Delta Governor, Sen. Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, on Wednesday said the state government’s investment in sports would boost sports tourism and complement development of the state’s economy.
Okowa made this known when he received on courtesy call, the President and National Executive Committee members of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) at Government House, Asaba.
He said that the best time to identify talents was in their young ages, and assured that with the numerous sports facilities and competitions in the state, Delta was being developed to become a tourism destination in sports development.
The governor, who was given a “Special Merit Award’’ for his high performance in sports development in Nigeria by SWAN on Tuesday, called on Nigerians to embrace sports as a means of unifying the country amid many “voices of anger’’, and expressed appreciation to the association for the award.
“I want to use this opportunity to appreciate you for the honour done to me yesterday and to let you know that I appreciate it. Sometimes when things are done quietly and people recognise it from the outside, it’s something that one should appreciate.
“In our country today, the economy has not been buoyant as a nation and that is why we have not been able to do most of the things we wanted to do.
“People just believe that Nigeria is a rich country but we are not exactly so. However, we thank God for the much we are able to do.
“I appreciate you for joining us in the sports meeting yesterday, and for adding to the number of personalities that were there, you helped to report us properly across the nation.
“There is no doubt that the event of yesterday is very dear to my heart because I went to school in Edo College during the time of late Samuel Ogbemudia as Military Governor and I know that he had a great interest in sports.
“We always looked forward to inter-house competitions, the collegiate competitions and the football competitions that cut across the entire state, and that was why immediately I came into office I said there was need to revive school sports and we started with the Principals’ Cup and yesterday’s final was the fifth edition.
“In 2018, we started the Headmasters’ Cup when we saw the success and the enthusiasm that followed the rebirth of the Principal’s Cup in the state.
“To some extent, we have been able to partner the private sector because the Principal’s Cup has been sponsored by Zenith Bank Plc and when we started the Headmasters’ Cup, we did the sponsoring until Zenith Bank also took over the sponsorship,” he said.
Okowa remarked that the quality of football in the state had improved because many schools were engaging coaches to train their students.
He said that the development had given the state some mileage because it was now believed that many talents that would have been lost unnoticed were now being picked up along the line.
“The best way to truly get this working is to make sure that we pick people up from their very young ages and try to help them to develop the talent that they have.
“This has also helped us generally because we have said that all schools must have their inter-house sports competitions.
“It gladdens my heart that we have been able to re-introduce all these competitions to the level we had during the Ogbemudia days because that was when sports was truly implanted in the hearts of our people,” he stated.
The governor affirmed that sports was a unifying factor which helped to unite the country even amid its numerous challenges, adding that sports was one of the ways to calm the voices of anger among the citizenry
“As a state we have been doing quite well in various sporting events and as you may have noticed, other states are beginning to struggle for relevance.
“I was glad when Edo state said they were going to compete with us; they are our brothers from the defunct Bendel; it was actually a stiff competition but just before the end, they gave up but I am glad because sometimes if you don’t have a stiff competition you cannot improve.
“When you go for a sports competition and you notice you are far away from the next person you won’t be encouraged to do more.
“Sports obviously is a uniting factor because the more we continue to grow sports the better for us and the better for the unity of this country
“At the moment there are too many voices of anger in our nation and sports will actually help us to lower these voices and the more we seek for these voices of unity the better for us as a nation,” he stated.
Earlier, President of SWAN, Honour Sirawoo, had told the governor that they were in Delta to appreciate him for making Delta the tourism destination in sports.
He declared that SWAN was impressed with the trajectory of sports development in Delta, saying “we have followed your service record and we are convinced that you are doing very well.
“Delta and indeed, the old Bendel is reputed for excellence in sports but it is one thing to inherit and another is to improve and sustain it.
“We are impressed that you have improved on sports development in Delta, especially with your consistent wins in the National Sports Festival and the National Youth Games.
“It shows how committed and how much you appreciate the value of sports because sports can change the face of any community.
“We are always impressed when we see athletes from Delta dominating the National Teams because Delta athletes form up to 80 percent of athletes competing for sports championships.
“We thank you for agreeing to host the National Sports Festival even though we know that any where it is taken to, Delta will still win so I believe that what you intend to do by hosting is to showcase the sports infrastructure in your state.
“We thank you for the Principals’ Cup and Stephen Keshi Stadium, you have done so well and we can only but support you to do more.
“The peace Delta enjoys today is because of the efforts you have made in sports development.”