By Paul Bassey
Let me put the National Sports Commission on notice, albeit unofficially that  Akwa Ibom State is poised to bid to host the 2014 National Sports Festival.

After having the honour of presenting a paper at the Soccerex Seminar in Lagos last week, I had no doubt in mind that this week’s column will be devoted to that laudable event which more than ever before aims at reawakening Nigerians to the virgin lands of sports business which we have chosen to neglect.

Speaker after speaker, the consensus was that sports is such a gold mine, and that until we start to dig deep, we will be perpetually condemned to the over dependence on government for the running of our sports. In the words of the Lagos State FA Chairman “Seyi Akinwunmi, Government has no business running sports, business men do”

Then I got a call, to come to Uyo and be part of the 6th Godswill Akpabio International Scrabble Classics. For those of us who remember “beating Gov Akpabio” in the game during his University of Calabar days, we are not surprised that the competition has assumed a dimension where it is now the premier Scrabble tournament in the country with the current edition attracting players from seven countries including the US, Great Britain, Malaysia, Thailand, Kenya, Ghana and Zambia.

President of the Nigeria Scrabble Federation Chief Toke Aka is a proud person. The 15 thousand US Dollars star prize is just part of the 13 million naira total prize money and with such a befitting venue as the five star Le Meridien Ibom Hotel you could not ask for more as over 300 scrabble players jostled for supremacy in the four categories of Classics, Open, Women and Veterans.

Yes Chief Ake is not happy that no one from the National Sports Commission was around to grace what he considered his flagship tournament, yet he believes it is high time the country and states in Nigeria started taking scrabble serious.

The first state to react positively is host Akwa Ibom State. Under the leadership of new chairman Pastor Umoh Bassey plans have been concluded to take Scrabble to schools. Tagged the Godswill Akpabio Scrabble To Schools Initiative, scrabble crazy Umoh Bassey and his team are establishing pilot schools in the state where Scrabble will be taken to.

About 20 kilometres away, at the Akwa United Sports Stadium Uyo, a high class coaching clinic for football coaches was going on, with top lecturers from the UK. Hear coach Aniedi Dickson, Director Of Sports Akwa Ibom State who confessed that “in all my years I have yet to come across such a high level instruction on coaching as I have done this past week”

Anchored by Mark Ellis, Arsenal Football Youth Coach and Director of Crystal Sports Management in the UK, the Sports and Youth ministry in Akwa Ibom under Pastor Ita Udoh can beat its chest again and again for an innovation that has been lauded by the Coaches Association in the state.

As if that was not enough of a loaded weekend of sports in the state, the sports commissioner was also the special guest of honour as the 4th Reach Out Nigeria ( RON ) National Tennis Open Championship sponsored by the Christ Embassy, Uyo was coming to an end. Christ Embassy? A Church? Yes Church. Hear the President of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation Abdul Wahab Kayode who declared to the applause of all that the competition is “the biggest and best” in the country’s tennis calendar with over 16 states in participation.

The president went on to reveal that his board has decided that the Uyo championship will be used to select players that will represent the country at the Senior Africa Table Tennis Championship in Cairo.

This is the part that delighted the AKS Sports Commissioner who called on other corporate organizations and individuals not to leave sports to government alone.

He lauded the church leadership for the initiative.

The commissioner said he was sad to learn that the boards used for the competition were ferried in from Lagos and promised that by the time the next championship comes round the Akpabio Administration will flood the state and schools with enough boards and to spare.

Have I left the best for last? Perhaps. Chief host Pastor Emeka Nnabuko, senior pastor in charge was to wow all present with his “sermon on the tennis tables”.

The soft spoken but powerful speaker challenged all present to do the most they can to change what they see in Nigeria.  Addressing the media, he said with his journalism background, he knows “ bad news is good news, but this is good news. Report it.

“This competition celebrates our possibilities, it highlights the tremendous leadership values that we have in Akwa Ibom State even as we strive to raise champions like no other whose love for country will be unparalleled ….” He spoke about the table tennis clinic that was held for primary and secondary schools during the championships and called on partnership to take the championship to another level, even next year.

Just wait till Julius Berger completes the state of the art stadium that the Akpabio Administration is bequeathing to the state…..just wait.

See you next week.


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