‘Imo’s new path will galvanise South East’s sports development’
The future of sports, and its impact on society, is at the core of the new thinking in Imo State, where the state governor, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, has identified sports as the new elixir for total youth development. On November 28 and 29, the state assembled the best brains in Nigerian sports to chart a path for a sustainable sports culture for the state with a view to arresting the steady slide in the country’s sports.
As a state, which prides itself as the ‘Heartland of the Nation,’ the organisers of Imo State Sports Summit believe that if they got it right, it would motivate other states to strive to develop their youths through sports. Until the creation of Abia State in 1991, Imo State was always among the top finishers in national sports competitions. At National Sports Festivals, the state dominated in such events as handball, athletics, volleyball, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting and football, among others.
Even when Abia was carved out of the state in 1991, Imo State still held top spot with its athletes among the top stars in every Nigerian contingent to major international competitions. Imo State’s prowess was borne out its peoples physiological make up and the drive for excellence that is innate in the people. And then, there have always been models, big names in various aspects of sports to look up to.
That era of abundance in natural talents, role models and the enabling environment for the youths to hone their skills are what the current leaders of Imo State’s sports say they are working to recreate. At the sports summit, the conveners brought all the eggheads in Nigerian sports to guide them on the ways to sustainable development. At the end of the day, the participants came away with the belief that at last the South East now has a champion that would drag it out of its slumber.
It is believed that if Imo got it right, the effects would push the remaining four states in the region into creating the environment for their youths to channel their energies into productive sports ventures. While speaking on Imo State’s new path to sports development, Chairman of its Sports Commission, Mr. Fan Ndubuoke, said things have started working well because the current governor, Ihedioha, understands the place of sports in the economic growth of society.
He said the governor wants to use sports as a key force and factor in his Rebuild Imo Project, which has seen him award contracts for the renovation and rehabilitation of Dan Anyiam Stadium, Grasshoppers International Handball Stadium, Old Township Stadium and Indoor Sports Hall. He has also awarded contract for a sports complex behind Dan Anyiam Stadium, which will house a state-of-the-art gym, an indoor basketball hall and a doping centre.
“The governor has given us a blank cheque to put things right,” Ndubuoke. “So, now all the facilities in the state that had been abandoned for so long are now being put back in shape. The governor personally went to the Dan Anyiam Stadium to look at the on-going repairs and ensure that the job there meets international standard.
“The governor does not interfere in the economic affairs of the local councils, but he has warned them to use their resource judiciously. They have no excuse not to build sports facilities in their areas. Coaches have been sent to the local governments to fish out the talents and develop them for the state.”
Tomorrow, the state will start the second leg of the sports development programme, the 13th Imo State Sports Festival, which involves all the 27 councils of the state. The build up to the festival started last week when Governor Ihedioha lit the Unity Torch inside Government House, Owerri. The torch had gone on a tour of the 27 LGAs across the state with the chairmen and members of the Interim Management Committees involved in its movement.
Ndubuoke explained that movement of the torch would sensitise Imo indigenes and create awareness for the festival, adding, “We want the people to be part of the whole exercise, which is part of the process of rebuilding Imo through sports. We want them to feel the impact of our governor’s passion for sports and its development.”
While speaking on the sports development drive embarked upon by Imo State, a notable sports writer, Mr. Tony Ubani, said the success of the programme could change the face of sports in the South East region. Ubani, who attended the Imo Sports Summit, said, “For once, our people are taking a holistic approach to sports development, which is what the region had been crying out for.“It is unfortunate that a region that produces the highest number of sportsmen and women for the country is not reckoned with when critical national sports issues happen in the country.
“You know, it got so bad that even when the country bided to host FIFA Women’s World Cup, no city in the South East was considered as a venue. This was simply because there are no facilities and the governments seemingly don’t care. Now, Imo has woken up. I hope others will emulate Governor Ihedioha because sports can help arrest crime and unemployment in the region.”
Lagos-based lawyer from Imo State, Sabinus Ikewuaku, believes Governor Ihedioha has the pedigree to achieve whatever he wants to do with sports in Imo State. However, he cautions the governor to beware of politicians, who might want to hijack the process because their party is in power.
“It is good that Governor Ihedioha has picked one of the best sports administrators from the South East to champion the sports development drive. I pray he keeps to his resolve to boost sports in Imo State. I listened to all the speakers on the first day of the summit in Owerri and I want to say that in Fan Ndubuoke we have a careful driver, who can lead us to greatness again. Imo has suffered for far too long.”