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Stamping Rivers’ Foot On Nigerian Sports Map

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Since creation on the 27th of May, 1967, Rivers State has earned its stripes as one of the frontline states in Nigeria. Apart from being a major player in the economic and social wellbeing of the country, courtesy of her endowed material resources, it is also a major player in the sports sector, producing talents and providing facilities in variety of sports. In fact, Rivers, both in her old make-up with current day Bayelsa state and present configuration, has been a destination of choice for athletes, sports promoters and sports events.
As the state marks her 55th anniversary, it is only befitting that some lights be thrown at the strides, potentials, contributions and key achievements in its annals and ways to etch them in the sports map of the nation.
Interestingly, the foundation for a robust sports culture was laid very early in the life of the state, courtesy of a visionary young administrator, Navy Captain Alfred Diete-Spiff, who was the first administrator. He, from the outset viewed sports as a catalyst to the empowerment and engagement of the youth of the state. Through the provision of world class sports facilities, from the iconic Civic Centre, now christened Alfred Diete-Spiff Sports Complex, the imposing Elekahia Stadium, whose master plan provided an all-in-one Olympic-size facilities, to the now pulled down Olympia hotel and Sea School, Isaka, which later became Sports Institute, young people were provided the platform to explore and express their talents. This saw the state being launched into the frontline as one of the states with impressive credentials in sports development, promotion and weaning of athletes.
To the advantage of the state, successive administrations have kept with the vision of the founding fathers, especially, in the sports sector. No wonder the state could boast of a plethora of athletes to have flown the flags of the state and country and brought home glories. In the years of yore, there were athletes like Adokiye Amiesimaka(football), Imama Amapakabo(football), Joseph Yobo(football),Ethel Jack(Table Tennis), Joshua Kio(Tripple Jump), Tamunoemi Gibson(Badminton), Ojadi Oduche(Weightlifting),Oliver Toby(Weightlifting), Benjamin Minimah(Weightlifting), Obia Inyengiyikabo(Swimming), Eric Williams(Swimming), Tammy Atorudibo(Athletics), Otonye Iworima(Long and Triple Jump), Taribo West(Football), among others, who have at various times brought honour and glory, not only to Rivers but Nigeria as a whole.
It is on record that the state remains one of the few ones to have hosted the national mini Olympic games, the National Sports Festival, NSF, more than once, in 1988 and 2011. Till date, the 2011 edition is still being regarded as the finest in terms of organisation, welfare, logistics and facilities that were deployed. It was a display of art and organizational savvy that wowed every observer and the state put the icing on the cake by emerging winner of the festival, relegating serial winner, Delta state to second place.
Prior to that, the state had been putting its facilities at the disposal of the country, coming to the rescue of several national teams when the going got tough. Under Sir peter Odili as governor, the state by deploying facilities and resources helped the Super Eagles qualify for the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. Other sports like swimming, wrestling, badminton, athletics, cycling, polo, basketball, volleyball and golf have also found the state a fertile ground and willing partner in promoting and developing their sports.
There exist multiple sports facilities in the state that makes it ready made to host top notch national and international sports competitions. Building on the infrastructural development began by the first administrator of the State, successive administrations have tried to add to what is on ground. The imposing Adokiye Amiesimaka Sports Complex at the Omagwa/Igwuruta area of the state is one of the legacies of Rotimi Amaechi’s administration. Also, the facilities for tennis, basketball, volleyball and other indoor sports constructed within the old Port Harcourt Township area speak volumes on the premium the state places on sports. The current administration has equally made huge statements concerning its commitment to providing the youth of the state and beyond, the wherewithal to develop themselves and be equipped for quality and purposeful living.
The excellent Real Madrid Football Academy built by the Nyesom Wike administration, the renovated and modernized Alfred Diete-Spiff Sports Complex are some of the infrastructure invested on by the government to ensure that the youths are imparted with world class knowledge and experience to place them among the best in the world. In fact, the football academy is modeled and designed to operate just as its parent facility owned by the world famous Real Madrid Football Club in Spain.
Rivers state has also not relented in sponsoring sports teams which have not only helped to keep so many youths off the streets by engaging them, the teams have at various times wrote the name of the state in gold. Before now, a lot of football teams existed in the state and provided talents aplenty to the national teams, ranging from the youth teams o the senior national football team, the Super Eagles. To her credit, the state boasts top class football teams, Rivers Angels Fc and Rivers United Fc, owned and sponsored by the state.
For the Angels, the club have become serial winners of domestic titles, winning both the league and cup titles on several occasions to the extent that they have become dominant in the country. It has consistently finished every season in the top bracket of the league table to become ever present at the season-ending top six or top four play-off competition. Only last year, the Angels, after emerging Nigerian champion, became the first club in the country to qualify and participate in the first ever CAF women’s Champions League. It is a feat that has the state listed in the annals of history in Africa.
Rivers United Fc, which rose from the ashes of Sharks and Dolphins Fcs have also continued from where its predecessors stopped. The team has taken the domestic scene by storm through the motivation and support from government. For a couple of years now, the team have been flying Nigeria’s flag in CAF’s club competitions, almost as a constant in the county’s football arena. At the moment, United is the favourite to clinch the Nigeria Professinal Football League, NPFL title, having led the log comfortably for most of the season. Their performance can be said to be a testimony to the support government has thrown its way and expectation is that they would bring their maiden league title as Rivers United and the state’s fourth, home at the end of the season.
The state’s domination and impact extend beyond football. Rivers Hoopers Basketball team is also on the trail of glory, largely due to the support they enjoy from the state. The team have had some remarkable run in the game, winning a regional basketball competition in Cotonou in 2018, President’s Cup in Nigeria in 2019 and recently emerged champions of the Ministry of Sports backed Final Eight competition in Abuja. They have also flown the country’s flag at the FIBA Africa Basketball League.
The state equally plays major roles in athletics, hosting several national and state events, from school sports to mini and full marathon races. Cycling is also a strong forte of the state. It has for long been one of the few bastions of the sport in the country, showing her prowess at successive National Sports Festivals and championships.
Indeed, Rivers in her 55 years of statehood has shown itself an entity to reckon with as far as the sports sector is concerned. The history of the sector in Nigeria cannot be complete without the state occupying prominent pages in the books of record. Among other firsts the fact that the current state governor, Nyesom Wike, owing to his pragmatism and commitment in the sector was awarded the title of Power of Sports-Africa, POS-Africa by the highest sports journalism body in the world, Association of International Sports Journalists, AIPS. The Governor, thus becomes the second individual and first governor in Africa to be so honoured.
Also, the state is the first in the whole of South South and South East to produce a President of sports writing body, the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN, when the current two-term serving President, Sir Honour Sirawoo emerged over five years ago.
That the state has earned the right and place of history is not in doubt or subject of controversy, but ensuring that the position is maintained or improved upon is a task that must be taken seriously by all stakeholders in the state. Over time, the former Commissioner for Sports, Hon Boma Iyaye had been saying that grassroots sports development and youth empowerment are among the cardinal policies of the current administration. Certainly, these policies and deliberate effort to fund, motivate and invest in athletes and all sports would keep the state strongly etched on the national sports map.
In addition, providing facilities for the different games should not be seen as an end in itself but strict maintenance culture must be established and sustained. It is also noteworthy that institutions established at any point should be made viable with structures to stand the test of time.
It is expected that all authorities vested with the responsibility to manage the sector be given a clear mandate, targets and effectively evaluated from time to time. This is because the state, knowing that sports has evolved and has gone from mere recreation to money spinning business stands to reap immense benefit by ensuring that it is kept on the front burner at all seasons.
Considering the human and material resources that abound in the state, ensuring that the sports sector is on the right track and affording the young people opportunities to exploit their talents are sure ways to keep the state within the top echelon of sports communities in Nigeria and beyond.

