Gombe — As the 18th National Sports Festival, EKO 2012 draws nearer, states are busy putting finishing touches to their preparations with the singular aim of winning medals. The sporting fever has since caught up with Gombe State. The state is doing everything necessary to banish the ghost of the 2012 Garden City Games.
It will be recalled that at the Games held earlier this year, Gombe was among the states that did not win a single medal to place last on the overall medals table. Team Nigeria was to repeat the same woeful performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Gombe Sports Commission, the body saddled with the responsibility of administering sports in Gombe State is working assiduously to prevent a repeat of the scenario that played out in Port-Harcourt. Buoyed by the facilities in the ultra-modern Gombe stadium Pantami and the unprecedented support from the governor of the state, Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, the commission is confident it would not only restore the pride of the state at the sports festival but make Gombe the Mecca of sports in the North-East.
The Executive Chairman of Gombe State Commission, Malam Farouk Yarma has attributed the ongoing sports resurgence to the unflinching support from the governor who has not hidden his determination to use the power of sports to build a better society for the teeming youths of the state.
He explained that before now sports was not given priority attention in the state as it was like a mere department under the ministry of Culture and Tourism. However, sports in Gombe is enjoying a new lease of life due what Yarma described as Dankwambo's commitment to sports development and youth empowerment. He said the governor's foresight in setting up the sports commission is a catalyst for sports development.
"When we came on board we found a system that was not moving. There was nothing like a foundation for sports development. Sports was under the sports council which was in turn under the ministry of Culture and Tourism.
"There were lots of bottlenecks to surmount before you get some things from the ministry. This affected the performance of sports. I think having this commission in place is a right step in the right direction. His Excellency deserves commendation. This is a demonstration of his commitment to sports development in the state.
Yarma explained that despite its teething problems, the commission has developed a master plan for sports regeneration and the governor's magnanimity is driving the process forward.
"Even when you have the most articulate blueprint or an action plan for development of sports, you must have the backing of the government. No matter how good your blueprint is, if government fails to provide the necessary funds, you are not going to achieve anything.
"So far, so good. We appreciate his Excellency's immense support. In less than ten months, this commission has recorded a lot of achievements. With government backing, we hosted the Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Football Referees Association and we successfully hosted the Zonal elimination for EKO 2012. There is nothing this commission needs that the governor has not provided. Our youths are now engaged into sporting activities with corresponding reduction in social vices".
It is against this background of unprecedented support for sports in Gombe that the commission is confident that athletes would bring back laurels from the National Sports Festival as a mark of appreciation.
"We are lucky to have the facilities on ground. We have coaches who are up to date with the modern techniques and innovations in sports. The athletes are rearing to go but I cannot promise anything for now. At the last sports festival in Port-Harcourt, Gombe put up a dismal performance but that will not happen again.
"Our governor has done a lot for us and we need to appreciate the uncommon support by winning medals. We have a target but I am not going to disclose it. The festival will speak for us"
The Director of sports in the commission, Ezra Elias Bilayobu shares in the chairman's optimism when he said with the unprecedented support from the government, the state athletes have received adequate preparations and are poised to re-write the history of Gombe in the forthcoming sports festival.
"There is no way you can play sports without funds. It will interest you to know that at the last sports festival, there was nothing like camping. You and I know that you have to prepare before you go into any competition. It was on the eve of the opening ceremony that we were given money to attend the festival. You cannot play magic there. You must prepare.
"This time, the story has changed. We had an open camping and right now we are in closed camping in preparation for the festival. There will be great changes. This time our slogan is 'EKO 2012, Gombe go for Gold'.
With a total contingent of close to 400 athletes and officials, Gombe State will feature in 16 events at the forthcoming National sports festival which holds from November 27 to December 9 in Lagos.