By Paul Bassey
I remember that immediately after the Kaduna festival, I wrote on the madness that trails the publication of medals tables.
I remember how sports commissioners laid siege at technical committee meetings all in an effort to influence and doctor medals tables advantage their states.
Because state governments spend so much money to finance sports contingents, because states plan bloated victory parties, and reward athletes and officials with cash and honours, fraud becomes the order of the day, perpetuated at different levels.
State commissioners dread going back to their states to explain what went wrong. Some of them find it difficult retiring monies so approved for what may turn out to be jamborees.
History is replete with instances where states had to offer dollars for golds. Indigenes of other states were made to switch states for the purpose of medals acquisition. That is why some states could win swimming medals even when they are far from rivers and lack pools.
In order to be well placed on the table, states buy and lure athletes, falsify documents and bribe officials, thus negating the goals of sports festivals, aimed primarily at discovering talents and developing them for the glory of fatherland.
The national sports festival was meant for the discovery of talents to replenish depleted stock, especially at a time like this that our sports has been lost in the radar of international competitions.
Time there was when Nigerian stars shone on the international stage. In basketball, volleyball, handball, track and field, boxing, weightlifting and wrestling we produced notable stars world wide.
This year the first sign of trouble was perhaps the announcement by Mr. President that there will be cash incentives for the winners of the festival. I know Mr. President meant well, but it will only go to add to the craze and win at all cost syndrome that is bedeviling the Festival.
I have in my mail, a letter alleging fraud and the fielding of athletes not qualified to take part in the Games. Established athletes who had no business competing, while others who had done so severally, returned, under another guise. I have read severally about accusations and counter accusations against states that are accumulating medals through the back door.
Rivers state has been accused of wanting to host and win. Has that not been the aim of all hosts? It is unfortunate that most states see the winning of the festival as a consolation and reward for the provision of infrastructure and monies spent to host same.
I see the festival as an opportunity, blessed opportunity to improve and upgrade the quality of life and infrastructure of one’s citizens. Ordinarily, governors may find it difficult convincing members of their assemblies to approve funds for the improvement of sports infrastructure but with festivals like this, the “ayes” always have it.
Add to that, the building of new road networks, communication upgrade, the opening up of the state to visitors and potential investors and the training and exposure of manpower to organizational skills.
After the festival, of course Rivers state will not be the same again, positively.
That, was the lot of Kaduna, Ogun, Bauchi and other states before them who dared to host games of this magnitude.
Take as a classic example the opening ceremony put out by Rivers, state one that could compare with any in the world, minus the Nigerian factor in which something had to go wrong. Something.
This column had gone to bed before the closing ceremony which I believe was also a show stunner.
Beyond the fireworks and the razzmattaz, we must brainstorm on how to derive maximum benefits from the games, save the festival.
While we are at it, mad men should be kept away from the games. I saw a certain Mathias who claimed to be a Rivers athlete going naked on the tracks in the name of victory celebration. I am waiting to hear what sanctions have been handed over to him to serve as a deterrent to others. Such immorality should not be condoned.
I end by thanking the Nigeria Television Authority NTA for a wide coverage of the festival. Though I would have expected an improved level of reportage and picture quality, I am still impressed.
TO ALL JULY CHILDREN
Yes to my darling wife Helen, my children Johnson and Eky, Governor Fashola, Chief Obaseki, Emma Ebong, Queen Vera, Patience Israel Harry, Charles Anazodo, Deborrah Patrick, and off course yours truly. Many happy returns.
OFF TO ALGERIA
While you are reading this, I am off to Algeria as part of the CAF delegation that will handle the explosive CAF Champion’s League match between M.C Alger and Entente Sportif of Tunisia.
See you next week