By: Gabriel Nwanetanya

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Mikel Donates Cash, Wheelchairs To Para – Soccer Teams

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Former Super Eagles captain, John Obi Mikel has made a two million cash donation and five wheelchairs to two para-soccer teams in Lagos.
Mikel, who recently finished a talent hunt with his Back2Base project, extended his goodwill to the para-soccer teams who were wowed by the gesture of the Chelsea legend. The arrival of Mikel and his team led by Fadekemi Ahmed, CEO and Founder of Avianna & Harvey Entertainments at Ojo Street in the  Obalende area of Lagos State, was greeted with wild  jubilation as the fans jostled to catch a glimpse of one of Africa’s most-accomplished football stars.
After enjoying the thrilling encounter between the Oyingbo para-soccer team and their Lagos Island counterparts, Mikel rewarded each of the teams with N1m cash donation while he also gave three wheelchairs to the winning team and two to the losing side.
“This is a token to appreciate the unique talents they have and their resilience to be the best at what they do despite being physically challenged,” Mikel said.”I thoroughly enjoyed the game between the two teams and I am happy I can reciprocate by making the players smile also with the donations made.”
The two teams expressed profound gratitude to Mikel even as they described him as a shining example that should be emulated by others.

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Basketball: Mixed Reactions Over Reversal Of International Ban

