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Bayelsa Governor’s Football Tournament: Harnessing Football Talents For Sustainable Development

Ono K. Akpe, Director General of the Bayelsa Governor’s Football Tournament (Prosperity Cup), shares the vision for grassroots football development in Bayelsa under the leadership of the sports-loving Governor Senator Douye Diri. Since 2015, the tournament has discovered talented players now playing professionally in Nigeria, Africa, Europe, and beyond. Read how the tournament has grown and its future plans.”

From Bassey Willie, Yenagoa

Ono Kevin Akpe, has over the years been actively involved in grassroots football talent hunting and development, in the past 9 years, as Director General, of Bayelsa Governor’s Football Tournament, he has been the brain behind the tournament otherwise called ‘Prosperity Cup’ where several young talents discovered are already playing professional football in different leagues across Nigeria, Africa, Europe and other parts of the world. He shared his experiences with sports, where he spoke about his motivation and how more young football talents can be discovered from grassroots competitions as well as Governor Douye Diri’s massive support and passion for sports development. Excerpts;

You conceived the idea of the Bayelsa Governor’s Cup in 2015, nine years after how has it been?

First, I want to thank the Lord Almighty for this vision to organize the Bayelsa Governor’s Cup, also thank Governor Douye Diri for his passion and support for football development, as well as the Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo and Commissioner for Sports, Dr. Daniel Igali. we actually tried to put it together in 2014 but we couldn’t, we finally hosted it in 2015, it was born out of our resolve as government appointees to be involved in physical activities, at a stage where we realised that the passion which we exhibited and was supported by the youths of Bayelsa State was the enormous passion and skills that abound in the state, we believed that these talents were going to waste if not properly harnessed, so I and a few others came together and put this tournament together to see how it will help engage our youths in football talent development, so we put our resources together to kick-start it and after we started the activities, we got them from the government, Governor of Bayelsa State then, Senator Seriake Dickson who supported us and we started the first edition in Nembe since then the competition has been very interesting, very exciting but equally very challenging.

Nine years after, what have been the results achieved with the Governor’s Cup, in terms of talent discovery?

I will use this opportunity to go through a small trajectory of the tournament, first after the 2015 edition, we had the 2016 edition the 2018 edition and then the 2019 edition which was the most successful, because then Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare came in and was invited as a special guest in the final when he saw the participation of the youth teams, he described it as the ‘largest grassroots football tournament’ which has been a name that has stuck to the tournament. It is arguably the largest football tournament in Nigeria and indeed in Africa with the number of teams that have registered for it. In that edition, we sent a selected team of players to Cape Verde, African Youths Cup and that team came third in the whole of Africa, that was an enviable feat, that team came back and we kept them in camp and they eventually played the Bayelsa League Cup and against all odds, they defeated all fancied teams to emerge, winners, so that really encouraged us to know that our youths in Bayelsa have lots of talents to be developed and propelled to greater heights and so we continued with it in the new administration of Senator Douye Diri, and I must really commend the Governor who was once a Commissioner for Sports, for his unravelled commitment to the development of sports, especially football and the Prosperity Cup. When he came in, he first sent for me and asked how the arrangements for the tournament I briefed him, and he said he was very interested in ensuring that more youths of Bayelsa are developed and propelled to greater heights in their chosen careers.

He stated that he wanted the youths to channel their energies and talents to earn meaningful livelihoods in sports. Then we started to build the tournament around talent discovery and pushing these discovered talents to greater heights, which is why coaching and talent scouting programmes were further expanded and developed to ensure we get the best for our youths. You can recall that even from the 2015 edition, you have exciting players like Okardi, who was our most valuable player, his team won the Pioneer Cup and he went up to play for other teams before going abroad, he is in France now playing professional football, we have Nestor who is in Bosnia, we have quite a lot of others abroad, now we have scouts from all over Europe and even Africa including South Africa coming to scout our players and we have seen quite a bit of success in that.

What about the scouting programmes?

