By Paul Bassey

Last Friday, I was in Calabar for the Unveiling of the Mascot, Logo, Theme Song and Web site of the 19th National Sports Festival rechristened the “Centenary Games” This event was significant in many ways. For one it was the official kick off of the Games and keen watchers were quick to assume and rightly too that its delivery could be a signpost of what the actual Games will be.

It turned out to be a well programmed one hundred and thirty nine minute event of three short and well delivered speeches, music, dance and colour.

The event venue itself was something to behold, decorated with memorable and historic pictures of Nigeria’s global sports exploits and role models.

After Deputy Governor Cobham, who is also Chairman of the LOC and the NSC DG had spoken, the Governor came out to enumerate the achievements of the State especially as regards the Support given to the NFF to win the Nations Cup, win the FIFA U-17 World Cup and qualify the country to the FIFA Brazil World Cup.

He told us about the unique sports development of his regime that has started bearing fruit already with the state winning all that is available at national youth competitions.

He said the Centenary Games should have as priority, fairness and integrity and that CROSS RIVER WILL NOT HOST TO WIN!

I should have initiated standing ovation. I clapped and clapped. This was clearly a departure from the past, cut throat schemings, cheating, fraud… name. Then I remember a piece I wrote in this column in 2009. Permit me to reproduce it, because it is as relevant today as it was five years ago

“ In a week’s time, all sports roads in this country will lead to Kaduna where the National Sports Festival KADA 09 is billed to kick off.

The festival means different things to different people. For some, it is an opportunity to get out of the dreary routine of sedentary office work that has become synonymous with our civil service. For others it has become a holiday of sorts fully paid for by tax payer’s money.

There are also those who use the festival to feather their nests through award of emergency contracts and swindle sheets called budgets.

I have been told that in the next three weeks, commissioners of sports all over the federation will be the most influential government officials due to the power they will wield ,borne out of the funds they will control for the prosecution of the Festival.

Already, training tours have been undertaken, list of government delegations compiled and allowances approved for state contingents that sometimes number close to three thousand. Count yourself blessed if you are one of the favoured emergency contractors contacted to supply ceremonial dresses, kit the contingent or supply sports equipment.

Regrettably none of the above listed activities qualify the original concept of the Sports Festival which was first kicked off in 1973.

Immediately after the second All Africa Games the egg heads in the National Sports Commission met to consider ways and means of enhancing sports in the country and decided to send a three- man delegation to Germany to understudy their sports festival.

On its return, the committee’s recommendations were summarized as follows:-

1] To promote mass participation in amateur sports from village level to the national level in all the states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with a view to discovering talents.

2] To encourage the organization of amateur sports competitions throughout the country in order to raise the standard of performance.

[3] To promote and strengthen friendship among sportsmen and sports women throughout the country.

A critical look at the above recommendations will reveal a glorification of the Olympic dictum of Glory in Participation. Nowhere is cut throat competition emphasized. Nowhere is a win at all cost mentality enshrined. Today what we have is a far cry from the concept our predecessors bequeathed to us. Today friendship has taken the back bench as thugs have hijacked the festival supported by political appointees called sports commissioners.( Not all of them though. I can honestly count some thorough bred in their midst) Carreer sports administrators, technocrats ,have disappeared from the scene.

I must confess that I cannot put a finger on when the rot actually set in. when Kaduna first hosted in 1977, things were ok. Then, we had competitions in junior, intermediate and senior categories. By 1985 in Kwara the win at all cost syndrome had crept in.

As far back as 1990 Godwin Kienka wrote in his book “Sports Administration in Nigeria” that because of the relish for and emphasis on medals there were flagrant cheating in age declaration, resulting in fights over documentation. Medical personnel with responsibility to use the x-ray wrist test method to determine athletes who were past their teens were accused of taking bribes. Technical officials were also accused of biased officiating. The appeal juries, even when there was overwhelming evidence came up with decisions that were based more on sentiments than on prevailing facts “

Nearly twenty years after, the situation has not changed. During the last festival in Abeokuta, journalist laid siege on the committee charged with the documentation of results. As late as 11 pm on some nights “ the latest medals table” had not been released.

The arrival of sports commissioners has only aggravated the situation as the success of such political appointees are now measured by the number of medals they are able to manufacture on the table. Before, it was cheating , falsification of records and bribery. Now the in thing is poaching, that fraud that allows you to buy and use an athlete from another state for the purpose of achieving vain and ephemeral glory.

It is only at a sports festival in Nigeria that desert Northern states will amass swimming medals while their riverine counterparts cannot even field athletes for such events. Such mercenaries end up moving from state to state, resulting in the mercantile posture of the festival far from the grass root development of same. Friendliness , fraternity and camaraderie which the festival was intended to engender throughout the nation has been abandoned.

Last week, I got a plank for this column when I read that the Governor of Edo state has warned his officials against what he called arrangee athletes.

Governor Oshiomole is quoted as saying that “ what they have been doing over the years is that when the national sports festival is coming, some state governments go and buy athletes to wear the state colours. I have said I am not going to do such a thing

“It bothers on self defeat. You go and pay for a particular athlete to wear your colours  for the purpose of a festival. Thereafter the young man or woman returns to his or her  state. Who have you fooled?”

Hear ! hear! This interview was published by the Vanguard in its Thursday February 5 edition. I recommend it to all governors. Let Comrade Oshiomole table this issue at the next governors forum( will it come before the festival?) or can he summon an extraordinary meeting of the forum to table this issue which will ultimately lead to a solid foundation for our sports?

Let state governors start to take interest in the activities of their sports commissioners. Let them try to know who they are “ honoring “for bringing laurels to the state because as Comrade Oshiomole put it, … “ we will rather use that money to actually develop sports. We want to begin it right from primary school…..we will not deceive any body. If in truth we are down now, let us work to try to regain our position. But we do not do that by going to procure or purchase sportsmen and women to win medals for Edo State. That is what they have done in the past. I am not going to do that now”.

Bravo sir. Bravo.

See you next week.

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