OPINION By Chief Ugochukwu Okeke (Enyioha): The Role Of Govt In Grassroots Sports Development As A Tool For Youth Empowerment, And A Panacea For Youth Restiveness In Anambra
Sports development has been described as the gradual advancement and sustainability of sports, from low level strata to a higher level, with due cognisance and consideration of the indices that enhance the realisation and actualization of sports development. These indices include government sports policy, funding, sports personnel, sports programme which includes but not limited to training and competition.
Sports have proved to be a veritable weapon for all kinds of social battles, of which youth impoverishment and restiveness are in the front row. Sports have gone beyond leisure and recreation. It has become a global vehicle to fame, fortune, and influence. And the best part of it all is that it is nonexclusive. It can transform the life of any youth with talent and commitment.
It’s is obviously old news to say that sports has proven to be a clear and consistent tool for all categories of development; human, communal, state, regional, national, and international. Sports has over the years proved to be an avenue to prosperity and popularity for all these categories listed above. And as I pointed out previously, the major prerequisites for success in sports are youth, talent, and commitment, anchored on a clear cut, sustainable desire by political leaders and governments to make policies, and implement strategic plans to put the development of sports in the front burner of governance.
It will therefore amount to a grave error of judgement, and an irreversible missed opportunity for any government, especially in our state Anambra, to fail to capitalize on the huge worldwide potential provided by sports to regularly engage our teeming youths, empower them, and get them focused on productive ventures, steering them away from restiveness.
Research has shown that grassroots sports development by government has significantly improved children’s knowledge levels and behaviour, including communication and decision making capabilities, as well as reducing anti-social tendencies in the youth.
From the late 1970s to early 2000s, Anambra was a shining beacon of light and top performer in grassroots sports development and competitions. Stretching from the old Anambra State, up to the demarcation and creation of Enugu and Anambra states, Anambra indigenes had always excelled in competitive grassroots sports. One would remember with a bit of melancholy the marvellous sporting feats delivered by institutions like Christ the King, Onitsha, Dennis Memorial, Onitsha, Metropolitan, Onitsha, Abbott, Ihiala, Comprehensive, Nawfia, St. Michael’s, Nimo, Merchant of Light, Oba, Igwebuike, Awka, Umuawulu Boys, and a host of others. Not to be left out were girls schools like Oueen of the Rosary, Onitsha, Ogidi girls, St. John of God, Awka, etc. Even in Enugu, which was the capital city of the old Anambra State, the youths doing great things in sports competitions way back then were mainly indigenes of present Anambra State as constituted. A lot of Anambra youths who travelled overseas for higher studies in those glory days did not all go because their parents and guardians were rich and could afford to send them. A large number of them went on sports scholarships given by Universities in the United States and Europe, enabling these youths to represent the schools in inter-collegiate and international sporting competitions, ultimately resulting in better life opportunities and standards of living for the beneficiaries, their families, and their communities at large.
Fast forward to the current times, and one can only conclude that Anambra State has fizzled out of excellence in sports with as little as a whimper. In the search for undesirable decline in the hitherto sporting dominance of Anambra State, we should look no further than the lukewarm attitude of the current administration in area of grassroots sports development.
There’s no hiding or running away from the fact that in the last 7 years or so, grassroots sports development in Anambra State has taken a nosedive and is currently on a freefall. Those indices that enhance sports development have not been given adequate attention by the current administration. There doesn’t seem to be any realistic policy roadmap to speak of. Funding for grassroots sports is almost non-existent. Adequate funding in any field of endeavour is of paramount importance. Targeted funding will ensure the availability of standard facilities which will lead to sports people improving on their performances and results. Proper funding will also make it easier for the procurement of equipment, recruitment of qualified personnel, payment of better renumeration and incentives for coaches, players and athletes, international training tours, as well as facilitating frequent appearances at sporting meets and competitions. Paucity of funding for grassroots sports development will adversely affect the upgrade and standardisation of sporting facilities and equipment, and ultimately make it difficult, if not impossible, for talented Anambra youths to fulfil their potentials in the sporting arena.
There is no indication that the current administration in Anambra State has seriously explored a public/private partnership in funding and development of grassroots sports. Even if it has, that effort may not produce any tangible results because any entrepreneur or corporate entity must first of all evaluate the sports policy thrust of the administration, determine its seriousness and practicability, and what is in it for them, before they throw their money in.
Sports broadcasting and television rights to sporting events have become a multi billion Dollars investment and income worldwide, and its benefits are not restricted to international competitions alone. A considerable chunk of this money goes to grassroots sports as well. But a government must know what to do and bring in experts in this sphere, to advise and design templates that will put a share of this income in the coffers government, and which resources an accountable government will distribute in a transparent manner to participating youths, sporting associations, and to an extent the larger community.
