Sixty of the men and women who have made Nigeria proud in sports since independence in 1960 are to be honoured today in Abuja as part of the activities to celebrate the diamond anniversary of the country.
The 60 Sports Icons were selected from a list of over 3,500 nominations who were voted for through television, radio and other social media platforms.
The event which will hold at the Velodrome of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja is expected to be graced by President Muhammadu Buhari, members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) as well some of the awardees and members of their families.
Nigeria’s first individual Olympic gold medalist, Chioma Ajunwa; the Under-23 Dream Team that won Africa’s first Olympic football gold at Atlanta ‘96; the late Sunday Bada-led 4x400m relay team that won silver that was later upgraded to gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and the country’s 1994 ‘Golden Generation’ footballers are among some of the sports icons to be honoured.
That ‘Golden Generation’ qualified Nigeria for her first-ever World Cup in 1994 and also won the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia.
Some of the stars from this era were part of the Dream Team that won Nigeria’s historic Gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics with Nwankwo Kanu as the inspirational captain.
Both Mary Onyali-Omagbemi and Falilat Ogunkoya-Omotayo who similarly won medals in their track events at several Games are also believed to be among the 60 sports icons listed for the big occasion.
Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, while receiving the Report of the Committee set up to collate the votes by Nigerians for the 60 awardees recently, said the event was initiated to reward excellence and hard work.
“We initiated this award because of the need to reward our heroes and heroines who have sweated to put the name of Nigeria on the world map. “Unfortunately most of these patriots have died, but we are also consoled that many of them are still alive.
“Another import of the award is that it will encourage the younger athletes and indeed Nigerians in other fields to always give their best to the country, knowing that their efforts would be appreciated by the country,” observed the minister ahead of today’s event which is the first of its kind in the history of Nigerian sports.
The Minister appealed to other deserving awardees who may not have been voted for in the first edition to be patient, assuring them that they could also be rewarded in subsequent editions.
“I appreciate the efforts of the collation committee. Arriving at these 60 names was not an easy task because there are so many more deserving Nigerians but for the fact that we wanted to restrict the number to 60 to commemorate the Diamond jubilee of our country,” concludes Dare.