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‘How C-River became the home of national teams’

Ahead of this weekend’s 2015  African Cup of Nations qualifier between Nigeria and Congo  at the U.J Esuene Stadium, Calabar, Honourable  Patrick Ugbe,  Cross River State Commissioner for Sports and Youth Development, spoke on how the foremost tourism capital of the country has transformed to the nation’s sport-particularly football- capital.

How  did Cross  River State, precisely Calabar, become the home of the national teams and  Mecca   of sports?
It has to do with the environment and  ambience that we offer to all the teams in order to excel.  Of course, that comes from a lot of reasons. The people of Cross River State are hospitable; the environment is  peaceful and the state as a matter of deliberate  policy is  doing everything to develop the  state’s tourism  potentiality which invariably has attracted a lot of people to Cross River State. Apart from that, our national teams, be  it in football, swimming, athletics and a whole lot of others that wanted to come find here very conducive to prepare and succeed in their engagements.

You just mentioned  tourism. What  is the synergy between sports and tourism. Why has government made it a deliberate policy to use the twin-approach in developing Cross River State?
We’ve always had tourism vision in Cross River State because  we have the potential for it; and we have built on that. Again, one aspect that was missing was sport-tourism and what the administration did by giving me the mandate  to come to the ministry of  sports and youth development  was to  vigorously pursue   sport-tourism as an added value to the overall sport vision of the state. One thing you must also understand is that tourism and sport go  hand-in-hand.

Sport is the biggest driver of tourism in the whole world  and there  is no major sporting event that would happen without it impacting on the tourism potential of that host country or city.  This is why  countries and cities struggle to host major sporting events be it the Olympic Games: World Cup at different levels ; Commonwealth Games.

How much have the people of the state as well as government benefited  from  this vision?
You can’t really quantify the benefits to the people and that is why they have been encouraging us to go all the way. There were times that  we felt that it was becoming a huge burden and  for me, the encouraging words I get from people who are not in government  is really a good motivation.  They used    to tell us that  we should not stop  developing the  sport andtourism sector  because we  don  t know what we are doing to their economic well-being.

That  says a  lot about how far we have gone because this encouragement is not coming alone from government people but the ordinary man on the street, the business people as well as corporate icons in the society.They see the benefits more than the  people in government because when these   teams   come, they lodge in hotels; eat food during the period  they are here ; use local transportation and buy things here . As such, they are spending money in our economy. Of course, the money goes directly to the people  and indirectly to  government because these are tax payers. So it’s a win-win situation for the people and government.

We know that there  are other sectors  of the economy competing for attention. What has been the overall contribution of  sports to  the development of the state?
Sports have greatly improved the image of Cross River and have  taken the state to a highpedestal  in the  country.  You can mention sports  in Nigeria of today without mentioning Cross River State.  Apart from that, sports have  impacted on the lives of the youths of  the  state; that is why His Excellency, Senator Liyel  Imoke (CON) has invested heavily in sports  development.

And  we have begun to see the results  in terms of  the performance of our athletes.  Cross River was not where  we are today when he came into office in 2007; we  are number one at the school sports level in  this country today.  For three consecutive times, Cross River has won the National School Sports Festival. At the elite level, we are equally making giant strides. For instance, at the last National Sports  Festival (NSF), we finished in the seventh  position which was unheard of in the past.

Cross River would be hosting the NSF in November. What would  differentiate this  event from the previous ones; what are the new things we are going to see in Cross River 2014?
We have always said that this year’s National Sports Festival was going to be different and we are  keeping faith with that  promise for obvious reasons. One, it is the centenary  edition and  it is going to be held in a centenary state because Calabar was the country’s first  capital city 100 years ago. It is coming to the entertainment and tourism capital of Nigeria where we take delight in celebrating  lives and we really excited about this opportunity;surely we are going to express our delight with the opening and closing ceremony of the  NSF in November like it has never been done in the history of the games.

In the organisation of the NSF itself, we are going to do things differently while working hand-in-hand with the Main Organising Committee and the  National Sports  Commission (NSC) that  owns the  games. We have said it was our desire to win as the host of the games   but   we are not going to win at all costs which means that we are going to allow for fair play. We must not win if we cannot win and that is the message we are sending to all the participants.  We believe in the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship, you must not win if you can’t win.  This is one major thing that we hope would make the game different.

There is no way we are going to talk about sports  in Cross River State  without mentioning your name too; you came from the private sector and was at one time or the other the Chief Press  Secretary to Governor Imoke and also a Commissioner for Information. How have all of these helped you to achieve so much in the Sports  and Youth Development Ministry?
As CPS and Commissioner for Information,  I was doing a professional job but as Commissioner for Youth and Sports, I’m doing a work I’m passionate about.  Somewhere, along my career in the profession(broadcast  journalism), I decided to specialize in sports and that has to do with my love and passion for sports  having been an athlete  too in my school  days even though I didn’t take it further than that.

I was quite good in athletics   and I remember  I   won  a lot of laurels for my  primary school in those days.  If we’d have the kind of developmental programmes we have now, maybe I  would have  progressed to become a national star athlete.  But be that as it may, I’m in sport now and actually doing what I’m passionate about and driving it with all the  strength I  can muster so that the fortune of Cross River  State in  sport is changed for the better.   So that we achieve one major  aim of making Cross River State, the most preferred destination for sport in the country.


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