Sportsmen, enthusiasts, and administrators from various domains are lending their voices to a collective plea directed at governments at all levels to revive grassroots sports across Nigeria. In separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the respondents emphasized the importance of resuscitating school sports programs at the grassroots level for talent discovery and development.
According to Obioma George, the Acting Director of Abia Sports Council, the decline in grassroots sports can be attributed to government neglect. The lack of sponsorship, funding, and equipment has hindered the development of grassroots sports in the country. In response to this, the government of Abia State has taken proactive steps to rejuvenate grassroots sports. Sensitization programs have been initiated across the 17 Local Government Councils, with the Commissioner for Sports, Nwadinma Ananaba, directing that schools allocate at least two hours weekly for sports activities, culminating in inter-school sports competitions.
Former Super Eagles Goalkeeper, Ike Shorunmu, echoed the sentiment that school programs serve as a crucial starting point for sports development in Nigeria. Shorunmu, who also serves as the goalkeeper coach for Abia Warriors FC, emphasized that adequate funding and the commitment of the government are essential for successful sports development.
Shorunmu stated, “We still need to go back to our school sports because it’s more real than what we see in the academy.” He emphasized the importance of identifying talent at the grassroots level, where players’ ages and exceptional abilities can be properly assessed.
Obijuru Ukegbu, Team Manager of Foster Football Academy in Umuahia, stressed the significance of looking inwardly to overcome the challenges of grassroots sports development. Ukegbu advocated for increased focus on academies as potential talent hubs, highlighting ongoing scouting programs involving 16 clubs that aim to identify young players across various age categories.
Ukegbu also emphasized the importance of private sector involvement and investment for successful grassroots sports development. He believed that pragmatic private sector participation could be a catalyst for progress in this field.
Commissioner for Sports in Abia State, Emeka Okoronkwo, stressed the need for robust private sector engagement to complement government efforts in grassroots sports development. Okoronkwo pointed to the state’s supportive stance, particularly regarding investments in heartland football club, as a testament to the positive outcomes that result from government support in the sports sector.
The collective call to resuscitate grassroots sports is gaining momentum, with stakeholders highlighting the significance of government commitment, private sector involvement, and investment as crucial pillars in fostering talent and development at the foundational level. It is hoped that these efforts will galvanize leaders at all levels to prioritize grassroots sports development and pave the way for a brighter future for Nigerian sports.