ANOTHER PLUS FOR OGD
With the successful hosting of the West African Football Union (WAFU) competition, which came to a close three weeks ago, the administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel in Ogun State has recorded yet another first in sports hosting and promotion in the country.
On assumption of office, Governor Daniel, an engineer turned state administrator, did not make any pretence on his desire to re-engineer the Gateway State's sport sector.
The governor's vision for sports started with the appointment of a young and budding sport lover as a commissioner in charge of the state's Ministry of Sports, Youth Development and Empowerment, Mr Bukola Olopade (a.k.a. Ozogula).
As a step towards achieving his sport agenda, Daniel resuscitated the already dead Gateway United Football Club of Abeokuta, which until recently, gained promotion to the elite league of Nigerian football. It is on records that the promotion feat was performed within just one season of its return.
To state the obvious, the icing on the cake of Governor Daniel's love for sports climaxed with the state hosting the 15th National Sports Festival tagged: “Gateway Games, 2006″.
It is also on records that the glamour and competitive edge that trailed both the bidding process and the build up to the competition proper, literally put the state on the world map. Before the competition started, Governor Daniel, in company of top Ogun State government functionaries stormed the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Their mission was to present the state's bid for the national festival. Luckily, the bid, which remained spectacular, won the state the hosting right of the national event.
The successful hosting of the national jamboree opened a new vista for the state, which endeared her to other sports associations and the national teams, which have found succour in the state.
While preparing for the World Cup, the national female Under-20 team was camped in Ijebu-Ode for several weeks. Same for its male counterparts, the Flying Eagles, which was camped in Abeokuta, the state capital. Nigeria's Under-17 team, the Golden Eaglets, as well as its counterparts also found the state suitable for its preparatory matches.
For the first time in the history of the state, which was founded in February 1976, the state became the talk of the town, not only for sports development, but also for hosting and promotion of sports. Therefore, it was not surprising when the state hosted the world during the 2009 edition of the World Under-17 Soccer Championship.
The hosting of the international soccer fiesta provided ample opportunities for the stadia in the state to get more face-lifts and facilities. In order to satisfy international requirements of stadia for such a world competition, the state ranks among the first in the country to have artificial turf stadia.
Today, the MKO Abiola International Stadium and the Ijebu-Ode International Stadium, as well as the Ilaro International Stadium, are sports delights with their turf facilities. The story of the Ilaro Stadium is that of a transferred abandoned field destined for greatness. Nobody had ever thought that a stadium of such a magnitude could rise from such a spot considering the bad state of the field.
In recent times, there have been many tremendous improvements on facilities across the stadia in the state. The state-of-the-art electronic scoreboards, all seater stands with fans-friendly perimeter fence and a huge expanse of space for car parks and sundry activities, are some of the improvements that first callers to any of the stadia would see.
Other facilities include a covered gallery, a digital electronic scoreboard, digital public address system, purposely built Press gallery and camera stand with international standard dressing and changing rooms. The Ilaro people are already savouring the existence of the stadium. Not only on their socio-economic status, but on the talent hunts for future soccer stars. Who knows, Ilaro could produce the like of Kanu Nwankwo, Mikel Obi, Vincent Enyeama, Taye Taiwo, Joseph Yobo and several others?
The stadia development continued to receive encomia and accolades from individuals and corporate bodies. The latest of such commendation came from the immediate past Commissioner for Youth Development and Sports in Ondo State, Prince John Ola Mafo, on behalf of a group of sports loving fans in the country.
In a letter signed by Prince Mafo on behalf of the group, the group said the stadia developmental initiatives, as well as the strategic use of sporting activities, harnessing the potentialities of youths for the overall benefits of the nation, were described as unparalleled and outstanding. The group noted that by the efforts, the governor had already established a foothold in the nation's history.
Governor Daniel was particularly commended for the dexterity put in place to build three brand-new FIFA-graded stadia at Ijebu-Ode, Ilaro and Sagamu, while upgrading the MKO Abiola International Stadium, Abeokuta to the same standard.
The group noted that the successful hosting of three matches of the FIFA-Under-17 World Cup and the state's hosting of WAFU Nations Cup were part of the dividends of sports development.
Meanwhile, the group appealed to the governor to ensure the construction of an Olympic standard swimming pool in each of the stadia as additional legacies of his administration.