Tuesday, 30 August 2016

How to Revive and promote Sports in Anambra State

By Okechukwu Onuegbu

Sports is the development of physical interest of man. In education circle, it is called “Pyschomotor”, a manipulation of hands, legs, body, with the coordination of the eye movement. These exercises make man healthy for mental, moral and physical endeavours.

Similarly, sports provide avenue for those who do not actively participate in it to be spectators, because the sportsmen get lucrative business which gives them economic empowerment.

Also, the manufactures and merchants of sports equipment become gold diggers and this increases Company Tax for Government. In the same vein, sports enables talented youths to positively orientate their exuberance in legitimate investments and ultimately achieve socio-economic self satisfaction and become assets not liabilities to society.

In these perspectives, Government attaches great importance in sports because of its multiple advantages in many areas of human endeavours through building Sports Stadium for practicalisation of sports.

In Nigeria generally, and Anambra State in particular, sports development dated back to the British colonialism in the 1940s, when they developed townships in some places like Enugu, Onitsha, Aba, etc. Then, sports lovers, guided by the Europeans, began to utilise the facilities by forming football and athletic clubs. In Enugu, there was Enugu Black Rock Football Club; Onitsha has the Ikpeazu Redoubtables FC; while the Port Harcourt had Port Harcourt Bed Devils FC, which produced Albert Onyeanwuna, a native of Abatete, Anambra State, for the National Team as a Striker and Master Dribbler of Nigeria. Also, Aba had the Aba Giant Killers FC which produced Francis Obi-Okoye, a native of Ihiala, Anambra State as Defender and Iron Gate of Nigeria; etc.

It would also be recalled that the Europeans used the Stadium at Onitsha to produce the first athlete to win gold medal for Nigeria in Commonwealth Games in the person of Emmanuel Ifeajuna, an Onitsha man in High Jump in 1956. These stadia continued to function till 1960 when Nigeria gained independent and inherited them from their erstwhile colonialist.

However, these provisions and sporting activities were grounded in 1967 the country was experiencing civil war as people especially those living in townships fled into refugee camps. The end of war in 1970, however, led to resuscitation of sports with Enugu forming Rangers Football Club, while Onitsha had Ado Football Club which produced players like Emmanuel Okalla and Harrison Okagbue, who later joined Enugu Rangers as both towns were then under the same defunct East Central State. Okala later qualified to be in the National Team as the best goalkeeper in Nigeria, and number one goalkeeper in Africa with coveted prize attached to it.

However, upon creation of new states and local government areas, the Onitsha Sports Stadium, to be precise, was misappropriated with the encroachment of the office of the Local Government Area. This discouraged sport in the cosmopolitan city of Onitsha, leading its lovers to retreat to village playground referred to as “Imeobi Football Field” and revived football playing under the sponsorship of Barr. Odi Ikpeazu on low keyed level.

In 2006, when the then Governor Peter Obi came to office, sport was virtually non-existent. On noticing that there was no stadium for sports development, and that the former stadium was misappropriated, Obi recovered it, transferred the Council Area’s Office to another convenient place and built new houses for them, while demolishing the many two-storey buildings in the stadium and refurbished it.

At course of commissioning these sports edifice which occurred on July 8th- 10th, 2009, the then administration declared a-three day holiday for primary and secondary schools to create an avenue for pupils, students and civil servants to participate in the ceremonies and receive motivation from sports veterans on attendance namely, Kanu Nwankwo, Mary Onyeali-Omagbemi and others who were guests of honour that organised coaching courses for the youths and their coaches (games masters/mistresses). Further sports trainings were subsequently organised in the state, with provisions of luxury buses for transportation and other logistics.

Following these sports revival, Anambra State reportedly participated in National Sports Competitions; won laurels, produced a female wrestler, Miss Ifeoma Nwoye, who represented Nigeria at Commonwealth Games, who also won gold medal for female wrestling in 2010; and Morning Stars Football Club, Onitsha who won the championship of Youths Football Federation of Nigeria (YFFON) and represented Nigeria in international tournament in 2011.

Erstwhile Governor Obi also donated cups for football and athletics competitions for Primary and Secondary Schools and also for adult youths in the Local Government Areas, as well as encouraged individuals and group participation in development of sports in what was called “Public Private Partnership” (PPP) and financial intervention to owners of private stadium such as Chief Rommey Ezeonwuka of Rojenny Tourist Centre Oba, whom he reportedly offered N60 million, and Barr. Odi Ikpeazu for development of Imeobi Football Field at Enu-Onitsha, and also reconstructed the colonial government built sport stadium at Fegge—Onitsha which was misappropriated by the myopic military dictatorship and their immediate civilian successors.

