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Asaba township stadium: Fulfilling the promise of ages

*As 12th African senior athletics championships holds

From Fred Edoreh 

As curtain falls on the 2018 FIFA World Cup, global sports attention will, in July, shift to Asaba, capital of Delta State, Nigeria, for the 12th African Senior Athletics Championships.

About 54 African countries, over 15,000 athletes and officials, the international sports press, top CAA and IAAF officials, country delegations and international sports brands and businessmen will be in town to witness Africa’s best in the competition which also serves as regional qualifiers for the 2019 World Athletics Championships.

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State...made a promised and fulfilled it
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State…made a promised and fulfilled it

The international event brought right to Deltans and beamed to the world will be a fitting celebration of the completion of the Asaba Township Stadium scheduled for March and will change sporting life in the state capital even as it brings a leap in the economic environment as, already, about 1,200 rooms will be needed. Game for hoteliers.

The Asaba Stadium has had a strenuous history and as the story changes this year, the late Chief John Iloba, former Olikeze of Asaba and Secretary of the Asagba-in-Council, will smile a relief yonder. Among his greatest pains before his transition was the non-completion of the stadium through several administrations of Bendel and Delta states.

Back in the 60s, the people, desirous to enhance their sporting life, resolved to build a stadium unto themselves. The need became even more crucial with the exploits of the defunct Asaba Tex which reckoned among top football clubs in the country. The then Bendel State Government took over the construction from them in 1974 and with the split of Bendel into two states in 1991, the Delta State Government inherited it.

“From the year we started building the stadium ourselves to the time government took over its building and now is more than fifty years, yet the stadium is unfinished,” Iloba lamented to The Pointer ahead of his 90th birthday in 2016.

“Of all the Military Administrators from Bendel to Delta, none had the political will to develop or construct any single infrastructure in Asaba City Stadium until Gov James Ibori came in 1999.”

The Ibori administration constructed a world class Indoor Multi-Sports Complex at the west end of the stadium and began work on the main bowl with President Olusegun Obasanjo honoured to lay the foundation stone, “but nothing tangible (was) achieved for the development and final construction of the stadium,” the old man grieved.

The administration reasonably distributed mini sports complexes across the state but kept the Asaba project in view as a major work. Matters were made worse when Asaba Textile Mill went under, the football club was disbanded and its slot in the national league conveyed to NPA FC of Warri, then in the amateur division. Attention shifted to the Warri Township Stadium which was renovated as home for Wolves and to host several continental events alongside medium range facilities in Oghara, Ughelli and Oleh.

Also to the credit of the succeeding administration, former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan awarded contract to raise the project reasonably but the non-completion even in the new era remained a cause of pain for the people.

“Asaba is the only capital in Nigeria that has no stadium. Why can’t they just re-construct it so that the young men and women will return to play?” charged Emma Okocha, a public affairs analyst.

Even into Dr Ifeanyi Okowa’s administration, the late Olikeze, a veteran journalist, seemed to have lost hope on the completion in the face of the nationwide economic downturn which inflicts on the capacity of states to commit to such capital projects.

But, standing up to responsibility, Okowa assured on the completion of the facility and further to launch it with an event of global significance.

“We are passionate about sports in Delta State. We have renowned sports men and women. We are excited that we are going to host the 2018 edition of ASAC and we are doing everything possible for the Asaba Township Stadium to be ready in the month of March (2018),” Okowa promised.

He got the Delta State House of Assembly to approve N1.9bn in 2017 to step up work and the local and international sports community are excited about his commitment, more so for the redesign and reconstruction which adds another high global standard facility to the inventory of the continents sports.

The field has been adjusted to allow for standard nine tracks as against six in the old design while maintaining field diameter of 105 by 68 meters in line with FIFA and IAAF standards. The Media Tribune, Camera main platform, commentary positions and mixed zones have been treated with detailed attention for global standards.

Then, the pitch is grass! And, fittingly, Okowa has named the stadium after Stephen Keshi who lived and died for Nigerian sports.

Olympian and Commonwealth gold medalist, Yusuf Alli, who is also the General Manager of the Lagos City Marathon, says the high standard of the facility will inspire the best from African athletes.

“I am very impressed with what the Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission Chief Tony Okowa is putting up here. The plan for the Asaba stadium is a masterpiece. We are having the first 100m both ways track in Nigeria, first of its kind, and the stadium is also being built in such a way that the crowd will be close to the action. Such electrifying atmosphere always brings out the best in athletes. I know the athletes will run faster on these tracks and jump further in Asaba,”Alli enthused.

As these things happen and Africa files out into the Asaba Township Stadium in July, Okowa, like a true prince of the Midwest, would have succeeded in redeeming the promise of successive regimes of Bendel and Delta States, restored the confidence on government and, most importantly, left a legacy for today and coming generations of Delta, Nigeria, Africa and world sports.

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