Yussuf Alli, one time Olympian Gold Medalist might have seen it all before he was appointed the Chairman of the Edo State Sports Commission about a year ago. As a renowned Athlete who have navigated the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and the World Athletics body, there is no doubt that appointing him as chairman of the sports commission is like having a round peg in a round hole. At the international stage, his experience as well as wisdom in the game is still in high demand both locally, nationally and at the world scene.
In view of his experience both in the track and field events, this Correspondent cornered him for an incisive interview to assess the state of sports in Edo State and Nigeria in general and what he intend to do new in meeting with the Governor Godwin Obaseki’s MEGA administration agenda of making the state a sporting destination in Nigeria.
Not given to much talk, his thoughts and revelations of the standard already set by the State Government in terms of facilitates and personnel at the newly rebuilt multi-billion naira Samuel Ogbemudia’s Stadium is a beauty to behold. He said the facilities at the stadium is of world class which cannot be found in anywhere across the states of the federation, adding that all the records set at the last Edo State sports festival had international recognition because the facilities are globally certified by the world Athletics federal and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN).
While citing the case of Tobi Amusuan, the new world record holder in field and track events, Yussuf Alli said the Athlete did all her training and trials here with other athletes in preparation for the world Athletics game in Oregon and later the commonwealth game in Birmingham where she set two new world records in both competitions.
NO: We learnt some of the Athletes that won medal at the recently concluded world Athletics games in Oregon as well as the commonwealth games in Birmingham used the facilities at the Samuel Ogbemudia’s stadium to prepare for the game, how true is this?
Alli: When we started as a commission, we sat down as a Board and discovered we have the facilities, stadium and personnel which are of world class, so we began to talk of how we can make Edo State a sport destination in line with the MEGA agenda of the Governor Godwin Obaseki’s administration, if you look at all the stadium across the country, their sporting facilities are not up to standard compare to what we have in Edo State, Even when you compete in some of these stadium their records are not accepted by the world athletics body because their facilities are sub-standard. Our stadium had proven to be of world class with certified tracks, that is why all the records set at the last Edo State sports festival were accepted by the world Athletics body and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria Again, because our tracks are internationally certified that was why AFN brought the trial events here in preparation for the World Championship and the Commonwealth games.
Athlete like Tobi Amusuan who trained here went to the World Championship in Oregon where she broke world record and won gold with a record of 12.12 secs. In the hurdles and ran another 12.06 secs at the final which was weighed and that could have amounted to two world records in one day.
As we speak now, she holds a world record that is normally achieved by the Americans.
We are so proud that such a feat was achieved from a trial that was done in the Samuel Ogbemudia’s Stadium in Benin City. Edo state is no longer a small state but a big state where you have world records set day in, day out, we should be proud of that feat and try to sustain it down the line.
NO: Looking back, what is the position of the Afuze wonders of former Governor Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia in the 70s, when Nigeria Athletes in various Olympic and International Competitions train and camp in the state, are we going to re-enact the Afuse miracles in the new dispensation?
Alli: We have gone past that and the things we have done in the newly established Edo State Sports Commission in the last one year of its existence speaks volume. Now Delta State is on top of both the field and track events in terms of harvest of medals in all sporting activities in the country. We are not trying to play catch-up but to surpass what Delta is doing in the next couple of years. We have the Athletes, the best Stadium, Swimming Pool, gymnasium that had a dove and that is why we were able to host the best National Sports Festival hosted in the history of Nigeria sports festival.
In fact, during our inauguration, the focus of Governor Godwin Obaseki was how to empower between 5-10 thousand youths in the society through sports and that is our target.
NO: What effort are you putting in place to bring back some of the memorable period of the Ogbe Hard Court to life?
Alli: Governor Godwin Obaseki is not taking any sport likely because during our inauguration, the Governor said his administration intend to engage over 5,000 youths and in the last four to five months we have surpassed what previous administration did in the last 5-10 years and we intend to key into that focus of Mr. Governor employ between 5,000 to 10,000 youths from the labour market to engage in sport.
We have consultants waiting in the wings already, so in no distant time, Nigerians will see the best of tennis in Ogbe |Hard Court and other competitive sporting activities in Edo State.
NO: Delta 2022, I hope Edo State is not playing second fiddle this time around?
