By ONO K. AKPE
Bayelsa State in the last two years has attracted global attention as a result of the state government’s sustained commitment to sports development.
Governor Douye Diri who was a former commissioner for sports, understands the importance of sports that is why he keyed into the three III’s, Incentive, Infrastructure and Investment since he assumed office as governor.
Since the creation of the state, both stakeholders in the sports sector and the general public have confessed a lot of improvement, especially with the arrays of victories that have greeted the various teams across different sports in the past couple of years.
The just concluded prosperity cup which has been described as Nigeria’s biggest grassroot football tournament that has driven youths away from crime and criminality with local players being hopeful of playing football at the international level.
The Bayelsa Governors Football tournament, Prosperity Cup 2022, started on the 2nd of May 2022, with a whooping 210 teams across the eight local government areas in the State participating, the highest since the inception of the competition.
In the first edition in 2015, then christened the Restoration Cup, it was won by Ewoama FC of Brass, with 106 teams, in 2018 there was an increase in the registered number of teams when Peretorugbene United FC won over 139 teams including faith-based organizations.
160 teams took part in the 2019/2020 edition with Okolobiri FC showing capacity by winning the competition in the finals, that was witnessed by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Dare who described it as the largest grassroots football tournament in the country.
However, the just concluded edition tagged Prosperity Cup 2002, had several innovations, which included the introduction of 2 teams of foreign scouts that visited the state capital in search of talents.
The first team led by Mr. Passi Gerald of Olympique Marseille FC of France commended the grassroot football tournament ongoing in the state, and the huge number of talents it has produced. Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa international scout, Mr. Thembela Lesly, described Nigeria as a notable football nation and has lots of similarities with their South African counterpart in terms of football, and hoped that more players will be joining the Premier League Soccer. While head Coach soon, Newcastle Jets Coach of Australia, Mr. Hussein Skenderovic, also praised the quality of football he witnessed during the campaign, adding that Australia and other part of Asia, are in dire need talents in Africa and Nigeria in particular.
The second team of foreign scouts led by renowned FIFA agent Ojo Omamomo included Nikita Poliakov, Dimitrii Churkin from FDC/ VISTA GELENDZHIK, former Akwa United and Plateau United and National team coach, Kennedy Boboye as well as ex international Joseph Eyimofe. Head scout, Nikita Poliakov stated that Bayelsa State is blessed with talents that can feed Europeans clubs and various national teams in the future.
Mr. Poliakov said arrangements are underway to send five selected players from the Eighteen shortlisted players to VISTA EDC football academy in Europe for proper nurturing, academics and training, stating that they would return to Bayelsa state for another talent hunt program in due course.
The 2022 Prosperity Cup kicked off on May 2nd with Bayelsa Medical University, BMU, beating defending champions Okolobiri FC now known as Gbarain Selected Stars 2-1 at the Samson Siasia Stadium, Yenagoa in the ceremonial opening ceremony.
Goals from Godwin Francis on 32 minutes and Ebi James on 66 minutes ensured that the Bayelsa Medical University students returned to their classes with victory while Benedict Berekubo got the consolation for the losing team.
Governor Douye Diri while declaring the tournament open said the competition was aimed at curbing youth restiveness through sports, describing football as a sure means of engaging the youths.
He advised participating teams to play according to the rules of the game, calling on the players to take advantage of the tournament to develop their talent.
After 3 months of hostility in the 20 centres across the state that hosted the qualifying rounds, 16 teams emerged from the 8 LGAs across the state. These teams which battled it out in 8 centres in the round of sixteen are Peretorugbene United, Agbayama Fc, Osokoma Fc, Amassoma FC, Akaba Fc, EGM Fc, Opolo Fc, Amarata Fc., Agbere Fc, Agoro Fc, Okoroma-Tereke, Odioma Fc, Opuokun FC, UAC Fc of Akassa, Anyama Fc and Opume Fc from Ogbia LGA.
After beating Amarata FC in the round of sixteen to secure a quarter final place, Peretorugbene United had the shocker of the tournament from Odioma FC with 3-2 win on penalties having played 1-1 in regulations time.
Anyama FC produced one of the sterling displays in the tournament dispatching all the teams at the Otuokpoti Centre including Ogbia champions Movers FC of Otuasega.
Prior to the quarter final many fans had already picked either Peretorugbene United or EGM FC to win the competition as a result of the show of dexterity in the team’s playing pattern having participated in previous editions.
Apart from the increase in price money from Five Million to Ten Million Naira, facilitated by the major sponsor of the tournament, Governor Douye Diri, the losing 4 teams that made it to the quarter-finals were entitled to two hundred thousand naira, which was one of the recent innovations from the organizers.
With the price money at stake, EGM FC, Odioma FC, Agbere FC and Anyama FC all progressed to the semi finals in style having conquered their respective opponents.
EGM FC trounced hard fighting Agbere FC 3-0 to reach the final while the seasiders, Odioma FC of Brass ended their eastern opponent’s Anyama FC fairy tale run by 3-1 in the tournament.
Just before the grand finale Sagbama based Agbere FC beat Anyama Fc 3-2, as goals from Ajan Mabation, Ikari Annointed, Azibapu Vincent and Gift Agala settled both sides in the losers final.
In a final watched by the Governor Douye Diri, his Deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, State Assembly members, members of the State executive council and House of Representatives members, saw EGM FC coming from a goal down to beat hard fighting Odioma FC of Brass. The Brass side scored under 10 minutes and held unto their slim lead for over 60 minutes before EGM equalised in the 75th minute and quickly added the second gaol to make it 2-1 to the ecstasy of the mammoth crowd that filled the ultra-modern Samson Siasia Sports Complex.
An elated Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri in his closing remarks called on multinational oil companies and the organized private sector to invest in sports and not to leave it for government alone.
The state helmsman noted that with the stars he has seen in the tournament it was indicative that there are talents in the rural areas, describing Bayelsa as the center of sports in Nigeria.
Commissioner for Youths and Sports Development Daniel Igali, host of the tournament said Bayelsa has become the hub of sports in Nigeria due to the governor’s endless love and commitment to sports development.
Director General of the Prosperity Cup, Ono Akpe commended the participating teams for displaying professionalism throughout the competition, while thanking the governor for the support, he stated that the sporting profile of Bayelsa State ably marshalled by the Governor Douye Diri would never be the same again with the remarkable achievements recorded nationally in sports in such a short time.
A total of 518 goals were scored in the tournament after 206 games, six hatricks were scored, while the best behaved team was awarded to Peretorugbene United FC for their peaceful conduct throughout the competition.
For the first time in the tournament three players tied on the same number of goals, Ernest Pereowei Bebelebiri FC on nine goals after four games, Vincent Azipapu of Anyama FC nine goals with eight games, and Demeoru Ungo Robinson of Azatitor FC with nine goals in two games, who was given the highest goals scorers award due to the least number of games played.
In attendance were the Deputy Governor, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, wife of the governor Dr. Mrs Gloria Diri, Member representing Ogbia Federal constituency in House of Representatives, Hon. Fred Obua, Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Rt Hon. Abraham Igonbere, members of the state House of Assembly.
Others are members of the Bayelsa Executive Council, Chairman, Civil Service commission and member, CAF medical Committee, Dr Peter Singabele, NFF representatives, State Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, Solomon Agwanana, Director of Sports, Sir Braveman Wodi, amongst other stakeholders.