By George Aluo
Imo, the Eastern Heartland is 40, having been created in 1976. The state has no doubt
come a long way. Today, the state is being governed by a man, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who is on a Rescue Mission.
But one sector that appears not to be feeling the impact of Owelle’s Rescue Mission is sports which many stakeholders insist has suffered neglect since he assumed office some five
Rollings Obieri, an Owerri based veteran sports journalist in this exclusive chat with Saturday Sunsports did not mince words in declaring that one sector where Imo is definitely not
working at 40, is that of sports. Excerpts…
Assessment of Imo sports at 40 I don’t know the language I would use
to describe the state of Imo Sports at 40 The truth of the matter is that sports has
descended to its lowest ebb since the state was created in 1976. As we speak, Imo
Hockey team, The Heartland Flickers are going about cap in hand begging for
money to attend a national championship in Abuja. They are appealing to everybody
to see how they can raise money for accommodation in Abuja. This is the
famous Imo hockey team that has won the African Cup for clubs six times and
dominated the national scene.
The team cant even travel now to Abuja to be part of a national championship.
In the letter they sent out, the Imo State Hockey Association pleaded that no
amount is too small for the team. Meanwhile,
all they need to compete in Abuja is less than N1m. Is that what Imo State
government cannot afford?
The situation is as bad as that. Only two weeks ago, the equally famous Imo
Grasshoppers Handball club went to a competition in Kaduna on empty stomach.
You will weep for the team if you hear the story of how that team went to
Kaduna where they finished second in the national handball league. The team just as the hockey team is doing right now begged for money from the streets of Owerri to be in Kaduna. They were not sponsored by the state government. So where do we begin and where do we end talking about the state of Imo sports. Imo
sports is simply in a sorry state.
Heartland FC Heartland football club is not being well funded. The players and officials are complaining. The club succeeded in winning trophies in the first two years of Okorocha’s government under Fan Ndubuoke with the governor confessing then that he never knew how Fan did it as he was not giving them money. Fan has since been sacked and the club is now a shadow of itself. Today, the governor is asking, where is that “Mbaise man”? that is Fan, under whose leadership Heartland won the Federation Cup back to back.
Last year Imo state could not even sponsor a team to the national school sports festival. Imo some years back ruled national school sports. Today, the situation is so bad that the state cant even compete at that level. Here the government is saying education is her priority, but which can of education do you have that lacks school sports. Please that is no education. It is a shame that Imo is running an educational program that has no place for sports.
My brother, don’t just go there. You need to see how bad the state of facilities at the Dan Anyiam stadium, Owerri.
You will weep when you see how the Grasshoppers International Stadium has dilapidated. There is no single roof now at the Grasshoppers arena. The main bowl of the Dan Anyiam Stadium is not in anyway better. The tartan tracks
are gone. If you go to Orlu the story is even more pathetic. The Sam Okwaraji Stadium has been taken over by grass.
The government has since abandoned the place and started building another stadium there that only God knows when it would be completed. Today both the Okwaraji Stadium and the new one are nowhere. My worry about sports in Imo is that we are not just planning, from the commissioner to everybody down the line. We even have commissioners for sports who know next to nothing when it comes to the business of sports. Ordinarily it is the sports commissioner that should advise the governor on the way forward, but when you put people who don’t know how to drive things, then there is a problem.
Imo athletes defecting to other states Honestly if the national sports festival is to hold this year in Calabar, its only God that can tell where Imo would finish.
Don’t be surprised if we come last on the medals table even with all the talents the state is blessed with. All Imo athletes have abandoned the state. The few that are still here are highly demoralized. Go to any state today, there is no where you wont see Imo athletes. They are competing for other states because nothing is happening here at home.
Imo is probably the only state in the world where the government said it is scrapping the entire sports council and sacking all her workers. The government said it was privatising the sports council.
The question to ask is privatised to who?
All over the world, sports is a social service. Governments spend millions to send athletes to games such as the Olympics and all that in a bid to empower their youths, but here in Imo the story is different.
As a sports consultant, I am in tears for Imo sports.
The only going for Imo is the fact that there is this Spartan spirit in the Imo person.
That is why our athletes go out there and win in some national and international tournaments. Unfortunately, even when they win, they don’t even get a mere handshake from the governor. This is the only state that has not held a reception for any of her victorious athletes in the last five years. No reception, no encouragement.
After the last national sports festival, all that athletes that won medals for the state got was a paltry N25,000 which the then sports commissioner, Ken Emelu said he doled out from his pocket.
Meanwhile athletes from Delta and other states smiled to the banks for doing their states proud. An Imo athlete even told a story of how his Delta state opponent pleaded with him to allow him win gold in a particular event. The athlete from Delta promised to compensate his Imo opponent since he was sure of getting a good reward back home unlike his Imo opponent who would get nothing for winning.
With all these can we say we are still doing sports in Imo? The answer is no.