•Decrepit facilities, weeds and reptiles define historic complex
Dan Anyiam Sports Complex is a multi-purpose stadium located in Owerri, the capital of Imo State. Named after Daniel Amobi Amadi Anyiam, a former national football team player and coach, it is the home stadium of the Heartland Football Club. It also has facilities for other sports such as track and basketball.
However, for lovers of sports who crave for a place to do sporting activities or to hone their skill for a career in sports, the Dan Anyiam Stadium is, certainly, not the place to be at the moment. This is because it is now a shadow of its former glorious self.
To be sure, the stadium is defined by its history. It produced the football icon, Dan Anyiam, of the famed UK Tourists team. Others include Jerry Enyiazu, Patrick Ekeji, Chidi Imoh, Chioma Ajunwa and Spartans FC that metamorphosed into Iwuanyanwu Nationale, now known as Heartland FC of Owerri.
The arena also plays host to the Imo State Sports Council as well as the famous Grasshoppers International Stadium, home of the dreaded former Africa women champions that ruled Africa for over a decade. Players like Rose Otuonye, Alaoma Abia, Mary Ihedioha, Justina Ukpulo and many more not listed here conjured fear in many African countries when it came to handball.
But the once-adored sporting edifice is today in a dilapidated state, begging for repairs. In fact, the condition of the stadium is such that the late Daniel Anyiam would be turning in his grave in anger. Perhaps, that is the reason the sports sector is stunted in the state.
The sight of the arena is disheartening, as the dreaded ‘virus’ of lack of maintenance of sporting infrastructures has left the stadium in total disrepair. But for the painting that was recently done at the gates, the stadium is a clear example of the neglect that is the bane of sporting facilities across Nigeria. Sports stars and veterans from Imo State now live on the distant memories they had of the stadium when it was just constructed years ago.
The main bowl of the stadium, which comprises the football field and the tartan tracks, is nothing to write home about. Despite being an all-grass pitch that can attract the Super Eagles and other national teams, it is not maintained, thus leaving players prone to injuries because of the bumpy turf and this also makes free flowing football (Jogo bonito) that Heartland FC was known for a thing of the past.
The roof of the terraces, aside from the VIP section, has been blown off. Though, there was a recent half-hearted effort by the state government to cover the terraces, the contractor carried out a shoddy job. So, it was blown off again due to what sources attributed to poor materials used for the job.
Track athletes, who daily dream of becoming the next Usain Bolt, would have to keep their ‘hallucinations’ until another lifetime. The tartan tracks are virtually non-existent, as they have long seen better days and are now worn out. Some of the athletes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, acknowledged that their careers were in jeopardy.
One of the track athletes said, “It is practically impossible to train for any competition here. One cannot run a straight 100 metres with timing. Look around, all you find are people who just want to jog around and go home. No serious track athlete can train here and hope to compete effectively with others. To say we train here for competitions is, to say the least, a slave camp.”
Recently, the League Management Company suspended four stadia in the Nigeria Professional Football League for poor playing surfaces and games would not be allowed to return to the stadia until after satisfactory inspection from the league body’s officials. Incidentally, the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri, was one of them. The Confluence Stadium, Lokoja, August 27 Stadium, Damaturu, and Umuahia Township Stadium, which host Heartland, Niger Tornadoes, Yobe Desert Stars and Abia Warriors’ home matches were also listed. Of course, this is not the first time Dan Anyiam would be banned from hosting league matches because of the poor state of the playing field. It suffered a similar fate in 2015.
Grasshoppers International Stadium
This slaughter ground of the dreaded Imo Grasshoppers handball team can best be described as a dungeon. The arena is now in a total state of disrepair with vacant roofs, vandalised seats and unkempt toilet facilities. More worrisome is the fact that it has been turned into a camp for Heartland Queens of Owerri. The risks inherent here is alarming, as the girls are at the mercy of reptiles. Again, there was no power supply during our visit.
