That Onochie’s breath of fresh (Athletics) air

I am guilty as charged.

Yes I am a FIFA Match Commissioner, CAF General Coordinator, Member Technical Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation, yet that is not enough excuse for the volume of thoughts I write on football in my column every week.

But for the intervention of Vanguard Group Sports Editor in his column last Friday, I believe I would have dedicated  today’s column as usual to vexed issues of football, issues that at the end of the day leave me angry and deflated.

I believe that this week I would have jumped into the fracas involving Coach Stephen Keshi and his captain Joseph Yobo, most especially the order by the NFF President that the Technical Committee should as a matter of urgency wade into a matter that if not well handled can derail our World Cup dreams.

I would have written about the unbelievable and scandalous 7-1 loss experienced by Lobi Stars in Maputo. After talking to club boss Dominic Iorfa on the morning of the match ( Friday ) I quickly dispatched a text of prayer waiting to hear qualification news, after all  a 3-1 first leg victory can be considered enough assurance for a second leg qualification.

About thirty minutes after the match must have ended, I tried in vain to establish contact with Maputo. I needed to call a colleague, Palmira Francisco who told me to get a Doctor by my side because what she was about to tell me was likely to break my heart. Jokes apart, when she said Lobi had lost by 7-1 I was, to say the least, astonished.

There is no how I would not have written today about Heartland Football Club of Owerri that left our shores last Saturday ( Match day ) in two chartered planes that could not take more than thirteen players and two officials. The story is a long one especially as regards the Gabonese who did everything to block the line of communication so that when the two jets finally flew into Libreville, there was nobody on ground to welcome them, not to talk about onward flight to Bitam, venue of the match! The Gabonese are now claiming a Walk Over.

Who knows, I would have written about the club President who woke up from a ten year old sleep to declare that Taribo West by his own reckoning is sixty years old today. Just as Taribo exclaimed, I would have asked, “ what’s his own”.

I would have used this column today to echo the cry of Chief Jonathan Ogufere, President of the Association of Sports Veterans, Nigeria who has summoned his members to an emergency meeting tomorrow in Lagos to discuss the “ not too palatable happenings in our football environment”

Let’s forget football today and dwell instead on what has been my passion in the last twelve years that I had midwifed track and field championship in Akwa Ibom schools and colleges courtesy NNPC/MPN Joint Venture.

Onochie in his column made me remember the sacrifices we had to undergo every year to comb the grass roots, unearth and nurture school children to stardom and I am talking of thousands of students anxious to make an impact in sports. By the time we get to Eket for the grand finale, we are always in a position to camp about 600 students who qualify from the eight sports zones of the state from where we produced 120 champions yearly ( first to third positions in twelve events )

The Akwa Ibom/Mobil Athletics championship from inception attracted the support of the AFN and saw the attendance of ministers of sports and education and top federal and state government functionaries.

Sadly for me and the sponsors, we are yet to get the state Sports ministry to match our enthusiasm, that of taking over the tracking and training of the athletes so discovered. Every year I go through the painful ritual of discovering athletes who are left fallow, thereafter.

I am happy to announce that this year, the sponsors are considering taking the athletes a step further by subjecting them to extra coaching and tutelage that will enhance their competitiveness and improve their styles and techniques advantage Akwa Ibom, Nigeria.

This without doubt is the future of our sports. It is not enough to be competition oriented. We must endeavour to develop our sports. With what MPN is putting in place in Akwa Ibom, hopefully with the support of the State ministry of sports, Akwa Ibom stands the chance of exploding in next year’s National  junior sports festival athletics event.

Onochie mentioned the lack of coaches . He can say that again. Before every championship, I endeavour to organize seminars for games masters and officials, yet most times it comes to nothing because those important bridges called games masters and mistresses do not exist anymore. What we have are individuals who fill the posts yet know next to nothing about sports not to talk about imparting same to their wards.

How many times have I not turned a coach? Take the elementary skill that says  If you teach your athletes to step over the opposite knee while driving down their foot into the ground they will be able to gain speed. How many games masters or even coaches know this?

What about schools where sports does not exist in their curricular and Physical Education wiped away from the time table?

Working with the kids gives me joy, despite the enormous organizational challenges that I face. Working with the youths give me hope of a bright future for this country. About five years ago, Yusuf Ali, Nigeria’s ex Athletics captain came to Eket and spotted two potentials in Enobong James Umoh and Ifiok Andrew. He took them to Lagos, enrolled them in the University of Lagos, tutored them and the last I heard they were representing the country at international level.

Yes, let football continue to give us joy,(?) but when we need medals, lots of it, if we need fame for our youths and international recognition that enhances our diplomatic integrity, then track and field is it.

See you next week


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