A list of all the sports in Nigeria: Which is the most popular sport?

A list of all the sports in Nigeria: Which is the most popular sport?

Steve Njuguna
November 17, 2023 at 9:56 AM
In this article:
Victor Osimhen logo
V. Osimhen
Napoli logoFNigeria logo
A. A. Okocha
--Nigeria logo
Samuel Chukwueze logo
S. Chukwueze
AC Milan logoFNigeria logo

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, with over 210 million citizens pledging allegiance to the flag. Over the years, the country has excelled in many sporting disciplines and produced elite athletes. Discover more about the most popular sports in Nigeria and how they achieved their fame.

Nigeria Football Association
(From Left) Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze warm up for Nigeria's friendly against Saudi Arabia in October 2023. Photo by NFA
Source: Getty Images

The history of sports in Nigeria can be broken down into traditional and modern disciplines. Some games like Dambe and Kokawa have been practised for centuries by the traditional African communities in the area. Modern sports such as football and basketball were introduced to Nigeria through interactions with colonialists or trade partners.

The top 10 sports in Nigeria

This ranking is based on a look at all the sports in Nigeria. The popular nature is determined by several aspects, including culture, available infrastructure and ease of play.

10. Ayo Alopon

Also known as Awele, Ayoayo, Awale, Wari, or Mancala, Alopon is a board game originally developed by the Yoruba community. It is similar to the East African variant named Ajua. The board has 12 holes split into two sections with four Ayo seeds in each hole.

The objective is for the two players to mathematically gain more seeds on their side of the board through balancing and deduction. The strategic aspect lies in predicting the opponent's moves and planning ahead to capture seeds.

Ayo is not just a game; it often holds cultural and social significance. It is played during social gatherings, celebrations, and festive occasions. The game serves as a form of entertainment and a way to strengthen community bonds.

Ayo Alopon
Congolese soldiers play Ajua, the East African version of Ayo Alopon, at a camp in Kivu in 2008. Photo by Roberto Schmidt/AFP
Source: Getty Images

9. Field Hockey

Field Hockey has been popular in Nigeria since the 1970s. The National Hockey Federation of Nigeria (NHF) is the governing body responsible for overseeing and promoting field hockey in the country.

Despite its popularity, field hockey in Nigeria has faced challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, limited funding, and administrative issues. The current men's team is one of the best in Africa, having finished in third place at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations. The women's team finished in fifth place.

Nigeria hockey
Nigeria and India face off during a game at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Photo by Mike Hewitt
Source: Getty Images

8. Volleyball

Due to the fact that it is easy to play and does not need much space, volleyball has become a staple in Nigerian schools and neighbourhoods. Nigeria began participating in international volleyball competitions in the 1960s.

The different age categories have represented the country in various tournaments across Africa and worldwide. Nigeria participates in both indoor and beach volleyball tournaments as well as in the para categories.

Nigeria vs Sweden
Nigeria (in red) go up against Sweden in the 2019 World Beach Volleyball Championships. Photo by Oliver Hardt/Bongarts
Source: Getty Images

7. Table Tennis

Table Tennis was introduced in Nigeria in the 1930s by British seafarers. The game quickly caught one and became a nationally appreciated sport. It is commonly played in social institutions such as schools, restaurants and sporting venues.

A notable Nigerian who ranks highly in international tournaments is Quadri Aruna. He made history by becoming the first African player to reach the Men's Table Tennis Singles quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Quadri Aruna
Quadri Aruna of Nigeria competes against Lin Yun Ju of Chinese Taipei in their Men's singles Round of 32 match on day one of WTT Champions Xinxiang 2023 at Xinxiang Pingyuan Sports Center in April 2023. Photo by Lintao Zhang
Source: Getty Images

6. Kokawa

Kokawa is a form of grappling popular in the Niger Delta region and was traditionally used by men to fight for the attention of potential wives. It involves using strength to throw your opponent out of a designated zone. It is one of the top 10 traditional sports in Nigeria.

