…Calls on Governor Otu to resuscitate the CSD plan
For the umpteenth time, serial winners, Team Delta were crowned champions of the 2023 National Youth Games last Saturday at the Stephen Keshi stadium, Asaba. Team Delta dominated the week-long event after amassing an unprecedented 116 medal haul to underline its number one position in the country.
A breakdown of the medals show that Team Delta bagged 51 gold; 34 silver and 31 bronze medals to emerge tops. Lagos State came second with a total of 61 medals comprising 21 gold; 19 silver and 21 bronze while Edo State with 21 gold; 15 silver, 17 bronze medals finished third.
The dominant showing of Team Delta at Asaba 2023 did not come as a surprise to many who are conversant with grassroots sports development in the country. Delta state is reaping from a well laid out plan, a template that has been religiously followed since the days of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. His successor, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa never departed from that template. Delta state has continued to dominate both the National Sports Festival, which is open and the National Youth Games.
Lagos, Edo, Bayelsa have not been doing badly as they have been performing creditably too.
The surprise, however, is Cross River State, a state that once dominated the NYG. Cross River state under Governor Liyel Imoke was the doyen of grassroots sports development in the country. During that golden era of CRS sports, Governor Imoke contracted former national athlete and one-time captain of Team Nigeria to the Olympics, Bruce Ijirigho to establish a comprehensive Sports Development programme.
Ijirigho told this reporter in 2022 that Imoke “demonstrated a lot of political will by backing the programme with legislation, personally interfaced with us on any matter concerning the programme, provided all the funds we needed and above all, gave us a free hand to run the programme.”
The programme was an instant success. According to Ijirigho – records don’t lie – between December 2009 and October 2015, over 300,000 young boys and girls participated in the programme.
The programme propelled CRS to the top of youth sports development and performance in Nigeria for an unprecedented 4-year spell. Cross River State won the National School Sports Festival between 2011 and 2015, when the state also became a catchment area for athletes who represented and won laurels for Nigeria in international competitions. Sadly, in 2015, the programme was discontinued.
From his US base, Ijirigho lamented the fate of Cross River State when he found out that Team Cross River to the NYG finished 26th with 5 silver and 8 bronze medals. No gold.
He said: “From 2011 to 2015 when Kimasports was implementing the Comprehensive Sports Development Programme in CRS, we would have been first on this medals table with a wide margin. “Today CRS is near the bottom (at 26th place) from where we picked up when we started the program in 2009. CRS dominated and we were national champions at the National Youth Sports Festival for four consecutive years before the programme was killed in July 2015.
“Such a successful human capacity development and poverty alleviation program was allowed to die in present-day Nigeria due to the ignorance of the leaders about its positive impact on the psyche and prestige of the governor and citizens of the state. I believe Senator Otu can pick up the pieces and rebuild the dynasty. May God grant him wisdom to catch the vision and run with it.”