By Jude Atupulazi
Tony Oli, Chairman, Anambra State Sports Development Commission, is a man driven by a passion for excellence in whatever he does. He is today translating that to developing sports in the state in a manner that has not been done since the creation of the state. In this interview with Fides Editor-in-Chief, Jude Atupulazi, Oli, among other things, talks about the recently concluded Football season in the state, the first of its kind; what motivated him and how he plans to take it to greater heights.
Can we know what happened on the 1st of June as far as sports is concerned in Anambra State?
Well, thank you Jude. First of June is like a watershed in the history of Anambra State. When we were growing up, we heard of Academicals, but we ended up not hearing that again. But in the past 14, 20 years, those things have not happened again. So, 1st of June, we held the finals of Under 13 and 17 of the academicals. Under 13 for primary schools and under 17 for secondary schools. Anambrarians came out to witness soccer made in Anambra State, and it was a memorable day which we believe, marked the return of Academicals in the state.
Which teams played that Day?
For the under 13, Central School, Ekwulobia, played Eri Primary School, Aguleri. Central School won and went home with 500,000; while for Under 17 category, Community Secondary School, Uga, played Metropolitan College, Onitsha. Community Secondary School, Uga, won and went home with a star prize of one million Naira. It was 3-1 for the primary school and 2-1 for the secondary school.
The Amount is too much, how did you get the money?
Oh, the Governor approved it. I told him that we needed to start something that would be encouraging. What we wanted to do was not to give out the money to them but to use it to buy some sporting equipment. Yes, the boys would be given some token for participating but we would sit down with the principal. There must be one or two sporting equipment to be installed in that school to make it remarkable that they were involved in that tournament.
Something remarkable was witnessed, the teams at the finals wore branded Jerseys. How did you come about that?
For the branded Jerseys, while the Governor supported with cash prizes, we all know that the government cannot do everything, so along the line, we approached some corporate organizations. At the same time, we reasoned that if we had told the teams to come with their jerseys some wouldn’t have come. So, as we approached the organizations, some responded. Fidelity Bank responded and supported us. We sat down with them and told them what we wanted to do and that we wanted these kids well kitted. So, we partnered Fidelity and they provided one hundred and forty-four pair of boots and from the semifinals, they wore Jerseys.
As you noticed the kids were well kitted. So that was why their Logos were branded everywhere and when the kids went to their dressing room, they were so happy. So, hopefully, we expect that in subsequent tournaments, they will continue partnership with us.
So, what was the idea behind this competition, what motivated you?
Well, sure, one was to engage our youths and make sure those with the talent gained a platform that would be created for them. And to encourage our youths that have football in mind as their career path; that they would find a way to excel. Basically, that was what we had in mind, because all over the world football is a big thing and Anambra State cannot be left behind.
Can you tell us other packages you have, regarding sports activities?
For the football season, it will be defined properly; from November to May every year. And even with that we have six cups. One, the Security Challenge Cup, which the police won; the King’s Cup for the 187 communities in Anambra State; Under-13, Under-17 for primary and secondary schools; Uni-Soccer for universities, Traders Cup for traders.
Then, beyond that is the issue of looking at other games and other areas. After discussing with the Governor, we had in mind to organize Anambra State Sports Festival come November. The reason is to prepare ourselves for Edo 2020, which will be coming up at the first quarter of next year. Edo State is preparing and we don’t want to be left behind, we want to improve on the record of 2018.
We also have the National Youth Games coming up in Ilorin, in September, so our hands are tight. We have a handful and we have a lot to do. We are trying to approach some sports stakeholders to see how we can develop sports facilities across the state. We started looking at individuals we can approach to help with some facilities, for example a Basketball Court and Volleyball in a community school, so that we can begin to develop talents along that line.
What appeared to be a major blight was the absence of sporting facilities in Awka; at least a stadium. Do you have plans to build a stadium in Awka?
Yes, sure. The Governor has that in mind. It is obvious we are lacking sporting facilities and the Governor is not resting on it. Ekwulobia Township Stadium has been awarded. He has ordered for a visit of Awka Township Stadium which has long been there. He said that the tournament’s finals will be played there. Somehow the three senatorial zones will have stadiums. We also plan building mini stadiums for sporting activities.
What about the Stadium in Onitsha?
At a point, I had to shut it down to see if the grasses would come up because the activities there were becoming too much, having six or more football sessions which is not too good. We had the intention of playing the finals there but the playing activities were too much and it depleted the whole stadium. So, we advised that the people playing football should go to Fegge, while other sports like aerobics can continue, while we preserve and work on the pitch. Chuba Ikpeazu Stadium has to be renovated.
So how are you partnering with other private agencies who have Academies?
My duty is to create the platform, like the matches we play. Their duty is to come there as scouts. Academies are like private agencies who get and train the players and sell them to make their money. Mine is to create the platform because that is not my business because I am a policy maker and developer. I have created a pool for them to go and scout. Instead of them creating a street competition, I have organized the tournament. So, if they have their scouts, whether foreign or local, they can come and pin down players. I have told my coaches to also be shortlisting these players and follow them up to protect these players from child traffickers. From Under-17 down, they are not legally entitled to contracts, so we must protect them. So, the academies who have approached me, I told them I can’t work in business with them, mine is to create the platform and I have done that.
So, what have been the gains you recorded from the experience you gathered at the last National Sports Festival?
For the last sports festival, it’s obvious that early preparations are key. That’s why I said we wanted to do the state’s Sport Festival that would enable us to have a lot of athletes participating. You know most of the Coaches depend on residual knowledge. But when you declare a festival as this, you will be able to train and pick up newer talents. Major lesson is early preparation.
What are your projections as to how the state will perform?
For us to continue to improve on what we have done, we have to work on the things we have done well.
Moving away from football, what are your other programmes?
When you talk of Sports Festival, you know football is just a part of it, so we have other sports activities in it. So, it is all encompassing. The idea is to launch the Sports Festival to bring every idea into it.
There is one area which is often neglected, swimming, and we HAVE riverine communities which can be producing champions…
(Chips in) Unfortunately, it’s not that way. Swimming in the river is not the same as Olympic swimming standards. The problem is that we do not have standard swimming pools here in Anambra State. Swimming is one and knowing the professional kind of swimming is another.
You didn’t talk about your project which is Walk for Life
Ok. That one is DNA for us. We are hoping for partners to sponsor it. Walk for life has come to stay.
What is your personal motivation?
I am self-motivated. I just love to get things done; that’s all. I only follow the ant theory. The ant is always focused to go or get what it wants.
Given the Progress you have made, where do you see Anambra State in the next five years with regard to sports?
Anambra State will take the right position. We just must be focused, and we will get there.
From the Money you are giving to schools, do you have any way of monitoring how they are used?
Yes, what we gave them is the dummy cheque. So before giving them the originals we must sit with the principal and discuss a capital project for the school; like table tennis board, etc.
Channels Kids’ Cup has just been concluded. Are the state’s kids going to represent Anambra State at the next tournament?
I don’t think so, because our own calendar for the competition may clash with that; but let’s see how it goes.
What legacy would you like to bequeath to the state?
I want Walk for Life to be institutionalized. I also want the football season to be institutionalized also. These are the kinds of legacies I want to keep. Medals can be won by anyone, but I want these competitions to continue.
Thank you and congrats