Empowering youths through sports –

Empowering youths through sports – The Sun Nigeria

By Emma Njoku

Daniel Igali’s story is akin to the Biblical rejected stone that became the cornerstone. As a student at the University of Jos in the early 1990s, Igali missed many examinations while representing Nigeria in wrestling at international championships. Denied the opportunity of writing the exams upon return from such championships, he got frustrated with no fewer than 12 carry overs in his third year and had to switch his nationality to Canada after representing Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, in 1994.

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Nicknamed “Dynamite,” the Canadian authorities gave him maximum support to optimise his potential, and it didn’t take him long to win everything in freestyle wrestling, including the Canadian championship, North American title, world championship and the Olympic gold medal in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics.

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For the love of his country of birth, Igali, upon retirement from active wrestling, returned to Nigeria to support the sport that brought him fame. His first move to improve the quality of Nigerian wrestling by bringing experts from Canada to conduct a coaching clinic was scuttled by a greedy official of the wrestling federation who wanted to know “what was in it for him.”

Not discouraged, Igali returned to his home State, Bayelsa, having convinced Canadians that there were more Igalis back in his village, and the Bayelsa State supported him with funds. He started by building a modern primary school in his village, Eniwari, and followed up with a modern wrestling gym in Yenagoa, the state capital, where national and international championships were hosted, which incidentally led to the discovery of many wrestlers who are currently representing Nigeria at international championships. Prominent among such athletes is Blessing Oborududu who won Silver at the last Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, the best effort by a Nigerian athlete since the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China.

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Impressed by the way and manner he was empowering the youths through sports, his people encouraged him to join politics and voted him into the state House of Assembly.  His foray into politics did not affect his vision to develop Nigerian wrestling. While still serving in Bayelsa State he contested and became President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation.

After serving as a House of Assembly member, he was appointed as Commissioner for Sports. Under his watch, last year, for the first time in the history of the National Sports Festival, Bayelsa State won more medals than her sister state, Rivers, which she overtook on the medals table by placing third behind Delta and the host state, Edo.

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Also last year, after helping to give Nigeria a face-saving silver medal in wrestling at the Olympics in Japan through Blessing Oborududu, Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens Football Clubs both won the 2021 FA Cup (now known as Aiteo Cup) for men and women.

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For these achievements, Igali wins The Sun’s prestigious award of Sports Personality of the Year 2021.

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