It was a shocking sight to behold on Wednesday, as athletes representing the state and fitness trainers were forced to hit the streets of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital for their regular training and drilling exercise.
This is because the only functional sporting facility in the state, the MKO Abiola International Stadium, has been rented out for a four-day church crusade of the Abeokuta Believers Meeting tagged ABM 2023.
In a report by The Encounter News the state government sometime in October last year rented the stadium to the Redeemed Christian Church of God for three-day revival which took place on the same football pitch.
It was observed that the football pitch which hosted series of international matches including the 2008 AFCON qualifiers and U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2009 has become moribund that it cannot be approved for common third-tier match of the Nigerian League.
Recall that, the Nigeria Football Federation and League Management Company (LMC) of the Nigerian Footblall League last year, banned the playing pitch from hosting the Nigeria National League (NNL) home matches of both the State-owned football club, Gateway United and Stormers Sporting Club due to bad condition of the playing pitch.
Many visiting teams, match officials complained of damaging knees and ankles after each match owing to the bad nature of the turf. The turf is always peeled off during dry season and becomes worse with lack of water system within the stadium to revive the grass to maintain it.
In January 2023, the Deeper Life Bible Church held a crusade in the stadium, but the management cleared the expanse of land behind the main bowl of the stadium to host the event without trampling on the football pitch.
When our reporter visited the MKO Abiola stadium on Wednesday, it was discovered that the organiser of the crusade in connivance with the stadium management abandoned the sitting pavilion under the cover shed and arranged white plastic chairs and heavy equipment with stage on the football pitch and athletic track for the track and fields event.
Although, the essence of writing and talking is lost by the media, when the wisdom therein is not seen and applied by government.
This is because incumbent governments arrogantly believe “the stadium is government property which should be used as their whims and caprices demand”.
This is exhibited when the state government in January 2023 erected gigantic stage on the turf by digging of holes to install the stage for the political rallies and campaign of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Sports pundits who spoke with our reporter opined that, the stadium management and organizers of the crusade ought to have covered the turf with a trampoline to avoid trampling on the grass.
Some argued that, the handlers of the Stadium did not even care about the stadium maintenance or the pitch as long as there were people who brought money.
Some believe the stadium management should spared as long as they see political rallies take place inside the main bowl with impudence by the state government and the ruling political party.
But this is a bad decision and bad PR stunt for a state preparing to host the National Sports Festival next year.
Some of the athletes who spoke with our correspondent expressed disappointment that the stadium management could jettison their daily training for church crusade.
An athlete, who simply identified herself as Dorcas said she got to the stadium with her colleagues for their usual early morning training but got derailed when the whole stadium was lockdown with canopy and chairs on the relay tracks.
Asked what would be her next line for the next four days the stadium would be used for the Crusade, Dorcas said she would hit the street for road jogging to keep fit or visit private gym centres for some personal training.
She opined that, a stadium remains for sports events only, but as long as this is not boldly underlined by governments, this ugly event would persist.
Reacting to the ugly incident, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Youths and Sports in the state saddled with the maintenance of the stadium, Dr. Qudus Yusuf said although, the stadium is billed for a total overhaul ahead of the National Sports Festival, but the pitch was never approved for the crusade.
According to him, what was approved was for the crusaders was to face the pavilion from the position the stage was set up.
The Permanent Secretary stressed that he was surprised and shocked seeing the picture with chairs arranged on the pitch for people to sit.
He, however, promised to correct the anomaly immediately.
Also reacting, the stadium Manager, Alhaji Olalekan Bello emphasized that, the organizers of the crusade did not ratify the placement of chairs on the pitch.
He said those hyping on athletes being sent out were mischievous, saying the main bowl was approved for the crusade because of the caliber of people invited which include Governor Dapo Abiodun and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
He added that, the state government needs revenue, but the turf will be protected henceforth.
He further said ,”First and foremost, the Agency did not ratify the placement of chairs on the pitch, however, we can’t deny the fact that Ogun state needs revenue.
“The issue of revenue is give and take. Fundamentally, the pitch is already proposed for repair, those hyping on athletes being sent out were mischievous. We decided to bring this to the main bowl because of the Caliber of people being invited.
“The promoters let us know that the governor was invited, Chief Obasanjo and 5 prominent Obas in Abeokuta were also invited.
“The issue goes beyond chairs, some people hide under this to blackmail me. God sees into the actions of man.
“We are going to encourage more but with the protection of the turf, but as I speak with you, they have cleared the pitch.”