If the government of Anambra State is serious about developing grassroots sports, then it must be seen to be in close partnership with the organizations like the local chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), and other related bodies, towards developing a robust platform that traverses the entire state with the view to discovering talented youths early on, with the deliberate mission of transforming them into world beaters and champions a few years down the line. The individuals that make up these sports broadcasting and journalism associations are ardent sports enthusiasts whose inputs and contributions can only result in a win-win situation for grassroots sports in Anambra State.
The 2020 Police Games hosted by the present government in Anambra State laid bare the disdain the administration has for sports in general, and grassroots sports in particular. It exposed the inadequacies of government in the areas of provision and decentralization of sporting facilities in the state. Up till the opening day of the games, quite a number of the facilities and venues required for certain events were still uncompleted. In fact, it was reported in certain sections of the media that Anambra set a world record for constructing an “Olympics” sized swimming pool in 17 days or so. An impressive record it may seem, but it is also laughable because what that means is that if it wasn’t for the Police Games, the administration wouldn’t have seen any need to build a standard competition grade pool, which would be used to stimulate awareness in competitive swimming and train future champions. One can only imagine how many budding swimming champions the state would have had in the making if anyone in the administration had thought to set up a swimming academy with standard facilities in the Anambra North axis where little children are taught from an early stage to shed the phobia for water in rivers and waterways that are abundant in the area.
Moreover, putting into consideration the incessant cases of structural defects associated with buildings and other constructions done within and beyond acceptable time frame in our climes, who would entertain any doubts that the record setting fire-brigade style “Olympics” size swimming pool will develop all sorts of debilitating structural problems a couple of years down the line?
It is indeed very disheartening that Anambra does not have a modern, standard multi purpose stadium complex to boast of. For donkey years, the Dr. Alex Ekwueme square in Awka has served as a rally ground and sports stadium for Anambra, and this is obviously not ideal for a frontline state like ours, putting into consideration the awareness and sagacity of the average Anambra person. If space can’t be found within the capital territory to construct a befitting multi purpose stadium, what about the vast waste lands in Orumba and Anambra North? Wouldn’t communities in these part of the state be happy to host such a project if the right compensation is paid?
Anyone in Anambra who thinks hosting the 2020 Police Games is enough to put the state back in the forefront of sporting excellence and achievements has another think coming because it won’t happen. Quoting Ugochukwu ‘Thanos’ Ifeanyi, a media/sports consultant, in his article titled “Obiano’s Police Games: An expensive eyesore!”; “with a rumoured budget of about 2 5 Billion Naira doled out by the Obiano led government for hosting the police games in Anambra State, one would have thought that it would be all well and good……, if you did, then you will be disappointed”. He continued, “the idea to host such an event was wrong on all calibrations as it is known that Obiano cares not for sports, which is evident in the fact that out of about 5,000 SSAs, SAs, EAs, and other weird nomenclature under his employ, Obiano has zero appointee on sports, i.e. NOT ONE PERSON”.
This summation above is evidently not an ideal situation for a government that claims to have the interest of youths at heart. Some individuals could claim that the games was the best sporting event they had seen their entire lives, but a look at the motley list of venues for the events will underline how unprepared the administration was for the hosting. Take a look; ” Oba in Idemili South LGA, where the track and field where held at the Rojenny tourist village, to Otuocha in Anambra East LGA, where the football games held, to Mbaukwu in Awka South, to Golden Tulip Hotel in Anaocha, to Oma events centre, and Dr. Alex Ekwueme square both in Awka South, and several other centres”. Oh Dear!
The governor told Ndi Anambra that businesses in the state would rake in 1.5 Billion Naira in revenue for the duration of the games. What he did not tell Ndi Anambra, and still remains shrouded in mystery till date, is how much the administration spent in hosting the games. But one thing which is not as mysterious as the bill for the games is the fact that the Anambra youth had little or nothing to take away from the games. The least they could have done was to arrange for pupils and students in selected Anambra schools were transported to some of the events venues on selected days to watch proceedings, thereby inspiring and motivating them, as well as aiding them in perceiving the Nigeria Police in more friendly light, seeing first-hand their human angle, and not the fierce and unfriendly outlook the Police is more often than not associated with. But of course no one in the administration was apparently looking in that direction.
The protests and civil disobedience all over the country in the past few weeks should awaken the consciousness of political leaders and administrators to the fact that the youth must be sensitized and engaged in constructive, productive, and worthy causes, failing which the youth will unilaterally engage in himself in unwholesome and unworthy causes. And there’s no better sustainable way to actualize this engagement than empowering and strengthening the youth through grassroots sports development.