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Itamar Dubinsky is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion at Oregon State University, USA. His research focuses on the intersections of sport and development in Africa, specifically in Ghana. His forthcoming book examines Ghanaian football academies from an Africapitalist prism and will be published in Wisconsin Press in early 2022.
Green Eagle Nation: The Politicization of Sports Journalism in the Post-Independence Nigerian Press
Sports pages provide a vantage point for viewing the tensions around nation-building, and postcolonial Nigeria is no exception. Following independence, coverage of the Green Eagles national football team reflected aspirations for a united Nigeria, but it was also an outlet for deep political tensions. From 1960-1962, the coach of the national team was the Israeli, Moshe Beit Halevi. The press coverage of the Green Eagles and their coach provides a unique perspective on the political tensions that plagued Nigeria in these years. The disputes around Beit Halevi’s hiring as the first coach of independent Nigeria enabled sports journalists to become mouthpieces for both cohesion and discord.
To date, there has been limited academic work examining the relationship between sportswriters and nationalist sentiment in African historical contexts. This paper will examine the role that sports journalism played in nation-building in the early years of postcolonial Nigeria. The paper focuses on the press coverage of the Green Eagles in the leading national and regional newspapers during the first years of independence. The sports pages in the examined newspapers were subjected to narrative analysis that focused on the links between football coverage and political agendas, ideologies and conflicts in Nigeria. This analysis was aided by archive materials from the Israel State Archives, which provided important information regarding Beit Halevi.
The paper addresses the sub-themes of “Sport and history, continuity and change” and “Sport nationalist and sectarian sentiments” through the debates on the hiring of foreign coaches. Across the continent in the early postcolonial era, it was commonplace for African teams to hire foreign coaches, as there was a lack of experienced indigenous coaches. This dependence on white coaches was a contentious issue at the time, drawing critique from Nigerian sportswriters and fans, and continues to be in Nigeria and other African countries.
Keywords: Nigeria, football, nation-building, sports journalism, coaching