Bayelsa: Nigeria’s new sports destination

By Kola Oredipe

It never happened by accident. The recent positive turn in sporting success of Bayelsa State is a product of deliberate planning matched with the right investment and shared commitment.

While the recent sports trajectory in Bayelsa State has strategically placed the state at a pedestal in the comity of sporting states, the dominance of athletes from the state in key sporting events within a period of three years under the Senator Douye Diri-led administration remains a cheering story. A case in point was the impressive result posted at the just concluded 21st National Sports Festival in Asaba, Delta State.

The story is not just that Bayelsa State returned from the festival as 2nd best participating state but that the state featured prominently in every shade of the sports festival with many home-grown athletes winning laurels and breaking national records placed Bayelsa on a new sporting pedestal in the country.

Bayelsa State has been on a steady climb on the medals table since the state debuted at the National Sports Festival in Imo State in 1998, two years after creation and the success of the team at the just concluded edition in Asaba is a testimony of hard work and right investment.

The state has always been a powerhouse in swimming, wrestling and a few other combat sports but it has extended its frontiers beyond its areas of comparative advantages to other sports including athletics where the Aleibiri-born Tima Godbless has emerged fastest Nigerian woman in both 100 and 200 metres and in the process set a new festival record. Bayelsans are simply showing class.

The success recorded at the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival where Team Bayelsa came 3rd for the first time and now in Asaba, with 2nd position on the medals table, clearly demonstrated the fact that Governor Diri and his team are doing something worth the while to encourage sports development.

Great to cheer that it was even in his time as Youth and Sports Commissioner in 2006 that Team Bayelsa placed 4th on the medals table for the first time in Abeokuta, Ogun State. He is truly a man with the Midas touch!

They call him Bayelsa’s Games Master – General working with a supportive Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo and an Olympic champion, a professional sportsman and experienced administrator, Hon. Daniel Igali, as Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Governor Diri,in less than three years in office has shown real capacity to turn around the fortune of sports in Bayelsa State.

The state is deliberately making huge investment in sports as a vehicle to meaningfully engaged the youths. Truly, sports has been identified as a veritable source of livelihood to many young people across the globe. Research has shown that active involvement in sports can boost mental ability, self-confidence and help to positively develop the youths and removing their mind from social vices.

The emergence of Bayelsa State as a powerhouse in sports became manifest with the performance of Bayelsa-born athletes at both the national and international events. They are found in active sports or in sports administration at the different levels.

At the last Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Bayelsa-born female wrestler, Blessing Oborududu, gave Nigeria the highest individual medal of a silver in her weight category. She was well celebrated.

Athletics sensation, Tima Seikeseye Godbless won gold as a member of the quartet in the 4x100m relay in the African Championship at Mauritius 2022. Tima at the World U-20 Athletics Championships in Cali, Colombia posted a massive 11.08secs in the fourth heat of the 100 metres to shatter the 23 years old 100m National U-20 record set by Joan Uduak Ekah. And now, at the just concluded sports festival, she became the fastest Nigerian women winning double in 100 metres and 200 metres finals.

Indeed, Bayelsans are doing big things in sports and yes, the athletes are getting the rewards in good measures from the champion of Prosperity Administration, Governor Douye Diri. Last year, 9-year-old Bayelsan, Deborah Quickpen won the African Youth Chess Championship in Accra, Ghana. The state also beat all-comers, placing tops at the maiden edition of the National Para-Sports Festival that held in Abuja earlier this year.

Basketball has found its deep roots in Bayelsa State with school sports where earlier this year, two secondary schools in the State won both male and female editions of the Nestle Milo Secondary School National Basketball Championship in Lagos State. By that crown, St Jude’s Girls Secondary School, Amarata, Yenagoa, has won the national Secondary School Basketball Championship six times in nine appearances and coming second thrice.

The boy’s school, Bishop Dimeari Grammar School, Yenagoa, won the male category of the Milo basketball tourney in their very first appearance at the national final. By this feat, Bayelsa became the first state in the history of the championship to win both the male and female categories of the competition in one season. The two teams went ahead to fly the flag of Nigeria at the World School Basketball Championship in Serbia. It was indeed Bayelsa to the world.

In football, it was all joy to recall the great achievements of the two state-owned teams, Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens, when last year both the male and female teams emerged as winners of the Aiteo/FA Cup, the first time ever that a state will win in both categories of the competition. This is a State of so many first in sporting events of late.

To further reap from its investment and discover new talents, the Prosperity Government has initiated an annual State Sports Festival that will feature athletes from the eight Local Government Areas. The stage is set for this annual sporting meet to debut in January, 2023.

The manifestation is here and the very deliberate effort to change the story has brought honour and recognition to the State. A worthy course of investment in the young people and the multiplier effect would be felt in a few years to come.

It is a case of right investment under the present administration and it has been so deliberate by the Prosperity Government to fund activities that promote sports and education. The positioning of Bayelsa State on the nation’s sporting map as Nigeria’s next sports destination is commendable and the future gains are going to be immeasurable.

The invitation of the governor by the President of the world football governing body, FIFA, Gianni Infantino to the recently held Qatar 2022 World Cup, remains an outstanding recognition for the great impact in sports development in the State. Governor Diri, has assured that the government would massively leverage on such an opportunity to improve on football organisation back home. He has therefore, renewed the consideration for the construction of a new and modern stadium to harness the potential in the sports sector by attracting more participation in different sports.

Yes, the sporting journey has been remarkable and the trajectory is visible enough under the Prosperity Administration. The future indeed looks very promising for sports development in Bayelsa State.

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