By Jude Atupulazi
I've seen active people who have shown passion, commitment and zeal for their jobs but in Mr Tony Oli, such virtues have been elevated to another level. Tony Oli is the chairman of Anambra State Sports Development Commission, ASSDC.
Indeed, since he came onto the sporting scene of Anambra State, sports and the approach to it has not been the same again. For the first time, there has been a steady, conscious approach to uplift sports in the state, a development that has seen the citizenry being caught up in the excitement, especially through the ''Walk for Life'' programme. The programme which involves people walking from one designated point to another, had its first session on November 2 this year. It was massively attended. The second one just took place last Saturday, with take off point from the Governor's Lodge Park to Golden Tulip Hotel, Agulu.
But to Oli, it's not just about keeping fit but about re-launching the state back to the path of sports greatness. And what better stage to do that than the upcoming National Sports Festival coming up in Abuja on December 6.
Ahead of the National Sports Fiesta, Anambra's athletes have been camped in three different places, namely, Rojenny Sports Village in Oba; St Michael's Comprehensive Secondary School in Nimo and a place in Nnewi.
While Rojenny serves as the main camp, Nnewi hosts indoor games, as Nimo hosts combat sports like Boxing, Kung-Fu, Karate and Judo, among others.
The state is taking part in 22 sporting events comprising those whose facilities are available. According to Oli, the state is not going to Abuja to make up the numbers but to make a mark. Hence, the state is participating in only those sports with potentials for medals.
They include Volley Ball, which the state emerged overall champions in the zone; Boxing, Table Tennis, Chess, Scrabble, Judo, Karate, 100-meter dash, hurdle, etcetera. But in Boxing, Oli sees hope for the state, especially in the Super Heavy Weight category.
'When you see one of those boxers, no one will tell you that he means business,' Oli told me.
Having supervised the preparations and seen the readiness of the athletes, Oli, who is reluctant to make a prediction, however expects the state's contingent to come back with at least ten gold medals, better than the overall best of six got in the past.
But beyond the immediate future which the National Sports Festival represents, Oli has rolled out what seems a total package in oiling the wheel of sports in the state. Apart from the Walk for Life which has now come to be, Oli is set to launch what he calls a Football Season that will cover all the age categories and sections which will last from November to May next year.
It includes the Under-13; Under-17; Academicals Cup; Governor's Cup; Market Traders' Cup involving all the 63 registered markets in the state; Community Shield involving 180 towns; Security Challenge by all the security agencies in the state; and Uni Soccer to be competed for by all the tertiary institutions. There will also be School Sports which will begin in April next year from where the state will select talents for future competitions.
Indeed, there's no gain saying the fact that Anambra needs to bounce back. Not too long ago, the state had three top sides in the country's Premier League. They included Jasper United, Udoji United and Gabros International. At a time, Udoji and Jasper represented Nigeria in the CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup after coming first and second.
The state has also produced many famous sporting talents in football, wrestling and athletics. In football were the likes of Godwin Achebe, Emma Okala, Matthias Obianika, Nwabueze Nwankwo, Aloysius Atuegbu and others; while in wrestling were the likes of Power Mike and Ben Lion Heart. Who can forget the mercurial Mary Onyali Omagbemi in athletics?
In those days too, were the famous School Sports and Academicals from where those that made it big in football and other sports were spotted and groomed. Sadly, however, over the years, all those gains were allowed to go to waste and today Anambra does not even have a single team in the elite league of the country's football. All our top athletes have defected to other states for lack of incentives here. Sporting activities were only paid lip service to without any serious attempt to address the issues. This was not helped by the appointment of square pegs to cover round holes. Many of those people were content to sit in their offices most of the time, doing paper work. But we all know that sporting excellence does not require paper work alone but a conscious effort to do the needful.
In Tony Oli, it appears the dark clouds hovering over the state's sporting atmosphere are lifting. Oli is a workaholic who loves being in the field and who, if possible, can be in many places at the same time.
The ground he has covered in so short a time is something near phenomenal and it is fair to say that in Oli, a Daniel has come to judgement as far as Anambra sports is concerned.
As the state's contingent leaves for the National Sports Festival this week, the results by the state's contingent may not matter much. What will matter is that a seed is being sown today that will germinate into something great for the state. And when it does, history will be kind to a certain Oli who set the ball rolling.