By Jude Atupulazi
When the Anambra State Government pulled out sports from the Ministry and set it up as Anambra State Sports Development Commission, ASSDC, the reason behind it was not very clear at the time. Later, however, it turned out to be something of a master stroke. For the first time, sports stood out on its own, away from the shackles put on it while under a ministry. It was something that freed it from official bureaucracy, meaning that it will be directly run from the office of the governor for rapid and sustainable results.
The next problem to surmount was to find a seasoned administrator who would push the governor's developmental vision for sports in the state. That administrator was found in the person of Mr Tony Oli who had proved his managerial savvy as the helmsman of the State/Local Government Joint Account Committee
Oli, whose tenure effectively began in May this year, has hit the ground running, refusing to be mired in official bureaucracy. After taking a hard look at the state of affairs in the state's sports sector, he eventually came up with what is turning out to be the missing link in sports development in the state. That missing link is the absence of a serious programme to develop sports from the grassroots.
This has caused the state, like many states in the federation, to depend on ready-made products to sustain the win-at-all-costs mentality. Under this, results are obtained in the interim without regard for grooming of talents. Thus states with money go for established talents from other states.
But Oli is having none of this. Instead, he has gone back to the drawing board to begin from the basics and part of this is to resuscitate school sports or academicals as in the days of old.
He says, 'The Governor in his wisdom carved out everything sports from the Ministry of Youths and Sports of old and even from the education sector because prior to now, the Ministry of Education in conjunction with ASUBEB and the Post Primary Schools Commission organized school sports but the governor wants everything sports to be in one sector; so he created the Anambra State Sports Development Commission so we take care of everything sports from active sports to leisure sports and to professional sports.
'So since I took over we have previewed everything and started doing work. The bed rock of that name would always make them know that what I have is Anambra State Sports Development Commission; that development is the key to the name. It means we will go down to the grassroots to bring these kids up and groom them up to the point where they move into the professional cadre and that entails picking them from Primary School and guiding them into secondary school and this National Sports Festival becomes the hallmark of sports activities in Nigeria.
'The moment you attain it, it means that the next place for you is professional and we have in that sense programmed the commission to run the activities that will aid this development vision. We are starting from School Sports. Football is the cardinal, focal point in any sports development. That academicals competition that has lost its glory is going to come back. We have about one thousand, three hundred schools, both primary and secondary, and we have programmed them to start School Sports. We did it in primary and secondary schools and we are also planning it in tertiary institutions. We will start with football, go into basket ball and volley ball; so we are going to encourage inter house sports in order to develop a Bill Gates for inter house sports in secondary schools. This will give us the opportunity to dig out talents.’
How it will be done
To achieve this, Oli has mapped out a meticulous programme which will make it easy to discover talents. He plans to encourage inter house sports in schools. Under this, during the weekends, the champions from various schools will be assembled to compete with other schools. From there, the best in the various sports will be picked and will undergo training.
The last time, there was little time to do the above as he had just assumed duty. The state ended up securing three gold, five silver and seven bronze medals. Oli however sees this as a good experience for the state.
'I just took over April or May and the Sports Festival was coming up July, so what we did was to call for open trials so that it would enable us to participate. Yes, we didn't get the best of the kids, though it was during holidays. It was only those that were around that participated.
'After selecting these kids we had one week camping to groom them, and that was how we attended the Youth Sports Festival. Yes, we didn't do too well but that was a very good experience, we won three gold, five silver and seven bronze medals. I think we were sixteenth on the table. But when you look at Delta State and Lagos State that have been deep into sports, these two states have sports commissions. So going forward, there will be a lot of improvement,' Oli says.
Equipped with the experience gained at the last festival, Anambra State is already gearing up for the National Youth Sports Festival coming up from December 6 to 17 this year in Abuja, with the open trials slated for next week. October 22nd will be for North Senatorial Zone; 23rd for South, and 24th for Central. The zonal arrangement is to enable the state to accommodate everybody. Thereafter, the best kids will be selected for two to three weeks camping to boost preparation.
One significant aspect of the state's preparations is that unlike before, there will be no use of mercenaries. Every member of the state's contingent will be home grown.
It is part of the development plan in which a continuous stream of talents will be churned out. The finished products will proceed to the professional level, while new ones will replace them.
The stars to be used by the state for national competitions are encouraged to be with some clubs in the state and their services will be used whenever needed.
'In a situation where Anambra State will go for National Sports Festival, we go and bring players playing in other clubs and after playing there is an allowance we give them and they go back to their various clubs.
He believes that after any athlete attends the National Sports Festival the next place for them will be to go international.
'I don't want mercenaries. I want to develop them and keep them, not when you want to play you will start looking for someone so we need to change their mind,' Oli says.
The state, he says, will not have any standing team. The aim is for the state to avoid killing clubs and academies in the state because if the state floats a club, all the players will prefer playing for the state team.
'The players can remain in their clubs but knowing they can play for the state when called upon. They are like the Super Eagles team. They leave their clubs and come and play for us during competitions. They are called Anambra Tigers. Once any player goes professional, we are through with him, Oli explains.
He also plans to organize tournaments, with foreign clubs coming to watch the players.
He envisions an atmosphere where all the kids that have the talent are given opportunities to participate in sports and excel, hence the introduction of School Sports as level one, Club Sports as level two; Traders' Cup as level three and the Community Shield involving all the communities.
He expects that in the next one year, sports in the state will have been revolutionized at all levels. This is even as he discloses the introduction of Walk-for-Life which will kick off on the 2nd of November, with the take off point being at Sir Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka.
For now, the commission is talking to sponsors so that they can help with facilities.
'We want to make everybody in Anambra State sports men and women. It will improve our health. My promise is that in the next one year there will be a change in the Sports Commission in Anambra State,' Oli assures.