inter Miami predicted lineup vs Real Salt Lake

Inter Miami predicted lineup (4-3-3): Callender; Yedlin, Aviles, Freire, Alba; Ruiz, Busquets, Gressel; Messi, Suarez, Gomez.

Real Salt Lake team news

Midfielder Pablo Ruiz remains out through injury as he’s still recovering from a knee injury suffered back in August. With Ruiz expected to return to the mix in March, RSL added to their midfield ranks by bringing in Matt Crooks from EFL Championship side Middlesbrough.

Real Salt Lake predicted lineup vs Inter Miami

Real Salt Lake predicted lineup (4-4-2): MacMath; Brody, Vera, Glad; Katranis, Gomez, Ojeda, Palacio, Luna; Julio, Arango.

Inter Miami vs Real Salt Lake score prediction

Both sides have played plenty of games in the preseason to be warmed up for the league’s opening fixture, and there will be plenty of pressure on the Herons to get three points at home to bring in the new campaign.

Messi and Suarez will put on a show and find the back of the net, but it won’t be enough to keep Cristian ‘Chicho’ Arango off the scoresheet to make things interesting late on in a rusty performance from Miami.

Prediction: Inter Miami 2-1 Real Salt Lake


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