Since Rt. Hon Chibuike Amaechi was thrust on the saddle as governor of Rivers State, there has been conscious move to re-engineer the sports sector and set the state on the road to exploiting its potentials for success and motivating the youths to embrace the opportunities therein.
Indeed, the wind of revolution has blown and continues to sweep through the sector as the state is put on the path of transformation.
In the past two years, efforts have been geared towards providing and strengthening the sports infrastructure in the state.
From moves to re-awaken the spirit and interest of the youth, to resuscitating the almost comatose sports facilities in the state, the Amaechi administration has made some giant strides towards re-establishing the state as one of the major players in the sports sector of Nigeria.
Through the Commissioner for Sports, Hon. Boma Iyaye, the government has tried to activate the grassroots as the foundation for sustainable development and success in the state.
According to Iyaye, the administration’s policy thrust is focused on revitalising the grassroots in order to give the youth the avenue and opportunity to explore and express their talents.
Also, there is a deliberate effort to promote sports tourism in Rivers State and make the state one of the major destinations of national and international sports competitions.
In matching words with action, the administration succeeded in reviving and holding the Rivers State sports festival, the eight edition of which was held last year.
The success of the festival was evident in the demonstration by the local government areas that the state is blessed with talents that if properly weaned, will turn to national and international sports stars in the near future.
Young talents, who would certainly form the bedrock of athletes, who would bring honour and glory to the state, and indeed Nigeria were discovered.
During the festival, Governor Amaechi, who visited the Alfred Diete-Spiff Sports Complex, Port Harcourt, promised to ensure the renovation and upgrading of the dilapidated facilities at the complex.
There has also been concerted effort to re-introduce and rehabilitate recreational facilities which hitherto provided opportunities for people to wind down, exercise and keep fit, and for youngsters to wean their skills in variety of sporting events.
The pledge of government to ensure that all the former playing fields in town are recovered is already being fulfilled. The actual reconstruction of the No. 6 field and moves to re-establish others are eloquent testimonies to this.
The administration has also gone down in history as the first civilian government to attract the National Sports Festival to the state in the history of the biennial national sports competition.
Rivers State was awarded the right to host Nigeria, the 17th edition of the sports fiesta, after a keen competition from Lagos State at the 16th edition held in Kaduna.
In 2010 therefore, the state would show-case its potentials and organisational savvy, while her citizens known for their hospitable disposition will also reap the benefits of such a fiesta through economic, social and developmental forces that will be brought to bear in the state.
Already, the infrastructural development as a result of the festival is about leaving the drawing board for physical implementation as the Liberation Stadium and Alfred Diete-Spiff Sports Complex, all in Port Harcourt are about to witness the rehabilitation and construction of several facilities for the staging of the 2010 festival.
An ultra modern football college of excellence is in the offing for the state. The school, which is to be sited in Etche will combine education and the art of football for the young boys and girls of the state. Spade work has already commenced for the delivery of the project that will be the pride of every Rivers man.
Apart from infrastructure, manpower development and motivation have equally enjoyed the attention of the Amaechi administration.
Athletes in the state were offered opportunities for economic and academic empowerment prior to the last National Sports Festival, KADA 2009. The athletes were offered a blank cheque of scholarship, as gold medalists were promised scholarship studies to any level in any part of the world.
Also, the unprecedented cash reward of N30 million, N20 million and N10 million, respectively, doled out to the top three local government areas in the state after the state’s sports festival speaks volume of the government’s commitment and desire to reward excellence in sports and encourage investment in the sector.
It was the first time such impressive gesture would be recorded in the state.
It is on record that Rivers State is the only state in the country that sponsors two elite football club sides, Sharks and Dolphins FCs in the top league under Amaechi, the state has also taken over the full sponsorship of Rivers Angels FC, one of the pioneer women football club sides in the country.
All the clubs have also benefited from the commitment of Governor Amaechi in ensuring that no aspect of the sports sector lags behind. Funding, which most times proved to be the Achilles heel of the sides has not been a problem.
According to Sharks FC’s media officer, Confidence Idaa, the clubs have lacked nothing and have had all support needed to excel.
This indeed translated to the successful return of Dolphins FC to the premier league this season. Sharks reached the Federation Cup final, while Rivers Angels went very close to the Women’s League and Federation Cup titles, all thanks to the financial and moral support of the administration.
At the Rivers State Sports Council, the story is the same. Sports associations, which before now found it difficult to attend competitions have been consistently involved in national and international competitions recently.
The state has equally continued to play good roles in hosting national sports associations as they strive to finetune the nation’s sports policies and programmes for improved result. The National Council on Sports and other bodies recently used Port Harcourt as venue for their crucial meetings and events.
Furthermore, the improved security in the state has seen the return of competitions, especially, the Golf tournaments at the Port Harcourt and Air Assault Golf Clubs, and the Polo Club’s events.
Earlier in the year, Port Harcourt hosted the first Port Harcourt International Marathon race, which saw top international long distance runners grace the city.
It was an eloquent testimony that Rivers State, with its endowments can play a leading role in diversifying the sports horizon of the country.
Governor Amaechi’s appointment by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the chairman of the Presidential Task Force, PTF on the qualification of the Super Eagles for the 2010 World Cup was in recognition of the Governor’s passion, commitment and penchant for sports excellence.
Indeed, Amaechi’s administration has recorded major landmarks aimed at improving the sports potentials of the state, even if most of the developmental policies are still at infancy stage.
While there are many blueprints to point to in the Sports sector in Rivers State in the past two years, many observers believe that it is time the administration begins to put down in concrete terms, the dreams and plans it has for the state.
Former Commissioner for Sports in the state, Barrister Christopher Green, observed that, there was nothing much to sing about except for little in football which could be traced to foundations led by former commissioner, Allwell Onyesoh and himself. “We have not been able to develop the game affectively at the grassroots level.
“In other areas of sports, we’ve not performed very well and even declined in such events like swimming, which we usually dominate.”
“We cannot boast of star athletes in athletics, boxing, ball events and weightlifting as compared to the past and we are not doing much to catch up with other states like Delta, Edo, Ogun and Bayelsa, who have performed consistently at the National Sports festivals.”
“Our position in the last sports festival testifies to our decline. However, I believe that we have the time and capacity to improve, which we must do before hosting the 17th NSF next year,” said Green.
Secretary of Rivers State chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN, Olalekan Ige, believes that the administration has not done much for the comprehensive development and promotion of sports in the state.
“The administration needs to show more interest and commitment to sports, especially, other sports apart from football. Sports is one sector that can change the youths, it has the capacity to engage them and offer them employment. If the government has invested in sports as much as it has in works, health and urban renewal, it would have recorded massive results that would have affected the lives of the youth on the street,” he said.
Ige also added that Governor Amaechi should begin to show more interest and involvement in sports, especially as the state gears up for the 2010 festival.
It was also observed governments inability to have officially received and rewarded the state’s contingent to the 16th National Sports Festival, KADA 2009, as being a minus in motivating the athletes for the 17th edition to be hosted by the state.