SPORTS and youth development in Anambra State have witnessed series of ups and downs since creation of the state from the former Anambra State, 27 years ago.
Like in other spheres of human endeavour, Anambra has had her fair share of successes and challenges but most importantly, the state has the potentials and prospect of making it bigger in few years to come.
The current challenges being faced by the government in developing the youth of the state through the instrumentality of sports emanated from the long negligence of the sector by the past administrators of the state. It is an incontrovertible fact that the past regimes in the state both military and civil, only paid lip service to this all important sector of the society. It is on record that except the past regime, no government did anything to develop sports in the state.
The multiplier effect of this ugly development was the mass exodus of sports men and women of the state origin to other states of the federation where sports and youth development were taken seriously. In the days of yore, the present Anambra State produced the bulk of sports men and women that did the country proud in international and national circuits. For instance, no history of sports development in Nigeria will be complete without mentioning the likes of Late Power Mike Okpala, who wrote the country’s name in world sports history in wrestling, late Emmanuel Ifeajuma, who was the first Nigerian to win a Commonwealth gold medal in long jump. Others are Innocent Egbunike, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Emmanuel Okala, the eldest of the Okala goal-keeping dynasty, Uchenna Emedolu, Late Queen of the track, Chief Regina Okafor, the Atuegbu brothers, Ernest Ufele, Kenneth Abana etc.
It was unfortunate that sports in a state that produced the above mentioned world stars at a time came to a state of comatose and oblivion.
Apart from the dearth of sports facilities which has become a recurring decimal, lack of incentives also threw spanner in the wheel of progress of sports development in the state. Anambra, even in the present time has a challenge of a befitting stadium at the capital city of Awka and mini stadia in the three senatorial districts of the state. There is no arguing the fact that sports developments being a capital intensive venture, cannot be done overnight since the state government that carries the full responsibility for developments in sports has other challenges facing her with the lean financial resources accruable from the federation account.
Lack of adequate support from corporate organizations, wealthy individuals and private sports clubs have not helped matters. It is an irrevocable fact that if the past administrations in the state had paid little attentions to sports development, the present government under Chief Willie Obiano would have had less work to do in the area of provision of facilities, among others.
A clear example is the construction of the Awka Stadium, a project that came into being immediately after the creation of the state but works have not commenced fully. The fact remains that if the past governments in the state had completed the sports complex, Governor Obiano would have had the reprieve to face other areas of sports development. The question on what happened to the budgets made for the project by the past regimes is an issue for another time.
At inception, the Obiano led administration met a lot of challenges on ground, some of which this write-up has been able to expose. However, the government has been able to tackle some of them while many more are begging for attention. For instance, the present regime has been able to stop the past tradition of using Anambra as a poaching ground by other states of the federation. Nothing deters sports development programme like a state losing her best athletes to other competing states. Not only that it is a waste of resources used in discovering and training such athletes to national limelight, it makes both long and short time planning difficult.
Governor Obiano has changed the story. On assumption of office, he made a clarion call to all sportsmen and women of Anambra State origin to come home and join his administration in the onerous task of developing the potentials of the youth of the state through sports. He followed up the call by putting up some mouth-watering incentives and welfare packages for those that answered the call. Presently, you will hardly find Anambra athletes competing for other states in any national competition, a fact that gained notoriety during the past administrations.
Another challenge the present regime faced at inception was how to stop the dwindling fortunes of the state in the area of sports, knowing that any inaction on their side will lead to total erosion of all the gains made by the state in the field of sports over the years. The government quickly called back home some ex-world star athletes like Mary Onyali-Omagbem and Uchenna Emedolu, to mention but two to join in the task of discovering and training younger athletes that would win laurels for the state. The plan is yielding the desired fruits. This could be seen from the performances of the state’s athletes in their recent outings in national and international competitions.
Bringing back these world beaters from the comforts of their homes abroad to join the bandwagon was not an easy task. Governor Obiano was able to convince them because of the policies and programmes he put on the ground for the purpose, coupled with his track record of successes in all sectors of the lives of the citizenry, including youth and sports development. It was a challenge well tackled whose dividends will endure for many years to come.
The government also had the challenge of re-awakening the spirits of ndi Anambra to embrace sports as part of their lives. To achieve the aim, the state government under Obiano brought to ndi- Anambra the IAAF Golden League Athletics Competition which attracted over 400 local and international athletes. During the championship, youths of Anambra State saw and watched first hand some of the world’s best athletes which they hitherto watched on televisions and read on newspapers and magazines.
The effect of that bold move cannot be over emphasized in sports development. To give a temporary reprieve to the issue of sports facilities, the state government sponsored the renovation of Rojenny Stadium, Oba, a sports complex owned by an indigene of the state, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka. The tartan track that he laid at the complex can be compared to any in the world. It is on record that Anambra remains the first and the only state in the South East geo-political zone to host the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) Golden League Athletics Competition.
It was not only in athletics that the state faced challenges. When the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports had a challenge of hosting the zone III Volleyball Championship, Anambra took up the challenge even when there were no facilities to host it. Facilities were improvised and some procured within a very short notice and the competition according to reports, turned out to be the best the zone had ever organized in recent times.
Even though there have been challenges which the state government has been able to tackle to the best of its abilities and within the resources available, there are strong indicators that Anambra will bounce back very soon as the Mecca of sports in the country.
As a result of the mutual understanding between the Governor Obiano led Anambra State Government and private sports facilities developer, the issue of lack of sports facilities will be a thing of the past very soon. This is sequel to the rate at which private sports facilities are springing up in all parts of the state.
For instance, there are presently the Nero Stadium in Nanka, the newly renovated Rojenny Stadium, Oba, the Onitsha Sports Club Complex, to mention but a few. These sports complexes would no doubt; compliment the Chuba Ikpeazu Stadium, Onitsha, in hosting sporting competition for the state. In Nnewi, the Anaedo Sports Complex and FC Ifeanyi Ubah Stadium are ever ready to host both national and international events.
In recent times, the Willie Obiano led government had expanded the scope of youth and sports development to include Youth Empowerment and Creative Economy. A move many experts and knowledgeable individuals in the field of youth development had described as a good idea and a panacea for genuine youth development. Also the Anambra State Sports Commission, created by the present regime has been described as a good prospect for youth development and empowerment.
A foremost sports promoter and enthusiast, Chief Sunday Okoye, had told us in a previous interview that the emergence of the Sports Commission would have a direct effect on sports development in the state. Said he during the interview:“I think the creation of a separate commission for sports is a step in the right direction. It will foster faster decision making process. Sports are very dynamic and need faster decision taking process. The idea of subjecting it to the civil service bureaucracy which the former system tended to promote hinders the progress of our athletes.”
It is the dream of the youth in the state that before the expiration of his administration, Chief Obiano will form a state owned football club for the youths of the state.
Those that spoke to us remembered with nostalgia when Anambra had clubs like TRACAS Warriors that produced former national goalkeeper, late Sam Okoye, Morning Stars and privately owned clubs like Udoji United, Jasper United, etc, that brought first class foot matches to the people every weekend.
They believe that Akpokuedike can do it and will cap it up by making the dream of building the Awka Stadium a reality, taking into congnisance his track record of success in all aspects of the socio-economic and political lives of ndi Anambra.