By Ikeddy Isiguzo
ADMIRABLE efforts are always being made to resuscitate the National Sports Festival, but it is clear the days of the National Sports Festival, as a productive venture are shortening. The increasing low standards, cheating, corruption, poor officiating and can only turn the festival into a huge ceremony with all the trappings in place. We are witnessing one in Port Harcourt.
The festival was once the platform for States to show case their productions over the two years it takes the event to hold. States then were competing against each other in various sports. Everyone knew where each States was strong and tried to imitate its strategies in that sports. Competition was stiff.
States held their own festivals to select their athletes. Those events were worth beholding. Each local government area in the State presented its own team in various sports. Those who wonder about sports development should examine that model, it once worked for Nigeria, before money became everything in sports.
Modelled after the sport festival in East Germany, our athletes were meant to be in different stages of competitive readiness within the two-year cycle. Those who had graduated to international status or earned their places in other spheres, moved on. You could not compete in the festival forever. It was a breeding point that spread its products for further use.
Then States looked forward to the festival to make a point about their productivity. Those were the days when States produced their own athletes.
Today they buy them off the shelf like any other commodity. Few States are producing athletes and if they are not strong to maintain them, States that have money just buy those athletes.
States that do not have functional sports facilities can finish tops at the festival. All they need is a governor willing to splash the money and they have the results. We therefore have declined to a stage that the festival is no longer developing sports, but killing it.
Nigeria can actually do without the sports festival, in its present state, if the schools were producing athletes. The gathering in Port Harcourt typifies the decline. The festival is business for sports councils and state Ministries of Sports for which it is a massive item on the agenda.
The budget ranges from items like equipment to scandalous inclusions such as “tactical.” This item has nothing to do with the execution of analytical plans for the sports teams, it is about the powers of the medicine man to win the day for the teams.
The term “medicine man” is all-inclusive. It could be a traditional doctor marketing his skills to put opponents to bed while they should be competing or a more professional fellow whose charge would be liaison with technical officials and referees so that matters can be tilted to favour teams that pay most.
States are all for pleasing their governors who have spent a lot on the festival. In this quest, nothing is spared. “His Excellency” must be crowned the sporting governor, though in his many years in office the State has relegated sports to the waste bin.
A victory at the National Sports Festival long ceased to have meaning. Those who have the money, and not those who have the ability, win. Those who do not win because of these aberrations are mocked for not being up to date with the changing face of sports.
Therefore, the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to reward performance of States at the festival with cash is ill advised, a waste of resources and a mark of government’s policy of throwing money at everything. How will giving a State N25 million make a difference in a sports structure that detests competition? Are we rewarding the States for cheating, for killing sports, for promoting corruption in sports or using athletes they did not produce?
What is the significance of giving the money when teams that will represent Nigeria at international competitions do not get resources to prepare? It is the President’s responsibility to provide for those teams. The way government throws money around is disturbing and diminishing the chances that sports will ever get big sponsors. Government wants to do everything without a thought for their implications.
Sports needs money for development – at the schools, in the villages through clubs, local government administrations and private initiatives. Government has fallen into the temptation of thinking the only way to gain recognition is to donate money.
The cash donation to top finishing States at the festival is a waste and a monumental display of recklessness for a government that cannot make provisions for the preparations of the 2012 Olympic team, and not even for the All Africa Games that are two months away!