By Ben Efe
Nigerian athletes and coaches have been pouring out their hearts after the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and the Sports Ministry threw spanner in the works of the National Sports Festival.
“Edo 2020” was postponed for the second time last week with just a few days to the start of the festival and it set off alarm bells among athletes and coaches around the country.
Though the sports fiesta has now been rescheduled for January 3-17 in Benin City, the main actors are not impressed by the seeming lack of understanding of how much work they have put into preparations, only for the powers that be to pull the plug.
“It is very demoralising, the zeal to focus on training and performance has been thwarted,” coach Johnny Igboka fired from Awka, Anambra State.
“Athletes have targeted time for training and each time the festival is postponed, time and money are lost and who is going to bear the cost in these hard times?”
“It’s devastating, discouraging and disappointing,” high jump coach, Kola Adebayo gushed out, as he let down his stopwatch during a competition at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos.
“It seems our government doesn’t have the interest of the athletes at heart. We devote so much energy preparing. This is the life of many of our youths.
“Is the government trying to sabotage our efforts? Because I don’t want to believe that it is because of coronavirus they are doing this. Other countries that are hardest hit by the virus have moved on. Even in the midst of the pandemic, sports is going on in those countries, so why is Nigeria doing this to us?
“We have only a few athletes who have qualified for the Olympics. Those who are eager to meet the standards are looking to use the narrow window to earn qualification standards before the games next year.
“And then as a country, you now shut down such an opportunity. Nigeria does next to nothing for her athletes and now you are slowing down the efforts of athletes who are struggling to meet world standards. Is this not sabotage?
“This thing is even more than what we are seeing,” sprinter and coach, Prince Adegboyega Emmanuel concurred.
Most parents are even so discouraged and have urged their wards not to come into athletics.
“I can’t even look at some of the parents in the face anymore, because it’s hard to convince them athletics will help them achieve their aims in life,” said coach Isaac Osagie-Ikhabome.
“It’s hard now to convince parents to release their kids for sports”.
Deji Aliu, who won the world junior in 1992 couldn’t hide his feelings.
“I feel so ashamed to call myself a Nigerian. They don’t have any regard for how the athletes and their coaches feel.
“We worked so hard in training and then what do we get, postponement after postponement. Is this how it is done in other countries and we are aiming to match their results”, he asked rhetorically.