A pressing need for quality grassroot sports programmes in Cross River State

By Egbara Emmanuel

Quality and effective grass root and rural sport development programs need to be put in place in Cross river state to ensure the development of a sporting culture in the state.

There should be focus on developing sports at the grassroots of the State. The recent disappearance of our beloved Rovers of Calabar from the Nigerian professional league is a bitter pill to swallow for a sports lover like myself.

This National sport omission must serve as a wake-up call for all stakeholders involved in the sporting development of the state, including coaches, administrators and Government, sponsors and fans of all sports in the state, not just football.

Why should this be a wake-up call? Let us look at the context of us not been part of the league any more nor even in existence as a team.

Cross river is a state with millions of talents especially in football, but more worrying is the amount of investment being made in Sport football over the past years by the state government, which has yet to show any dividends, and might never do so.

Several people ask the question, “How can a state like cross river not found in our professional league? The simple answer: the quality and effectiveness of grass-root development programs that are in place. In Cross river, these development programs in sport are of either poor quality, inadequate or simply missing.

Being involved in grass-root programs in rural cross river over the years, I have seen the sporting talent and athletic ability that the state possesses.

But we need programs, starting right at the bottom of the chain, to support this talent to shine as athletes, coaches, mentors and administrators in cross river sporting ecosystem.

Developing a sporting culture; What can be done to bring about a change? In my humble opinion, there are a few measures that can be taken to put Cross river on the right path of developing a sporting culture at the grassroots, which in turn will promote sustainable participation and excellence in sports.

Firstly, all sporting bodies, Government, and private right from community level to state level, must take a long-term view to the development of Cross river sport.

Cross river needs at least a minimum of 8-10years to inculcate a sporting culture and compete with the best sporting events if the right measures are taken.
All stakeholders must understand that this cannot happen overnight, and it will take some time to introduce strong development measures at the grassroots.

For example, Cross river state Government should target a state team and convey this clearly to all its stakeholders so that their expectations are aligned.

Secondly, all investments made into Cross river sport by private and public bodies, must include a larger chunk to the beginning of the chain. This means that Cross river as a state needs to invest more money into sport at the grassroots, especially the rural regions (this should be a priority of the sports ministry), to help set up structured, quality development programs that focus on two types of initiatives – Sport for All (For example, Physical Education programs) and nurturing talent (For example, Talent ID and development programs).

Moreover, these programs need to be introduced on a much larger scale to unearth talent from all corners of the state, and not just bigger cities and councils. Having a sporting infrastructure in place.

Thirdly, adequate sporting infrastructure and human resources need to be developed at the grassroots. I feel that this needs to be championed by the local and state governments, with the involvement of private players.

Only the governments have the necessary resources to invest in the development of infrastructure and human resources at the grassroots in Cross river, especially at such a large scale, given Cross river size and scope.

But, it is the grass roots players in cross river who possesses the know-how to ensure the effective development of such infrastructure and human resources, which is why their involvement is necessary and important.

The idea must be to develop quality, sustainable and cost-effective infrastructure starting from the community level, which allows participation as well as excellence in sport. This is, as you can imagine, easier said than done.

Furthermore, there must be a long-term plan to develop human resources within the cross river sporting ecosystem, important in creating a sporting culture at the grassroots as well as producing quality talent, including Physical Education teachers, sport specific coaches, fitness trainers, nutritionists, physiotherapists, psychologists, sports scientists, managers and administrators.

Courses and colleges need to be established to adequately skill these individuals in the aforementioned areas. But, the continuing professional development of these personnel, including refresher courses and workshops, as well as focus on practical learning, will be important in continuing to produce a quality workforce.

All stakeholders should come together
Finally, all the different stakeholders in cross river state sport must come together and work towards the common goal of establishing a sporting culture in the state, and developing a framework to support talented athletes, right from the grassroots to elite levels.

For this to happen, all policies, programs and projects must be centered around the athletes. They are the most important cog of this wheel, and must be put to the forefront of our thinking, which is currently seldom done.

The stakeholders in Cross river sport must put aside their differences, and support each other in providing pathways for young talent to be groomed.

There is a long and challenging path ahead for cross river to become a sporting state. But, it is very much possible, if the right plans are put into motion. The focus must be on developing sport at the grassroots and rural regions of the state, and long-term thinking must be adopted all levels of cross river sport.

As the saying goes, “The path to success is a long one”.

I remain your friend Egbara Emmanuel.

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