By Paul Bassey

I sincerely apologise to my readers who have queried my absence from these pages in the past three weeks. I must say that I got so engrossed in the business of developing sports in this country, that I could not put my thoughts together in print.

Specifically, I was involved in the organization of the Akwa Ibom State NNPC/Mobil Secondary Schools Athletics Championships. Now in its eleventh consecutive year one will get the impression that organization will be easy.

For eleven years, I have battled the scourge of Nigerian sports, even at that level. For eleven years, I have struggled to bring sanity to a competition that was designed to help guarantee the future of the sport, even from that corner of the country, yet for eleven years I have found myself battling with all manners of odds.

My greatest challenge is that of the officials. Those men and women who are supposed to help me run the competiton. Men and women, who are professionals, who you are supposed to rely on in the smooth coordination of the championship.

When these men and women are ignorant of the roles they are expected to perform, when their focus is not in the development of the sport or the wards they are expected to project, then you are faced with limitless headaches.

A classical group are the ones we want to refer to as games masters and games mistresses.

In the past, they were what they were. Now, they practically do not exist. You are then faced with a situation where local government and zonal qualifiers arrive for the grand finale ignorant of the rules of the sport and the technics that govern the various events.

I want to at this stage thank Mobil Producing Nigeria for allowing me to introduce into the programme a train the trainers workshop, aimed at schooling the officials and the gamesmasters, updating them on the dynamics of the sport, this time, track and field.

Talking about Mobil, nine years ago, a noble development was attached to the competition when one-off scholarship cash awards were put forward for winners up to third places. Unfortunately like everything Nigerian the laudable motive was hijacked giving way to a win at all cost syndrome where the so called games masters fielded mercenaries for the purpose of winning money, throwing the development of the sport to the dust bin.

This year we experimented with a verification exercise. This year we decided to spend more money by appointing supervisors whose duties were to visit all the secondary schools in the state for the purpose of verifying whether athletes so put forward were bona fide students of the schools they were said to represent.

Supervisors were to sit down with principals, go through the registers and confirm the pictures, before the grand finale in Eket.

The revelations I must confess were outstanding. Some schools claimed they did not enter for the competition. How some unscrupulous elements got to know and used their names to run, baffles me.

Other principals rejected names and pictures so presented and so on. The finale turned out to be saner than before. Though I am yet to be fully satisfied, I want to believe that over ninety percent of those who won this year can be said to be students indeed.

The gains of this competition cannot be quantified if properly monitored. The President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria Chief Solomon Ogba was in Eket. When he was told that a student had jumped 6.54 metre in the long jump, he left the VIP stand to look at the jump progression. He has asked that Kenneth Jacob should be brought to the attention of the AFN.

He agrees that that potentials exist in the competition and that extra attention should be paid to it from now on.

I came back from Eket straight to the Atlantic Beach in Lagos where the first Copa Lagos was put together by a young man called Samson Adamu. The competition to me was a manifestation of the ability and ingenuity of the average Nigerian. The Copa Lagos scored very highly in terms of organization and entrepeneurial savvy.

I was there on the first day, the day one of the sponsors Capital Oil decided to invite the stars of Nollywood and ex internationals.A carnival if you ask me. It was something to behold. It helped to drive home the point that it takes a bit of organization, know how to achieve goals.

I refer to most of our associations who wait on government for subventions, who say there are no sponsors out there, and I say, how did Samson Adamu convince Capital Oil, FCMB and Sprite to get on board? How did he get Supersport to air the matches live? What about convincing foreign partners? Well done sir. Next year can only be bigger and better.

Finally let me talk about a Youth Corper called Stephen Morah a 22 year old University of Jos graduate who has been invited to the Super Eagles Camp by Stephen Keshi. I pray for him to make the team, to prove that stars abound here if only our coaches can settle down and work. I know he is likely to succeed because if you go to school, your orientation and your thinking differs. Adokiye Amesiemeka and Segun Odegbami are today some of Nigeria’s greats because they went to school and can use that extra intellect to react when faced with challenges that need split second decisions.

I promise to be back.

See you next week.

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