Though Gombe State might not have finished with a respectable position at the recent 18th National Sports Festival held in Lagos, having managed to win a silver and two bronze medals, the state however found solace in the fact that they have discovered and exposed athletes that could compete in future National Sports Festivals and indeed represent the country in international competitions.
Gombe State also takes pride in the fact that more than 90 per cent of its athletes are indigenes of the state apart from being one of the youngest at the Eko 2012. The state has therefore put machinery in place to prevent the athletes from being poached by richer states ahead of the next sports festival billed for Cross River by placing some of the athletes on salaries and giving scholarship to those of them that are still in school.
Speaking to THISDAY, volley ball coach, Manga Sali, said the athletes and officials of Team Gombe were not generally happy leaving Lagos with just one silver and two bronze medals but they have proved a point with the 18th National Sports Festival. "We came to Lagos with the youngest athletes, we were neither involved in any form of cheating nor in any act of indiscipline as we have the name of our state and governor to protect. Our athletes are one of the best kitted in the competition and were well fed before and during the competition without having to wait for the food provided by the Local Organising Committee of the festival. With the discovery and exposure of new talents Gombe will be a force to be reckoned with at the next edition of the games in Cross River," he said.
The Gombe volleyball team narrowly missed out in the final after their smooth run was halted in the semi-finals. But Sali said he was not totally disappointed, saying he was involved in a developmental programme and now boast of a growing team that can dominate at the next edition of the festival.
Sali however berated the poor officiating that characterized some of the events at the festival, even though he conceded it was not only Team Gombe experienced the lapses. He is however confident his team can win the competition in the next edition.
"We played in the semi-finals, and at that stage, it was either win or lose. We lost, but it wasn't because we were not good. I have two internationally-rated players, Abdulazeez Adamu and Mohammed Adamu, who were in Nigeria's beach volleyball team. We also have Amu Chakuma, a national team centre. These players will definitely excel at the next edition of the sports festival because they are young and determined," Sali said.
In his submission, captain of team Gombe Gombe, Gafiru Kabiru, lamented the state of their camp at the festival, saying that basketball team did not have the best experience at Eko 2012. The 19-member team were quartered in a room with one fan at the Games Village in UNILAG, he claimed.
The team, which was featuring in its second sports festival after its debut at the 2004 edition in Abuja, blamed their exit on ill luck and unfavourable schedule in their fixtures.
"One major setback we had was the time for our fixtures. We were not used to playing in the evening, but that was what we were confronted with when got here. And majority of our players are featuring in the sports festival for the first time. And with the experience we've acquired here, I'm optimistic we will win the gold at the next edition in Cross River."
A top official of Team Gombe who will not want his name asked not to be identified in print, noted that they have identified some sports in which the state has lots of potential and they will focus on such games. This includes hockey, basketball, athletics, volleyball and football, just as he said it does not mean that the state will ignore other sports.
The official also stated that Team Gombe will start camping from January ahead of the next festival and promised that sporting facilities in the state will be upgraded to enhance good training of its athletes.
Athetes and officials of Team Gombe thanked the state's governor Ibrahim Dankwambo for providing the needed fund to execute the sports festival.