Alli: We are doing everything possible to win the festival mostly now that we have all the facilities on ground to prepare our Athletes for the festival, by the grace of God our target is to become the next champions in the Delta meet and at the same time we are working towards returning sports in Edo State back to its enviable number on position as it used to be in the time past.
NO: Is there plan to bring back the principal cup to schools in the state?
Alli: What we are doing right now is taking sports back to secondary school so that we can catch them young and the governor loves it, by the time that is achieved fully, it will be the starting point where our sports development would be anchored. In the 70s and 80s you mentioned before, sports were being developed from the grass root and by the time we go on with such programme in the next 5-10 years then we will start reaping the benefits of our long term sport development in the state. That will also take alot of kids out of what they are doing and begin to have the culture and the mentality that sport is a big business.
NO: What is your take in the promotion of Bendel insurance football club from NNL to NPFL?
Alli: Bendel insurance football club was at the lower division, NNL when we came, now it had been promoted to the elites leaque in Nigeria which is the Nigeria Professional football leaque (NPFL) and that also is good for the state because the team is an household name in the anal of football in Nigeria. We are not only going to stay in that premiership but we are going to win trophies and go continental to show we are ready for business and with our plans we are going to do that.
NO: That also brings us to the Betsy Obaseki’s Female Football Competition, geared towards the eradication of social vices in the state, what is the stage of preparation now?
Alli: The first Lady’s female football tournament is a laudable one because it would help to re-direct some of our young ladies from engaging in social vices like drug abuse, human trafficking and illegal migration etc. she started it last year and this year it’s going to be bigger, we are having 12th teams from across the country and at the final match, all the first ladies in Nigeria are expected to be in attendance here in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria at the ground finally. The Competition will runs from 7th to 17th September. 2022.
NO: What lesson do you have for Nigeria, Africa and the world Athletics Federation as a former Olympian Medalist?
Alli: Every state must start investing in their young ones through sports, what Edo State is doing now is worth emulating and if every states in Nigeria or 12-13 state, can invest more in the sports sector, the country will definitely move forward and if you look at Edo State, we are already having our own idea not only in sports. We are training and re-training our official for optima result so that there can be a continuity of train the trainers including the coaches.
I think that is what is driving sports in Edo State. If you come to the stadium complex every morning, you will see young kids training everyday. We have holiday training currently going on now and that is yielding results.
NO: What effort are you putting in place to sustain the gains and level of sports development already achieved in Edo State under the Governor Godwin Obaseki’s led administration?
Alli: I can boldly tell you that before now not everybody in the state know where Okpekpe is, but as we speak now, people canl tell you the location, the local government area its situated and the Athletes in the world competiting year in year out in the race. That has been made possible by the present administration that had succeeded in putting it on the world map.
Okpekpe is getting bigger, the prize money is fast becoming the best prize money in the world when it comes to 10km road race and not only the prize money, this time, tourists are beginning to take advantage of the annual meet to advance their holiday period and they are getting their money. All the previous and past governors of the state have taken part at one time or the other.
Its also a booster for a government of a state to take part in an event, and of course they have been doing that, the deputy governor
Rt. Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu had finished the race twice, the Governor, Godwin Obaseki has been there once and had finished the race twice, once as an economic adviser to the previous administration and later as a Governor of the State. On that note, we are going to do everything possible to sustain it, get it bigger and better.
NO: Would you advice AFN to camp its Athletes in Benin City instead of spending millions of dollars to camp these Athletics on foreign land any time we are preparing for major competition?
Alli: Well, I think to me, they have no choice because with the facilities on ground at the Samuel Ogbemudia’s Stadium they cannot afford not to camp them here in Benin City except for monetary gains. With the facilities here and others scattered round the state, we have the capacity to play host in terms of preparation for any major Athletic events. If you look at the last national sports festival, those that came didn’t believe what they saw at the stadium and other venues that played host to the game in Benin City.
NO: The sports commission has hosted several federation, how were you able to get funding?
Alli: It you look at the issue of funding, you cannot do anything, but I think as a government ably led by His Excellency Governor Godwin Obaseki and his able Deputy, Rt. Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu, the issue of funding is not what they look at but the long term benefit on the common citizen of Edo State and jobless Nigerians in the street. I think that is the first and fore most thing to consider, once we agreed on this, that our actions will help generations to come better, then funding is not an issue.