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Poor state of sports in southeast worries AFN board member

By Gowon Akpodonor
04 November 2021   |   3:26 am
A board member of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Henry Okorie, is disturbed by what he described as a ‘poor state of sports’ in the southeast region of the country...

[FILES] Trackfield

Sends SOS to Enugu State Governor
• We are doing our best, says Gov Ugwuanyi’s aide

A board member of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Henry Okorie, is disturbed by what he described as a ‘poor state of sports’ in the southeast region of the country.

Okorie, a former 400m hurdler, who is currently the Chairman of, Nigeria Athletics Athletes’ Commission (NAAC), said in a message to The Guardian, yesterday, that sports decadence in the Southeast geopolitical zone of the country, particularly, Enugu State, is worrisome.

Okorie said it would be immoral to take such a big bite without a save our soul (SOS) message to the government.

“It will be fair to look briefly at the reward culture of the state. Stars do emerge in Enugu both in the entertainment and sports industries. Typical of our entertainment stars, they leave for Lagos, for obvious reasons. Our sports stars, those in team sports like football usually move abroad to get better sign-on fees. Then, individual sports stars, who emerge by sheer grit, either go to another state or get hanged out to dry. This preposterous fate systematically programmed against our sons and daughters is now a daily dose of sleeplessness I don’t seem to have an antidote for yet.

“I lived this fate, all these years, helpless, but it is very unfortunate. We cannot take it anymore. It is disturbing. It is sad.”

Okorie, who is the Athletes’ Representative on the AFN Board, represented Nigeria at several international events, including the African Games, African Senior Athletics Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Athletics Indoor Championships in his active days. He revealed that several athletes from Enugu and other states in the southeast region have been winning medals at the National Sports Festivals since 2009, yet they don’t represent their state of origin.

“I must admit that the social and sports culture, in particular, is very weird,” Okorie said. “Where the government allocates over 90 per cent of what should have gone to sports to football, and particularly, to a non-viable football club at that. To worsen the situation, a litany of youth groups are all over the social space singing government praises.

Enugu, as a city, had a history before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorate by Lord Lugard in 1914.

Sadly, a city with such a history has never hosted the National Sports Festival, an equivalent of the ‘Nigerian Olympics.’

Only Imo State (Owerri), in the present-day southeast, has successfully hosted a National Sports Festival in 1998.

This culture has also robbed the city of facilities. If not for the Federal Government-built Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, and that of the University of Nigeria, the shame would have been humiliating.

“Successive governments have reallocated lands proposed for the sports complex and Games village. The only running track available in the state now is a battle zone between athletes, Rangers Football Club, serial football match organisers, church activities, social and political parties. It’s important to note that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) is yet to host any competition or Classic in Enugu for over a decade now.”

Okorie continues: “At the end of the World Athletics U-20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, Nigeria won seven medals, made up of four gold and three bronze. The team had an athlete, Nnamani Chidera Johnson, who was born and bred in Enugu. He represented the state at Edo 2020 National Sports Festival in Benin City. To my dismay, all the official channels tapped to grant this young World champion access to the state’s government house was either red-taped or cold-shouldered.

“Evidently, the leadership of the state is not interested in sports. Enugu State contingents were conspicuously absent at the just concluded National Youth Games in Ilorin. The greatest shame came over me during the Technical meeting on the eve of the Games when a roll call was made and my state was absent. The state government cited insecurity, but Ebonyi State contingents passed through Enugu en route to Kwara State.

This is a state that last employed athletes in 2008 and is not providing any form of remuneration, allowances and stipends to any athlete. I implore, not just the Executive Governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon
Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi, but the elite of the state to hearken to this clarion call and change the narrative for good. Let us stop sacrificing the future of our talented sons and daughters on the altar of politics, bad governance and incompetent appointments. Enough is enough, Okorie stated.

Contacted yesterday, an aide to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “The Governor is doing his best in the area of sports in Enugu state. We continue to improve on it.”