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