In the past few years, we have also organized various scouting programmes alongside the tournament. In 2022, we hosted Gregory Paul of ASPIRE Football Academy from France, Passi Gerald of Olympique Marseille, Thembele of South Africa and a team from FDC VISTA Academy Russia including; Nikita, Poliakov, Dimitri Churkin, National team coach, Kennedy Boboye and Imama Amapakabo amongst others. In 2023, the LOC sponsored two teams of 40 players and officials to participate in international scouting tournaments organized by SPOCS, a German Sports firm, at Remo Academy in Ikenne and Abuja We also organized two scouting programs in Yenagoa with teams from the South-South and South-East participating. A total of 10 players were selected for professional football abroad. Two players are presently engaged through the SPOCS Academy in Gambia, and two others are billed to sign juicy contracts in the premier league in England. Several players have been scouted from this competition and now play in different clubs all over the country. In Bayelsa United, about seven players are currently there with the team. The likes of Gabriel Biriduba, Bob Philip, Monday Bassey Biweribo Tarabina – Vice Captain of the team and Christian Mizo who only recently moved to Al Hilal in Libya, all featured in the competition. Junior Christopher and Akpos Godbless the highest goal scorer and MVP of the 2023 edition respectively now play for Bendel Insurance, while Endurance Ebedebiri plays for Rivers United. The likes of Egah Saviour, Prince Ebiobowei, Onyesom Precious, Bright Peremene, and others who have gone abroad, equally played in the previous editions.
Presently, we just completed the most intensive scouting programme and coaching clinic organised in collaboration with Tristone Agency, OTP Finland and Red Sapphire Ltd.

Who are these international scouts and coaches?

The scouts who are UEFA certified coaches and instructors include; Mindaugas Malinauskas of Lithuania, a retired Lithuanian goalkeeper and coach; Augustine Jibrin head coach, OTP United, Simas Kumza, Sports Director, FK Babrungas Plunge, Lithuania; Harry Azodo, Sporting Director OTP of Finland; Ahmet Ozein, agent and scout from Turkey; ex-international Peter Nieketen, Hakan Uyanmis, agent and CEO H.Sports Management agency and Sporting Director of Sakaryaspor; Glenn Stahl International Football Scout and Kelvin Etemike, CEO Tristone Sports/ OTP of Finland and of course Ladan Bosso, Coach of the Under 20 National Team as well as Club owner and FIFA agent, Datti Ahmed.

How have you been able to manage this tournament?

The tournament started in 2015 with 110 teams, now we have over 200 teams that are playing, last year we introduced the female and para-soccer editions, so we now have three tournaments in one, the female edition started with just four teams last year, now we have over 20 registered female teams in the tournament which is equally another impressive development which I’m proud of, in both female and male edition we have a depth of talents in the state that if well harnessed and will be able to do great things for the state in terms of a professional football career, of course from the last edition, we begin to see some other females discovered talents being invited to Bayelsa Queens and other clubs where they are plying their trades.

What are the exciting things that you observed in the ongoing edition compared to the previous editions?

We have talked about the three editions in one that we have here presently, based on the pressure to enhance the capacity and skills of our players and officials, we introduced the referee course, which was done in May, we brought in international referee facilitators and accessors from the referees’ council to Yenagoa to organize a refresher course for the referees preparing them for the tournament, they sharpened their brains in the recent updates in refereeing and football, it was very exciting, it has greatly improve the quality of officiating in this tournaments.

Looking at the future, how do you intend to see this tournament?

Prosperity Cup has turned into brand, it is a brand that is known globally now, we got calls from Europe, from UK, from Germany, in fact we have a proposal to take our players to Ghana in a tournament organized by German organization this year, we also have proposal to select some players and take them to Portugal, so all these things are in the cards and the table, but we are looking out for a time when we will have a brand sponsor that will take over the sponsorship of this tournament, without government putting any reasonable resources, maybe just the trophy and prize money, we are looking for the brand sponsor that will take up the bills and make sure that youths of Bayelsa pull of the streets and begin to be gainfully engaged, so we will like to call on the corporate world, the oil multinational companies to key into this tournament to engage our youths, but Governor Douye Diri, who has given us all the supports has promised to develop ten community fields in the state, because if the players play in a very standard field, their level of football will increase. We also want to see our players in national teams, Super Eagles, Flying Eagles, and the Golden Eaglets.

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