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As the fortune of sports in the country continues to dwindle especially in the face of massive corruption bedevilling the sector, we can only keep asking ourselves how did we get here?
We have often said that “Catch Them Young Program” is the secret and strength of sporting excellence of every nation….yet we pay cheap and derogatory lip service to it. “Catch Them Young” program falls on the lap of developing sports from the Grassroots….which involves combing the nooks and crannies of our beloved country to discover, nurture and manage talents to become global stars, brands and names.
Nigerian sports administrators may have abandoned this very vital asset and avenue of attaining or achieving sporting glory by cutting sides, seeking shortcuts, quick fixes, shortchanging the system and corruption laden double standards like seeking gratification to recruit and expose talents which have continued to drag sports backwards but there are some names or personalities who cannot be forgotten for what they have done passionately and privately over the years in the area of grassroots sports development.
They have gone out of their ways, taken all manners of risks, facing the wears and tears of life, travelling and somethings depriving themselves of comfort just to touch the lives of others by giving their lives a sense of belonging….bringing them out of hopelessness to hand them awesome comfort.
Sadly, the country’s sports administrators have refused to honour them…and not even their individual state of origin can or have recognised them for their immense contributions towards the emancipation of sports from the grassroots in the country.
These gentlemen have gracefully taken after the bold step of Late Chief Isaac Akioye who is the doyen of sports development from the grassroots and schools sports/academical among others in his highly successful “Catch Them Young” program for Nigerian sports. That was the secret of the country’s success in sports between the late 70s to 80s. Greed, God bless the sporting soul of Pa Akioye.
He started the famous MOCK NATIONS CUP in Ajegunle a suburb in Lagos. The competition commenced immediately after Green Eagles win the 1980 AFCON. The 39 years old grassroots competition has produced great names in world football…Sam Nwobum, Tarila Okoronwanta, Monday Odiaka, Samson Siasia, Emmanuel Amuneke, Peter Neketein, Godwin Eke, Albert Eke, Christopher Zibor, Christopher Edem, Alfred Omoefe, Taiwo Enegwa, Muisi Ajao, Ikpe Ekong and Odion Ighalo among other.
A high chief in his hometown of Nnewi and a successful businessman who still make out time to follow his passion of promoting grassroots sports across the country.
From Lagos to Kwara, Anambra to Delta, Enugu to Edo, Kebbi to Nasarawa, Ebonyi to Akwa Ibom the footprints of grassroots sports development of this generous man are very visible. He recently signed a pact with the authorities of the host of the next Nigerian Polythecnic Games who want to partner with him to help boost the performances of the athletes
He is the Pillar of sports and his philanthropic acts have continued to silently boost grassroots sports development across board.
Before he was appointed into government in Lagos State, he had touched the lives of youths in the area of encouraging them to excel through sports. He has not relented even with his tight schedule as government official.
He is passionate about grassroots sports. He believes that youths taken off the streets and given a good life and careers to pursue in sports often turn out to be world champions. He has continued to churn out world class athletes quietly with his own hard earn funds through organising tournaments and competitions.
Irrespective of what anyone holds against him, he has lifted the lives of many youths from grass to grace in the North particularly in Kaduna State.
He has given the lives of many street urchins and al-majiris a meaning. He organises competitions and tournaments which expose the talents and make them superstars by attracting top clubs and national team handlers to poach them.
●EMMANUEL OSCAR EZINWA
He is popularly known as ORIENTS. This workaholic sports loving grassroots developer has crossed the paths of many sports administrators in the course of exposing talents discovered from local tournaments and competitions he personally organised with his money.
He has continued to fund and sustain sports academies in Lagos and Abia. He has helped several footballers to secure good offers abroad after nurturing and exposing them through tournaments like the ones he just returned from recently in Togo and Ghana. These trips are funds by him and his associates.
●SAM O’FEMI OLUSETIRE
It is not an overstatement to name him, the foremost grassroots sports journalist of the last two and half decades. He has consistently and successfully covered and reported grassroots sports…. and to crown it, he has continually discovered talents most of whom are based abroad and are national team players.
His experience having worked for top media houses like Complete Football/Complete Sports, Brila FM and still working with SportsDay has added value to his passion for covering/reporting grassroots sports and discovering talents.
●There are others whose quiet efforts in developing sports from the grassroots only God knows and can genuinely reward. Gentlemen, God sees your hearts and efforts. He will surely honour and reward you someday…