By Onochie Anibeze
It was natural that Blessing Okagbare became emotional exactly two week ago. What Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan did overwhelmed her and she strongly fought back tears. When the emotions got the greater part of her the tears flowed.
They were tears of joy. She couldn’t believe what was happening.
On a Friday this column was to educate the government on the need to fund sports and raise it to the standard that could attract corporate sponsorship, Uduaghan was in Asaba practising what I was preaching.
President Goodluck Jonathan had received Blessing in Aso Rock for her feat at the World Championships in Moscow, where she won a silver in the Long Jump and a bronze in the 200m.
The President rewarded Blessing with N3m. Delta State was to receive her three days later. Uduaghan, the sports loving governor knew that his action might be misconstrued and politicised if he gave more money than the President’s N3m.
He announced a reward of N2.5m but brilliantly approved a $360,000 Rio Olympics training grant for her. She is to receive $120,000 every year from now to the Olympics. Blessing started crying. She banked on some rewards but never expected what was happening.
The grants were huge. They came three years to the Olympics. No Nigerian government, state or federal, had ever done this. Uduaghan has set standards for Nigeria. He has shown the way. But who else will follow? Which governors can emulate that? And must it be only Blessing Okagbare?
Nigeria went to the London Olympics with one athlete in mind, same Blessing. And when she failed, it was the end of the road for Nigeria. At the last World Championships in Moscow, Nigeria also relied on the same athlete. Fortunately, she won a silver and a bronze and gave Nigeria a name.
“It was Blessing’s day and the governor did not want to mix things up. As I told you, Regina George is on board now. The governor will approve some training grants for her and some other athletes who have distinguished themselves.
You must attain some standards for you to attract such sponsorship from the governor. That should be the driving factor for athletes to work hard,” Solomon Ogba explained to me when I insisted that the governor’s assistance should also be extended to some other athletes.
Governor Uduaghan is on track. Only last November, he held a sports summit in Asaba to find solutions to our problems in sports. Uduaghan could do more in the implementation of the report of that summit. With the Governor’s Cup, a soccer competition among secondary schools in Delta and Awoturo Eleya Cup, a track and field competition now on, Delta has already started the implementation of the report. But there are a lot more, some of which Uduaghan has even agreed, in principle, to execute.
Laying of tartan tracks in some schools in Delta State and the engagement of coaches and instructors to begin mass participation of students and local communities in athletics, doing some for some other sports, establishing the platform to develop the outstanding players from the Governor’s Cup, the Delta State Schools Sports Festival are among some of the programmes that could engineer mass participation of athletes some of whom could transform to elite athletes.
They are yet to begin these ones. These are aside other capital projects that could be handled in due course. Delta is, no doubt, the reference state in sports development. Uduaghan deserves accolades and a national award for his sports development programmes.
Governor Liyel Imoke of CrossRiver also deserves accolades. With Bruce Ejirigo, the man has started a commendable athletics programme in the state. It is a programme that will produce results when he must have left office. But the legacy is there and posterity will place him well in the history of sports development in the state.
If only we could have just five more governors doing what Uduaghan and Imoke are doing for sports, Nigeria will be better for it. The biggest problem the National Sports Commission has aside the poor funding from federal government is the dismal performance of states in sports development.
Most states only fund football clubs, many of which have become corruption tools for siphoning money. You hear of the hundreds of millions approved for the clubs only for a little to be spent on the clubs. The states are supposed to be producing athletes for the NSC.
CAMPAIGN AGAINST QATAR TURNS DIRTY
The London Guardian yesterday published a report saying that the International Trade Union Confederation says that construction work in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup may leave up to 4,000 people dead before a ball is kicked during the World Cup.
Since Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup, England and a few other European countries have not stopped expressing outrage over the success of the tiny Middle East country.
They have alleged corruption but till date they have not been able to prove it. Their concentration now is on weather. The summer is extremely hot in Qatar and one of Qatar’s campaign points is to use cooling machinery that could bring the temperature in the stadiums down to 25 degrees or even less during games.
FIFA bought this. But the Qatar critics would not rest. Their campaign so persisted that FIFA was compelled to consider changing the games from summer to winter. They would also not have this because the league in Europe would have to change in 2022 to accommodate the World Cup. Qatar has remained quiet and said the decision was up to fifa to make, assuring that whether in winter or summer theirs is to host a memorable World Cup.
England is leading the campaign for fifa to change the venue. The story now is that many people will die at construction sites. I think that the campaign against Qatar is now dirty and full of mischief .
The story reads “Qatar’s construction frenzy ahead of the 2022 World Cup is on course to cost the lives of at least 4,000 migrant workers before a ball is kicked. Death toll could rise to 600 a year.”
What could be dirtier? Some construction frenzy to get the facilities ready should be commended and not condemned. And in all major construction sites, there are always accidents, some of them fatal. It is against this background that I urge the Qatari authorities to be careful and ensure safety measures.
They should also address the allegations in the Guardian and ensure all workers work in reasonably safe conditions. They should also be paid their wages. But they should not be distracted from making 2022 a reality. More on this later.