By Osaretin Emuze
The much expected 18th National Sports Festival began in Lagos on Tuesday with a colourful opening ceremony as the participating States displayed the best of their culture in the March Past for the biennial event put together in 1973 by the General Yakubu Gowon administration to bring unity to the country after the devastation of the civil war.
Lagos hosted the inaugural edition in 1973, went on to host the torch of unity in 1975 and 1989 and has won the festival in the past. But can they host and win it again? The Lagos State Commissioner for Sports, Enitan Oshodi has said Lagos has prepared well to win it as host.
He said Lagos’ strength lies in table tennis, weightlifting, swimming, boxing, cycling, the ball games and athletics. Many sceptics have however, ruled out Lagos as one of the winners as they believe Lagos has no team to beat the last winners, Rivers State, runner-up, Delta and Edo, third place finisher.
They argue that since Lagos does not poach and cheat, states like Delta and Rivers will —have upper hand. Aside that, they stressed that Delta and Rivers have prepared hard for the Games.
Though the festival will be open to all, Delta and Rivers have the edge because of their large contingents coupled with the fact that they have the athletes to top the festival’s overall medals table. States like Edo and Ondo who picked the third and fourth positions in the Garden City Games may spring surprises, as they are equally good.
The only problem that may hinder them is late preparations caused by late release of funds by their respective governors which culminated in poor feeding and welfare and the confusion that almost ground the camps of the States to a halt.
While Edo athletes resulted to protesting inhuman treatment in camp, some Ondo athletes allegedly collected their money and traveled abroad thereby depleting Team Ondo.
Whatever happens, the festival will foster unity and bring big business to Lagosians. It is fun and excitement across the various centres as the over 10,000 athletes and officials are already painting the city red.