Similarly, the erstwhile Governor subsequently held State sports competition at Rojenny Stadium, kicked-off building of the Awka Township Stadium in the state capital to international standard, and further attracted the FIFA Sports Stadium awarded to Southern part of the country to be sited at Amansea, Awka-north LGA of Anambra, while his colleague Governor of Bauchi State took that meant for the North.

As a result, some individuals, inspired with the virtues of patriotism responded from the private sector. Among them was Miss Pamela Eboh, a journalist by profession, who formed a female football club, known as “Blue Diamond Female Football Club” which consisted of agile girls constantly trained at Igwebuike Grammar School Field, Awka. The inaugural match of the club was with the Police Female Football Team, Awka played at the Government Technical College Field, Awka in 2008, and was attended by the then Deputy Governor, Her Excellency, Mrs. Virgy Etiaba as Guest of Honour, a Former Secretary to the State Government, Hon. Chief Ossy Ezenwa as Chairman of the occasion and many others. The team played many home and away matches, acquitted themselves creditably as a force to be reckoned with, and was registered with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) as the first Female Football Club in Anambra State.

Other active promoters of sports in Anambra State to be reckoned with is Chief Polycarp Emenike, who built a sports stadium known as NEROS SPORTS STADIUM, Nanka, in Orumba North Local Government Area through which he had sponsored and still sponsoring a football club, while hosting many football tournaments in his stadium regularly especially at Christmas time.

Chief Godwin Ezeemo is also a prominent Sports Promoter as he sponsors football competitions in his hometown Umuchu in Aguata Local Government Area every Christmas as he has floated a humanitarian organisation through which he sponsors a football outfit called EZEEMO CHARITY FOUNDATION FOOTBALL COMPETITION. As a great philanthropist, Chief Ezeemo donates generous prizes to the participants of the said championship.

Similarly, Chief Dr. Patrick Ifeanyi Uba through his IFEANYI UBA FOOTBALL CLUB has responded to Government’s invitation for Public Private Partnership (PPP) in sports promotion by acquiring the Gabros Football Club, in his hometown, Nnewi; recruited some players from Brazil and other African countries like Nigeria, donated trophies to be competed for by all the youths in the 21 Local Government Areas in the state through his Ifeanyi Ubah Grassroots Football Tournament already kicked-off, while its final is expected to be played by Christmas, with mouth watering prizes for winners and participants.

Also, Ubah is building a Games Village in his hometown, Nnewi, which is a Sports Stadium of International standard equipped with sports facilities in both competitive and comparative games, and shall have Tartan Tracks for Athletic competitions, boxing/wrestling rings, swimming pool of 50x100 feet and many other games, including a Five-Star Hotel to provide accommodation and lodging for elite visitors as well hostel accommodation for players and staff, Skill Acquisition Centre to impart productive skills to the needy so as to become economically empowered.
Ubah is currently the Chairman of the Anambra State Football Association, and the association has organised a sports workshop in Awka with resource persons drawn from eminent sports veterans from Lagos and Abuja.

On assumption of office, Obi’s successor, Chief Willie Obiano whose campaign promise and inaugural speeches hinged on “Continue, Complete, Commission, Commence” (CCCC) visited Rojenny Sports Stadium and refurbished it with Tartan Tracks for International Athletic Competition.

The incumbent administration also hosted the West African Competition in Tartan Track in 2015, held a bigger Athletic and Football Competition in the Rojenny in 2016, as well as continued with sport promotion at grassroots involving Primary, Secondary Schools, and adult youths at Council Areas, donated fresh cups and prizes for the topmost winners amongst other consolation prizes to participants.

Also, the incumbent State Commissioner for Youth Entrepreneurship and Sports Development, Dr. Barr. Uju Nwogu has expressed optimism that the programmes of the Ministry will produce future champions in both national and international levels.

However, in spite of the huge investments made in Sports by the Government, there is no Football Team being sponsored by the Government, as the Rangers Football Club, Enugu, is being sponsored by Enugu State Government.

But to achieve this aim, Governor Obiano has already mandated for the formation of Anambra Football Association to midwife a football team for the State, while soliciting for partnership from the private.

If these developments is articulated, it is hoped that Anambra State shall soon regain her pride of place in sports in Nigeria, as the State that first produced Olympic Gold medalist in Nigeria in 1956.     



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