BY JACOB AJOM
The 18th National Sports Festival tagged Eko 2012 has no doubt given Nigerians a lot to cheer about, depending on how one looks at it.
The sports fiesta was one that rekindled hope in Nigeria in terms of orgnisation and competition. Although not without its hiccups, the majority would agree to the fact that “Lagos really tried.”
From the historic opening ceremony, where culture, dance and history were on display to the vital aspects of accommodation, feeding arrangements, transportation to the seamless transition of events, it would be safe for one to say that the Local Organising Committee delivered.
In the words of the chairman of the Main Organising Committee, Dr Patrick Ekeji, “Lagosdelivered on their promise to give Nigerians the best sports festival ever.”
Ekeji who has seen it from the beginning in 1973 proclaimed, “Since inception 39 years ago, we have gradually built on that experience to near perfection. Eko 2012 was a success.”
Executive Chairman, Delta State Sports Council, Pinnick Amaju, shared the same opinion. Said he, “Lagoshas done well. They did it their own way and I think they put up a good show.”
Amaju said the financial burden on host states should be shared with the federal government. “Lagosmay have spent about N4-5 billion. That is some good money a state could use to build more than three schools.
How many states can afford that kind of money?” he asked, pointing out that “very soon, states will be running away from biding to host the festival.”
He said although there were some teething problems, the LOC overcame them and presented a decent festival on the whole. “Lagoshas raised the bar,” Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Minister of Sports and Chairman, National Sports Commission observed.
Despite the plaudits, Eko 2012 had its down sides, as well. On the opening day, the near perfect performances of artistes, dancers and the entire set up was marred by the poor spectator turn out.
The high-handedness of security personnel went overboard, particularly on that opening day. While there were more people outside wanting to enter the stadium, the stands were near empty. It was a problem organisers had difficulty in grappling with, even when athletics events began.
One time African Queen of the tracks, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi noted with disappointment. “The poor attendance of spectators did not do the athletes any good. It is a different situation when you are running in a jam-packed stadium. I did not see that here,” she said on the closing day.
The win at all cost syndrome rared its ugly head at Eko 2012. Reports from boxing, weightlifting and a few other sports said some states employed foreign mercenaries to compete for them. Eagle eyed officials were able to fish them out and necessary action applied in each case.
Perhaps, the most significant aspect of Eko 2012 Sports Festival was the level playing field presented by host government to all participating states.
Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola saidLagosshould not win if it did not deserve to, even though the state was hosting. This marked a significant departure from previous festivals where states exhibited brazen disregard for rules to achieve victory, afterall, the end justifies the means.
Yet there were cases of poor officiating, particularly in boxing. In athletics, the standard was poor as indicated by the poor times returned in all the races. There were good performances in weightlifting, power lifting, wrestling, table tennis among others.
Eko 2012 may not have been a perfect festival, the organisation speaks volumes of the calibre of people that drove the event. The entire LOC, chaired by the Deputy Governor ofLagosState, Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire did a marvelous job and deserves commendation.