5. Track and Field

Track and Field was popularised in Nigeria by colonial authorities. Nigeria made its Olympic debut in track and field at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Chioma Ajunwa made history by becoming the first Nigerian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual event, securing gold in the long jump at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Over the years, Nigeria has produced great short and medium-distance runners such as Joy Udo-Gabriel, Tobi Amusan and Blessings Okagbare, who have both won Olympic and World titles.

Nigerian relay team
Joy Udo-Gabriel, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, Oluwatobiloba Amusan and Rosemary Chukwuma of Nigeria celebrate after the 4x100 metres at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Photo by Mark Metcalfe
Source: Getty Images

4. Boxing

The concept of boxing is not foreign to Nigeria, as traditional forms of sparring existed before colonialism. The first European-style sanctioned fight in Nigeria happened in 1947 between Dirk Tiger and Hogan Bassey. Modern amateur and professional boxing became popular in the 1960s after independence.

The first Nigerian to win a Commonwealth title in boxing was Bashiru Ali. He achieved this feat in 1987 by winning the Commonwealth Light Middleweight title. Some prominent boxers of Nigerian origin include Efe Ajagba and Anthony Joshua.

3. Dambe

Dambe is a traditional form of wrestling unique to Nigeria and Niger. The history of Dambe wrestling is deeply rooted in the cultural practices of the Hausa ethnic group and has been practised for centuries. The main difference between this and normal wrestling is that in Dambe, one fist is wrapped in a bandage called a 'Kara', and the other is free. The most skilled players are adept at one-handed combat and have good balance.

Dambe matches traditionally take place in open spaces or arenas. The "ring" is often marked by a circle drawn on the ground, and the audience surrounds the area to witness the matches. The atmosphere is festive, with spectators cheering on their favourite fighters. The entire event has a ceremonial atmosphere, and participants often engage in pre-fight rituals.

2. Basketball

In terms of basketball, Nigeria is one of Africa's most successful teams at an international level. The Nigeria Basketball Federation, originally known as the Basketball Association of Nigeria (BAN), was formed in 1963. The NBBF is the governing body for basketball in Nigeria and oversees the development and promotion of the sport.

Both men's and women's teams have qualified for the Olympics on multiple occasions and have won multiple All-African Games titles. Several players of Nigerian origin have also left a huge impact on the NBA, including Hakeem Olajuwon and Giannis Antetekoumpo.

Hakeem Olajuwon
Former NBA MVP Hakeem Olajuwon warms up before a game in 1994. Photo by NBAE
Source: Getty Images

1. Football

Last but not least, football is the most popular sport in the world, and Nigeria is no different. British missionaries, teachers, and administrators introduced football to Nigeria during the colonial era. In the 1940s and 1950s, football clubs began to emerge in Nigeria. Notable among them was the Lagos Marine Football Club, which later became known as the Stationery Stores Football Club.

The recent history of football in Nigeria saw a spike in popularity during the 1990s due to the emergence of the Nigerian 'Dream Team' with world-class players such as Nwankwo Kanu and Jay Jay Okocha, who won the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, USA. Their women's team, the Super Falcons, have also won several continental titles and played at the Olympics and Women's World Cup.

Kanu Taiwo
(From left) Nigeria's Nwankwo Kanu congratulates Taye Taiwo after scoring against Ghana during their 2006 African Nations Cup (CAN) football match at Al-Masri Club Stadium. Photo by Karim Jafaar/AFP
Source: Getty Images

Final word

Nigeria has a great sporting heritage and is one of the continent's most talented areas. From traditional games like Dambe to modern games like basketball and football, the country has left an indelible mark on global sports.

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Steve Njuguna
Steve Njuguna is a media professional with close to a decade of experience in the sports media industry. He has previously worked as a sports journalist with Bamba Sports TV, Vybez Radio and The Nairobian newspaper.
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