Daniel Igali: Canada’s Olympic gold medallist redefining wrestling in Nigeria

Daniel Igali: Canada’s Olympic gold medallist redefining wrestling in Nigeria

Former Canadian wrestler, Daniel Igali is the President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation (NWF) and his impact has made Nigerian wrestlers dominant on the African continent in recent years.

Nigerian wrestlers contributed 11 medals to the country’s overall medals haul of 121 at the recently-concluded 2023 African Games in Ghana – the women’s team won all six gold medals while the men’s team shared three silver and two bronze medals.

Igali’s leadership, international experience and proactive approach can not be overlooked in the steering of day-to-day activities of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation which cumulated to recent success.

Nicknamed the Dynamite, Igali was formerly a Nigerian wrestler who competed for the country at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada but he was forced to seek refuge in the North American country due to political crisis in Nigeria in the late 90s and he became a Canadian citizen at the age of 24.

He won an Olympic gold medal for Canada at Sydney 2000 after beating Russia’s Arsen Gitinov in men’s 69kg freestyle event.

Daniel Igali of Canada waves the Canadian national flag following his gold medal victory over Russia's Arsen Gitinov in the final of the 69kg freestyle wrestling competition at the Syndey 2000 Olympic Games.

The Bayelsa-born sports administrator also won gold for Canada at the 1999 Wrestling World Championships and silver in the 1999 Wrestling World Cup.

He has made his home state, Bayelsa State, the gymnasium for developing raw talents into stars with national wrestling trials and camps taking in the Niger Delta region of the country.

Igali, who was first elected NWF president in 2013, is a major stakeholder in African wrestling and his presence as a member of the United World Wrestling Bureau puts Nigeria on the decision-making table in amateur wrestling.

However, Igali’s commendable strides did not come without challenges ranging from poor funding, insufficient training facilities amongst others.

In a recent interview, the 50-year-old said: “Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and South Africa’s wrestling federations’ budgets are more than $1 million each yearly. Here, we don’t get anything from the government unless it is time for a competition.

“I was encouraged to borrow money to run a wrestling camp ahead of the Japan 2020 Olympics, where we got a bronze medal and up till now, that money has not been repaid.

“Serious countries start preparing for the Olympics once one ends, but in Nigeria, we wait until it is a few months before the competition to release money for the event that we did not prepare for.”

Six Nigerian wrestlers including 2020 Olympic silver medallist Blessing Oborududu and Esther Kolawole have qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games but proper preparations backed by the government’s support will be required to improve Nigeria’s return of a silver medal from Tokyo 2020.

With reference to results at this year’s African Wrestling Championship and the African Games, wrestling could be hope for Nigeria’s first Olympic gold since Sydney 2000.


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