Governor Liyel Imoke
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
Host of the next National Sports Festival, Cross River State, is unfazed by the prospect of having elite athletes compete in the 2014 edition in Calabar.
Cross River State Commissioner for Sports, Patrick Ugbe, said shortly after receiving the flag indicating Calabar as the next host city of the NSF last Sunday, that making the edition an open affair will engender competition that will help his state gauge how its grassroots programme was progressing.
“We believe in Cross River that if you want to be the best, you must beat the best. You cannot be a real champion if there is somebody somewhere who will always beat you. We are happy to have our young athletes to compete against the elite coming to the festival from all over the world. It would show the extent that our grassroots programmes have progressed. If the young ones are good enough to retire the old ones, so be it,” observed the veteran broadcaster.
He admitted that 2014 would be a very busy year for the state. “Apart from hosting the National Sports Festival that we have already tagged the Paradise Games, we are also going to host the World Mountain Running Championship at the Obudu Ranch Resort. We will host a festival that every kobo spent on it would be meaningful, and more importantly, we plan to leave a legacy for our youths even after we have left office.”
Ugbe said that the state was not disappointed with the performance of Cross River athletes at the just ended 18th edition in Lagos. Cross River State finished eighth overall with 12 gold, 14 silver and 23 bronze medals.
“Last year, we ended with seven gold medals and we have surpassed that here. We are happy that our youth development programme, which started a few years ago, is yielding positive results.
“CRS came here (Eko 2012) with the youngest team in the festival in line with Governor Liyel Imoke’s desire to use sports to improve the lives of our youths,” he stressed.
“We came with a contingent of 280 athletes and officials, and we did not come here to win the festival at all cost.
“We have probably the youngest team in the festival, as most of our athletes are secondary school students between the ages of 14 and 17, and they have won medals in their first outing at this level.
“Our pole vault gold medallist is a 16-year-old secondary school student, who is participating at this level for the first time.
“We hosted the National Schools Sports Festival, which we won, and some of the athletes you see here are products of that competition.
“Our projection is that by 2014 they would have matured a bit more to compete against the rest of the country successfully,” he noted.
Unlike some past editions that suffered several postponements, Ugbe was emphatic that nothing of such will happen to the 2014 Paradise Games as the state is used to hosting events of such magnitude.
Deputy Governor of Cross River State, Efiok Cobham, is the LOC chairman of the Paradise Games while Ugbe is vice-chairman.