By Michael Afenfia
Last week Saturday, I worked out for one hour only, instead of two in the gym as I usually did. I had to cut short my training session, but it was all for a good cause. My personal trainer informed me that he was now the head coach for one of the teams participating in the second edition of the Governor Henry Seriake Dickson Football Tournament christened Restoration Cup 2018 – a privately funded football competition for football sides in Bayelsa state that has the whole state talking.
Communities, neighbourhoods, schools, media houses, banks and even the military have teams taking part in the tournament and it certainly has all of them excited. Even my wife is not left out of the excitement, seeing as she left the house before 7 o’clock that same Saturday to watch her male colleagues in the office play. And even though their opponents trounced them silly, she still came home with scintillating tales about missed scoring chances and sloppy players on their side, while their opponents, a team of bankers, played like they were in the English Premier League.
But don’t take her word for it; she knows next to nothing about football, its rules and how it is played. My trainer, on the other hand, may be an athletics coach, but he knows his football and so I took his bragging about the superlative quality of play and the buzz being created by the tournament around the state quite seriously.
For instance, the team he coached before they were knocked out in the second round was registered by one of the communities across the river behind the Federal Medical Centre (FMC). Their line-up was mostly made up of young men and boys from the community who were only too glad to have been selected to participate in the competition and represent the location they reside.
They could have been anywhere else, not doing anything productive with their time and lives, but because of the Restoration Cup, these boys and young men involved in the competition have been too preoccupied with training and playing for the glory, and winning the prize money of N5m for the winning team. If they came second or placed third, then it would have been N3 or N2m respectively.
On the two occasions they played, the men, women and children of the community came out to cheer them on. The Restoration Cup has united communities and forged a lasting bond between teammates, something our nation and state needs to heal the divisiveness that have pervaded our politics lately.
It has only been two weeks since the Restoration Cup football tournament kicked off officially in the state and already stars have been discovered in the various centres the competition have held so far. Though the competition is still in its second round of eliminations, the quality of play has been outstanding. Junior Christopher of Agudama community, the double hat trick striker is one to watch for the future. So also are Godgift Okilo and Ebikabowei Amiassuomo of Rotal FC, Bebelebiri 2, and the so many other talented goalkeepers, defenders, mid-field players and defenders in the 141 teams taking part in the games.
There are so many people to thank for conceiving the idea of a state-wide football tournament in Bayelsa, and seeing to the actualisation of that vision, but mention must be made of a handful of aides to the governor of the state, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, for putting together, the very first edition in 2015 and for this sophomore effort that has now received the endorsement and financial support of the sports-loving governor himself.
Men like Honourable Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Orientation; Honourable Perekiye Buruboyefe, the Commissioner for Sports Development; Ono Akpe, the Director General of the Tournament, and Daniel Alabrah, its public relations honcho deserve commendation for driving the competition and running it with the professionalism expected in top class leagues around the world.
All other partners and organisers also deserve commendation. What they have done, and the template they have designed for the Restoration Cup, should be replicated across the country and perhaps even the federal ministry of sports ought to be taking notes as the competition continues in the coming weeks.
Indeed, beyond the Restoration Cup, Bayelsa state has a lot to teach the rest of the country when it comes to sports development and showing appreciation to our sports heroes. The recent largesse ranging from N1.5 to N500k dished out by the governor of the state, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson to the medal-winning wrestling contingent to the 2017 Commonwealth games in Gold Coast Australia, when he hosted the Wrestling Federation in Yenagoa comes to mind.
The students on full state government scholarship at the newly establish Sports Academy, Asuama, in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area, a project initiated and completed by the Restoration Government of Governor Dickson is another area the state is making a difference. No doubt the children attending the school today, and those who would be admitted to study there in the coming years would grow up into sports champions and national icons.
Most of them will profit from their time in the academy and because of the huge investments made by the Restoration Governor, these young Bayelsans will make the country proud in the field of sports they choose to specialise in.
Banning the sale of codeine, an addictive substance that has turned so many of our youths into drug addicts and the reason perhaps behind the raising crime profile in parts of the country, is a commendable move by the federal government. However, to my mind, what our youths need more than anything else is the opportunity to discover hidden talents and skills that will keep them busy while providing them with a source of income. Identifying and helping to improve skills in football and other sports is a good thing that must be supported by all and sundry.
We need more Restoration Cups and we certainly need more individuals in the state organising them, with or without government support.