Athletes flee Ogun due to poor facilities

Idris Adesina

Ogun State is currently losing some of its top athletes to other states due to the poor state of sports facilities in the state, it has been learnt.

One of such facilities currently in a bad state is the Alake Sports Centre, Ijeja, Abeokuta.  It is the headquarters of the Ogun State Sports Council.

The centre’s indoor sports hall houses indoor sports such as table tennis, badminton, wrestling and gymnastics while it also has facilities for basketball, handball and tennis.

A visit by our correspondent to the centre, which was one of the venues used by the state when it hosted the National Sports Festival in 2006, revealed that the hall as well as the outdoor courts are in very bad shape.

Our correspondent observed that the ceiling of the hall is currently leaking while the lighting apparatuses in the hall are not functioning well. The wooden flooring of the hall is also in tatters while in some places, it was patched with concrete.

The stores in the hall, which are below the terraces serving as the spectators’ seats, also housed several sporting equipment in various bad shape. With their doors torn, our correspondent observed several sports equipment, which includes wheelchairs for table tennis players and a broken gymnastics beam.

The wrestling mat used for training by the wrestlers has become ragged while the rings which are used by the gymnasts for training have become rusty and unsafe for use.

The outdoor courts, which comprise tennis, handball and basketball, need painting while the goalpost of the handball court is due for replacement.

Despite the state’s ownership of many sporting facilities, which include four stadiums, some coaches and athletes in the state said the lack of maintenance of these facilities to ease athletes’ training had made it easy for other states to poach the few top-class athletes in the state.

At the 2017 National Boxing Championships held at the National Stadium, Lagos, one of the boxers, who competed for Kano State, told our correspondent that he left Ogun State because he had to travel down to Lagos frequently to get the best training.

“I began boxing in Abeokuta, Ogun State and I have competed for the state once or twice at the junior level. The facilities for boxing in the state are not in a good state and I have to come to Lagos more often to train and have a shot at regular competition. So when the opportunity came, I joined Kano State and today I am their boxer,” the boxer, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said.

“I joined the state before this competition started on Monday and part of our agreement is that they will pay me and when there is a competition to attend, I will represent the state. That is better than staying in Abeokuta where there are many talented boxers but who have no regular means of income.”

Wrestling coach, Samson Soyomi, said the state is still producing wrestlers with the tattered mats but lamented the frequent rate at which they leave for other states.

“It is really surprising that we have been training on this mat in its current state. We have many wrestlers who have made the state proud at competitions in recent times but they are no more here today because they said they could not continue with their training on this mat,” he told our correspondent.

“Truly it is tough training here but when they get to competitions and find out how convenient the competition mats are, they will not want to return here and when other states with better mats approach them, they easily go with them. I can count some of our wrestlers who are now competing for other states such as Lagos and other states in the South West.

“The National Wrestling Championship is coming up next month and we will be going with mostly the young wrestlers we just brought up. The state finished second at the National Youth Games in Ilorin last year but some of these athletes may not be there for a longer while if things continue the way they are.”

Also gymnastics coach, Abosede Oladele, said the state’s gymnasts train in many unconventional ways.

She said, “The facilities are not there but the willpower of the gymnasts has been what has kept them in the state. We select the events we participate in because we don’t have the facilities for them all. Mostly we improvise with some equipment while we easily do some floor routines. The absence of landing mats make it difficult to practise on the rings because if we improvise, the gymnasts may suffer injuries which will make them to lose interest.

“When these gymnasts get the opportunity to compete for other states, they get easily lured with little efforts because some other states have the equipment for them to train better than they will if they stayed back.

“Attending competitions and winning medals is usually a good thing but the road to achieving it is really rough. We don’t have the equipment for the vaulting and the beam was really bad that I had to stop them from using it. Many young ones are taking interest in sports and it is a good thing we have parents supporting them.

“The coaches are here to help nurture their talent to stardom but when the needed facilities to sustain the performances are not there, it will be very easy to lose these athletes to other states ahead of competitions.”

Basketball coach, Iyabo Adebayo, said many players had played on the basketball courts, adding that the floor was one of the best outdoor surfaces in the country.

“Many basketball players from Ogun State who now ply their trades outside the country have at one time or the other played on this court. It is one of the best outdoor courts in the country,” she said.

“The basket stands are still okay but the floor needs to be painted. The construction of the court is quite different from other outdoor courts because it helps the ball achieve the right bounce. But to avoid losing players to other states ahead of major competitions, facilities have to be in top shape.”

However, the Director of the Ogun State Sports Council, Adesola Faleti, told our correspondent that the state has some equipment for some of the sports, which are kept for competition purposes.

“The state government places premium on sports development and those materials you see at the Alake Sports Centre are just for training purposes,” he said.

“For instance, the wrestling mat in the hall is for training. We have the one we kept for competition purposes. The outdoor courts are also of good standards but very soon they will be painted to give them a new look.

“The state is blessed with sporting talents and we recognise that – which is why they are mostly caught young. Those who leave cannot be held back but the state will continue to ensure that its athletes are well taken care of.”

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