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Following the decision by the Federal Government to reverse the two-year international ban placed on basketball, stakeholders have hailed the development while expressing concern over the inability to address the main issues affecting the sports in the country.
In a statement released last week and signed by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Ismaila Abubakar, the decision to reverse the ban was based on the appeal from concerned stakeholders, former Nigerian international basketball players and well-meaning Nigerians.
Abubakar stated that the decision was also based on the fruitful meeting between FIBA and Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare which he said produced common understanding in certain general areas with a commitment from the world basketball ruling body to explore and collaborate on enhancing relationships.
In addition, the apology letter from the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) board singed by Musa Kida to the President and Minister over the embarrassment with a pledge to set up a team to reconcile all contending parties in the basketball family within and outside the country necessitated the reversal.
Gbadegesin  Olatona, who is the coordinator of the Youth Alive Basketball Community League, believed  the decision by the government is necessary to save the future of the athletes.
“I am happy that the ban has been reversed especially considering the career of most of the players both within and outside Nigeria,” he said.” This is good for them to see the need for them to aim to represent Nigeria in international competitions.
“However, the issues that prompted the ban are yet to be addressed especially in terms of the structure of the sport.”
grow the sport at home and this is why there are still struggles in football.
“ But I believe we should have taken a cue from this and allowed the sport to go beyond any individual with proper structure in place for the sport to stand on its own,” he added.
Similarly,  Abimbola Faniran, who is the founder of the Akofa Foundation , supported Olatona while calling for the abnormality in the NBBF Constitution to be addressed.
He offered: “I am happy with the reversal but it is yet Uhuru for the sport as the contending issues that caused the ban is still not yet addressed.
“Particularly the abnormality in the NBBF Constitution which stated that the President and Vice President can be chosen by a few people.
“So these issues must not be swept under the carpet while all stakeholders in the sport must be assembled to forger way forward for the sport,” Faniran noted.

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Ex-Footballers’ Plot Against NFF Gets Boost

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Ex-Nigeria internationals and Players’ Union which has been clamouring for change in the administration of football in the country appears close to realising its goal as the signs of victory look evident, even before the elective congress of the Nigeria Football Federation billed for September, 2022.
It is aware that to attain the desired change in the administration of football in the country, the constitution of the board of the Nigeria Football Federation has to change.
To change the way the board is at present constituted, former players and other stakeholders went to court to halt the elective congress of the NFF, insisting that the NFF statute must be amended to allow for more and equitable representation of all stakeholders.
They eventually secured an interlocutory injunction from a High Court in Bayelsa State which stopped any further step towards holding the congress until the case before it was decided.
The move by the concerned stakeholders which resulted in a court injunction was almost turning into an irony as it provided an alibi for the NFF board. “They(board members) wanted to hide under the injunction, delay the congress and ultimately delay the election which is expected to usher in a new board,” a source revealed, adding that the board members held a zoom meeting and perfected their plan to stay put till February 2023.
“They wanted to go to Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast in January next year. That is why they were indifferent to the court injunction that stopped the congress.”
Even more uncomfortable for the board was what one observer termed as “the insurgency” within the NFF structure which saw 28 state FA Chairmen, traditionally deemed to be lackeys to the board, revolt by passing a vote of no confidence in the NFF leadership.
“That was an additional headache to the NFF,” our source said under anonymity. More astonishing was the fact that the state FA chairmen signed the resolution by appending not only their signatures but had their passport pictures affixed to their names and signatures. This jolted the NFF leadership but they kept their plans under wraps as they had their plan to stay longer than their tenure.
The dissident FA Chairmen were having a field day as they insisted that a change was inevitable for Nigerian football to move forward.
Reading the mood of the NFF board members, the players’ association applied a master stroke when it petitioned the presidency, intimating the President of the discrete disposition of the NFF towards the September election.
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development reacted to the petition with a directive to the NFF to ensure that they don’t flout their own statutes and advised that the September election is held as scheduled.
“Their plan to hang on was bursted by President Buhari’s directive that they hold elections,” our source said, adding that “the court order under which they were hiding under will be vacated soon. I wonder where they will run to now.”
Apart from ensuring that the election is held, the President also directed that the NFF Statutes must be amended to accommodate other real football stakeholders who was either under represented or were not represented at all on the board.
We gathered that with President Buhari’s directive, the NFF has now been thrown off balance while the stakeholders will now have a say in football matters and be part of   what happens next.
“For instance, they have reached an agreement that certain conditions must be respected before the elective congress. In legal terms it is called consent judgment,” our source said, even as he would not reveal the conditions although we gathered that it is about constitution of the board.
Given the new twist in the election saga, a member of the ex-footballers union, Harrison Jallah has confirmed that the process to vacate the court injunction was underway.
He said, “We are working on getting that order suspended or discontinued with completely, pending when the congress is held and the amendments we asked for are done. When we achieve that, then we can proceed to the elections. That is the position for now.”
Jallah continued, “There is a compromise now that we go and get the case out of the court which we are preparing to do now. We are looking at the whole of next week and I believe by the end of next week we will be through with that procedure.”
He further informed us what their petition to the presidency contained. “We informed that under the present statutes every member has equal status in the assembly but a particular member twerked the statute to suit his interest. For instance, there are 44 members in the congress and when you have 37 FA Chairmen, in every election they will have a majority. As I speak to you, they are 11 on the board out of 15 members. The other 4 are taken by the clubs that represent the leagues.”
Government’s subtle moves, we gathered were deliberate in order not to be seen as interfering in the internal affairs of the football governing. This, Jallah concurred. “All the government has done is simply telling football stakeholders, ‘no, we don’t want this under representation in the assembly to continue and the football family to go and resolve your differences. But in all you do, the September date for the election remains sacrosanct.”

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