Often times when Nigeria athletes return home without medals from international sports competitions like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, the swan song by Nigerian sports officials is usually ‘we would go back to the drawing board’ and we would pursue an aggressive grassroots sports development policy’.
Of course those are just words meant to calm the anger of a disappointed Nigerian public who are miffed by the huge expense of tax payers money wasted and yet there are no results to show for it. The National Sports Commission, NSC and its alter ego, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN have always cried about grassroots development and for over a decade nothing has been done.
But there seems to be a ray of hope for the sport, because here in Cross River State, an athletics resuscitation of sorts is fast growing. Three days of schools athletics championships ends today at the U.J Esuene Stadium in Calabar with a little over 4,000 students featuring. Here the kids displayed awesome athletics prowess and if only these talents are harnessed in the next couple of years the glory days of Nigerian athletics would certainly return.
There was no representation of the NSC and the AFN at the championships in Calabar. They needed to have been here to see for themselves the rich nursery the Cross River State government has put down for athletics rebirth. Nigeria School Sports Federation president, Ibrahim Mohammed had to rearrange his schedule to come and observe the Cross River commitment to grassroots sports development.
“Cross River haven’t been coming to the school sports festival for ten years and in 2010 they were present and they came sixth.
“I was surprised by their rapid rise from nowhere. So when I heard of the this championships I had to be here and honestly speaking Cross River with Governor Imoke is leading the way in Nigerian grassroots sports revival. I’m highly impressed with what I have seen.
“And if we are really serious about reviving our sports, I enjoin all other state governors to come here and see what is happening. If we have 10 states doing what Cross River is doing, we wouldn’t be going to the Olympics and come back empty handed,” said Alhaji Mohammed.
Consultant to the project, Dr. Bruce Ijirogho stated that talents discovered from the championships would be called into camp and given special training with coaches like Lee Evans and Earnest Ona on ground to train them.
To this end, six schools in the three senatorial districts of the State have been selected for the programme which will see the selected kids pursing their athletics dream and academic career.
Speaking at the opening ceremony on Tuesday, Governor Imoke stated that the initiative was created to revolutionise sports in the state as part of his agenda for social development of youths in the state.
“Its conceptualisation was built on a process of identifying talents from the school system at very young ages. They would be given special training and supported in their educational pursuit through scholarship,” The governor added.
The Championships come to an end today and for the participating students some who are coming to Calabar for the first time in their young lives, it has been one happy adventure and now one of them Nkiru Iroha, is dreaming of becoming another Maria Mutola. Iroha from Ikom won the 1500m gold.
“I’m very happy to be here. I love athletics I want to be a world champion. I was told that I run like Maria Mutola, I don’t know her, but they said she was the world champion. I want to be like her,” said Iroha.