The Ministry of Youth and Sports has for the second time since the inception of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration, left-out athletics in the County Sports Meet – the nation’s premier state-run sports event.
In the 2006/2007 County Sports Meet, athletics was absent owing to technical reasons, and this year – 2015/2016, athletics is also out owing to technical reasons – specifically the lack of track and field facilities with the country’s only Sports Complex – the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex under renovation.
“So instead of five disciplines, there would be four disciplines – football, kickball, basketball and volleyball,” Deputy Sports Minister Henry B. Yonton, Jr., announced yesterday in a press conference in Monrovia.
This means that over 200 participants, primarily youth, will not be able to showcase their talents in athletics – an exclusive collection of sporting events that involve running, jumping, throwing, and relays.
The kick-off of the 2015/2016 County Meet is also shifted from Tuesday, December 2 to Saturday, December 12.
“The new date is as it is according to the new plan of the County Meet to ensure its success,” Min. Yonton said.
Howbeit, traditionally after an “undisclosed draw” Minister Yonton further announced the group stages, putting to rest speculations over who will stand against the County Meet’s elite and who would be the underdog in a group as well as which group would be the “Clash of the Titans” or the “Unworried.”
The preliminary rounds will be played in the leeward counties.
The draw produced a particularly thrilling lineup, with the defending champions, Grand Bassa County taking on Bong County – the 2008 winner as well as River Gee – the 2009 runner-up and Sinoe (the underachiever). Buchanan, the host of the Group – would also serve as the host of the official opening program of the 2015/2016 County Meet. Football pundits have tipped the host and Bong County to qualify for the “Big 8” if both countries could replicate their forms.
Group II will see a mouthwatering showdown with Nimba (1978, 1979, 2010 and 2011 winners as well as 2014 runners-up) against Grand Cape Mount County (2013 winners). Other members of Group II, Maryland and Bomi Counties wouldn’t prove too difficult to allow the ‘champions’ to emerge from Group II. Though Bomi has a winning record in 2009, Cape Mount’s title of 2013 surpassed it. Sanniquellie, Nimba County is the host.
Amongst the four members, Grand Gedeh County, 2007 and 2010 runner, who is also the host, the foremost contender for one of the two seats for the “Big 8.” The remaining three counties – Lofa, Rivercess and Grand Kru are equally and significantly threat to each other and expect a titanic tussle for the second qualifying spot.
Grand Kru County won the County Meet in 1974, 1977, 1985 and 1987 – but since the 1990s, Grand Kru has been struggling. River Cess was crowned champions in 2007 – the first edition of the Sirleaf’s County Meet and emerged runners-up in 2008, but Lofa County’s highest performance in the County Meet was in 2004, when she settled as runners-up.
Margibi and Montserrado would stand an excellent chance of outweighing Gbapolu to gain qualification, but the Bopolu boys – the 2004 winners – could pull-out a surprise if any of the favorites show complacency.
The finals of the kickball and football editions of the 2015/2016 County Meet would be played at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium while the basketball and volleyball versions would be held at the Sports Commission on Broad Street.
It may be recalled that the outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014 caused the cancellation of the County Meet.
The games bring unity of purpose and they transcend tribe; ideology and county boundaries.
With few more months to the County Sports Meet, there is already heat around the country, where one could again have a sense of belonging besides the national football team.
It has always been that effect on every team on the field during the County Sports Meet, where spectators behave and think that the team represents them – their family and county.
The County Meet, launched in 1956, is held annually in the spirit of unification.