Ex-players were too much in agony to comment on the poor facilities and wondered how a state that was revered all over Africa for the glorious reign of the Grasshoppers could be allowed to die in this department.
“Speaking on this arena is like stabbing myself in the chest. I’m so sad at what has become of this wonderful stadium. There were times when this stadium hosted the best teams in Africa and Owerri was a handball destination. It is so sad that all that is gone and state government does not recognise the importance of having the stadium in good condition.
“All over the world, the duty of government is to provide facilities and not that of individuals. What this simply means is that Imo State would depend on her athletes based outside the state, where facilities are available to them when there is need for it,” said an ex-handball player.
In fact, the Governor Rochas Okorocha government appears determined to bury the carcass, as a road cutting into the stadium from the Egbu Road end runs right in front of the Grasshoppers Stadium.
The basketball courts are outdoors and poorly maintained like other facilities in the complex. The backboards are obsolete and the venue around it covered by bush. Though the Dan Anyiam Stadium boasts of an indoor sports hall, it has been out of use for a long time. The situation is no different with volleyball courts taken over by weeds.
Perhaps, the only sane looking structure within the Dan Anyiam Stadium is the tennis courts that are privately managed by a group of players who took it upon themselves to do so. It has a beautiful terrace with offices and a lounge, where members relax after games. There is also a bar there. On their own, members of the club with its management host competitions.
Former Nigerian international basketball player and South East representative on the board of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), Osita Nwachukwu, bared his mind on the situation. The United States-based former sportsman said: “Given my passion for basketball and, as the South East representative on the board of the NBBF, I brought a championship to Owerri with teams turning up from different parts of the country. We had to use the outdoor court as the indoor courts are dilapidated.
“I can tell you without mincing words that we play basketball here for the sheer passion. Facilities for the game are nothing to write home about in Imo State. A college in America boasts of standard facilities and we had nothing to play on but what was available. If we harness our talents properly, we’ll have kids off the streets and social vices would be reduced considerably.
“Aside from basketball, the stadium complex is appalling, to say the least. You can see for yourself, a road cutting through the stadium and in front of the Grasshoppers Stadium. The action by the state government tells one that there are no plans to resuscitate sports. It’s so sad the way sports is seen and treated like a leprosy patient, yet, this is an aspect that can drive an economy back to life. My plans for the South East are huge such that it would attract foreign investment but the facilities are nowhere to be found.”
Samson Orji, a journalist, who edits the Trumpeter newspaper in Imo State, recalled with pain that so much has been said and written about Dan Anyiam Stadium.
“So much has been written about the deplorable state of the stadium but nothing has been done to remedy the situation. I recall that an attempt was made by Kenneth Emelu, who was sports commissioner, as at 2012, and some renovation was carried out but the job was poorly done. The plan then was to have the stadium covered all round but, like everything in Nigeria, it was a shabby job,” he said.
He noted that the attitude of overlooking things until they get really bad has contributed in no small way to the present situation with the stadium. Maintenance is an everyday thing but not for the people in government.
“Activities such as political rallies and church crusades have been a permanent feature at the stadium and that contributes to the poor state of the playing pitch. Though the present sports commissioner in the state, Dr. Martin Ohiri, tried to do some palliatives before the commencement of the season, the pitch remains a terrible sight. It’s painful that the main bowl of the Dan Anyiam Stadium remains one of the natural grass pitches in Nigeria today that attract Grade A matches of the Super Eagles and other national teams and even compete with the Nest of Champions in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, but it has been left to rot. Instead, government is busy moulding statues that have not added value to the life of the common man on the street.
“As a journalist, I feel pained that the Dan Anyiam Stadium that housed great basketball stars, tennis and Heartland Flickers that ruled Africa for many years past is now a shadow of its past glory. The indoor sports hall is a sorry sight to behold and to imagine that most national athletes (able and disabled) train here before major international events to win medals is just a disaster waiting to happen. In conclusion, I say that government should focus on the rescue of the stadium because it holds the economy of the state,” he said.