SOARING HIGHER :Sports Development Under Udom Emmanuel

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SOARING HIGHER :Sports Development Under Udom Emmanuel By Emmanuel Ndon The dwindling fortunes of sports in Akwa Ibom State has become an old song in the last 3 1/2 years. There has been a total rebirth, a new vision, a renaissance that has projected the state to a different level of reckoning in Nigeria. Under Governor Udom Emmanuel, the new policy direction for sports development has its foundation in the grassroots. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has a clear roadmap outlined to enhance the success of the vision to place Akwa Ibom on the sporting map of the country and the outside world. The strategy is anchored on the age-long ‘catch them young’ philosophy where talents are identified, groomed and prepared for excellent performance. This new vision of sports development is encompassing. It is intertwined with educational development – a perfect blend intended to to mould talents with sound academic knowledge and refine the raw talents embedded in them. Thus, educational and sporting facilities complement each other to achieve desired objectives. Sportsmen who distinguished themselves are, in this wise, rewarded with bountiful scholarship awards among other laurels. In Akwa Ibom State, sports development has been designed as an empowerment programme to better the lots of the youths. The Governor has constructed sporting centres (two already completed) to bring sophisticated facilities nearer to the sportsmen in the ten federal constituencies of the state. The Godswill Akpabio international stadium has received regular attention and is home to Akwa United football club. The facility has attracted international games and tourists alike . Another aspect of the vision is to ensure that all thrive while potential talents are given the latitude to excel. As could be seen, even in national circles, football seems to receive more attention to the detriment of other sports. Here, the idea is that, other sporting activities – particularly athletics – receive a boost and in the process, would – be sportsmen in the various fields of sports are given the opportunity to express themselves. Matching words with action To give meaning to the vision, government set the ball rolling with the first ever Akwa Ibom Youth Sports Festival on March 22-26, 2017. The festival held for primary and secondary schools in the state and the result has been tremendous.The event heralded the future of sports not only for the state but Nigeria as a whole, and has since become an annual event. Meeting the needs of the nation Governor Emmanuel’s passion was driven by two factors : need and purpose.Out of sheer patriotism, the governor came under the weight of serious national burden occasioned by the dearth of sporting talents both in the state and Nigeria in general. As far as Udom Emmanuel is concerned, Nigeria’s frequent dismal outing in global sports meet is the sore point of national disgrace and embarrassment. For instance, the governor said while countries with a population of about three million won many medals during the last Olympic Games in Brazil, Nigeria with a huge population returned with a paltry bronze medal. Experts including administrators in the industry have attributed the declining fortune of sports in the country to the visible neglect of grassroots development where talents are discovered from tender ages and groomed for a long term success. Before the just concluded national sports festival in Abuja, in December, the Federal Ministry of Sports came under intense criticism over the inconsistency the national sports festival has suffered. The National Sports Festival which began in 1973 was instituted to among other reasons, discover hidden talents that can be harnessed and groomed for the future. But the system has been bastardized as a result of poor management and can no longer serve as the dependable reservoir of talents it was meant to be. Lately, laxity, apathy and general untidiness have led to frequent postponements of the National Sports Festival which have compounded the worrisome state of sports and sporting facilities in the country.It is on this premise that governor Udom Emmanuel identified the need to stage a grassroots sports festival as a welcome intervention to arrest the sliding fortunes of Akwa Ibom state in particular and the country as a whole. The governor said by exposing the youths to the best sporting facilities at an early stage, he was actually giving them the wings to fly to greater heights and charged them to appreciate the demands of processes, perseverance at training and discipline.Mr. Udom Emmanuel has received accolades from the Sports minister, Solomn Dalung for taking the bull by the horn and has since then, been receiving awards for his stellar performance including the Sports Governor of the Year. Governor Udom Emmanuel’s pragmatic approach to salvage sports is well discerned as not only desirable but timely. It is a move to fill an existing gap. But beyond that, this singular initiative has provided a permanent source of empowerment for the youths of the state. While I do not condemn financial packages as a source of empowerment, the view is that by the time the sportsmen and women identify and excel in their chosen fields, the reward thereof is to their eternal benefit . And this is the business angle that the governor clearly emphasized. “So beyond the story (of this festival), our youths should be launched to the glory of the money-spinning venture of sports. We know that the secret of the Lionel Messis, the Christiano Ronaldos, the Serena Williams, the Usain Bolts and other world stars is hidden, first and foremost, in early exposure to world class facilities particularly at an early age. So this catch them young initiative is well situated”. To achieve the target, the governor cautioned the youths against placing the carte before the horse, explaining that at the outset, they must not expect to run with money in their pockets but with hope in their hearts and dream in their heads. A rewarding endeavor True to expectations, just as everything is going according to plan, results are already showing in the sector. During the just concluded 19th National Sports Festival Akwa Ibom contingents showed an impressive performance amassing a medal haul of 92 with 32 gold, 26 silver and 34 bronze medals to to finish 6th on the overall table. It is heartwarming to note that half of the half of the contingents to the festival are products of the State sports festival with some of them setting new games’ records. The surprise package at the sports meet was the 14 – year – old discovery, Imabong Nse Uko, who set a new national record in 400m after a dominant display in the Women’s final, to set a personal best finishing at 32.52 seconds. She sped past Praise Idamadudu (Delta) and Folashade Abugan (Bayelsa), and with 10m to go, she peeled past African Championships Bronze medallist Yinka Ajayi (Delta), clocking a new Personal Best (PB) of 52.36s. In athletics, the state’s profile has continued to soar, two years back, Akwa Ibom was placed 4th during the National Youth Games in Ilorin, Kwara State in a tight race for honours. It was placed 7th in the the 2002 edition of the NSF held in Edo State. Going by the giant strides so far, there is no doubt that with sustained effort, the state is in a pole position to dominate not only in athletics, but other sports in the near future. In football, a story of the First Indeed, the success story of the Udom Emmanuel administration would be incomplete without the mention of the round leather game – football. For the first time in the history of Akwa Ibom, the state owned football team have won two Aiteo cup titles (Federation Cup and participated in continental championships in 2016), and nearly won a third last year after losing in the final. Since the inception of Udom Emmanuel administration, the structure and management of Akwa United has been rejigged. First, the Governor brought in Atuekong Paul Bassey, an expert in football management, to steer the ship. So far, Mr. Bassey has, in collaboration with Hon. Monday Uko, the sports commissioner, turned around the fortunes of the club. They have successively recruited competent technical and back room staff. Presently, and for the first time, they have a foreign coach . It is believed that Akwa United will continue to do well as have been the case, as the new football season commences. It is to the credit of the Governor that the state government has sustained the sponsorship of three other football clubs across various divisions of Nigerian football. With this impressive record of achievements, all that is required is to sustain the momentum – and this can only happen if Udom Emmanuel is voted back to finish the good job he has started.
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