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National Sports Festival: Beyond the medals

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AT last, the 20th edition of the National Sports Festival, NSF, tagged Edo 2020 is coasting home. It is a biennial multi-sports event organised by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development. Athletes from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory are attending what is commonly referred to as the Nigerian Olympics.

Edo 2020 suffered several postponements, no thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which halted sporting activities throughout the world early last year. When the games finally began it was a big relief to states and their athletes who had spent months in camp preparing, long before the postponement last year.

However, not long after the festival commenced, thousands of athletes and officials were thrown into confusion when the Edo State Government announced the sudden stoppage of the games due to paucity of funds. This, the state said, was due to Federal Government’s failure to meet its financial obligation to the organisers. This is unprecendented. Happily, it was settled and the games continued seamlessly.

If this hitch was indeed due to party politics as widely speculated, we condemn it in very strong terms as sports should never be mixed with politics. The General Yakubu Gowon administration initiated the NSF in 1973 as a platform to bring together youths from all parts of the country to compete, using sports as a tool to achieve national healing after the brutal 30-month civil war. The festival was a rallying point for national unity and cultural integration. It was rightly named the Unity Games. Initially, it went very far in achieving the set objectives.

Beyond the political undertone, the National Sports Festival was meant to create a pool of budding athletes to be nurtured, monitored and developed to international reckoning. It was also meant to engender mass participation in sports by the teeming youth of the country. One of the major canons of the festival which was developmental in orientation, has been diluted by organisers. Until recently, an athlete who had participated in three previous Sports Festivals was ineligible to compete at the games.

However, the National Council for Sports in its wisdom threw the festival open for both elite and the upcoming athletes. Since 2012 when Lagos hosted it, the festival has lost its innocence. Budding athletes are now made to compete side-by-side their more established counterparts.

It simply portrays a win-at-all cost mentality by some states which view their dominance at the fiesta as justification for the huge funds allocated to them by their state governments. This is partly why we are performing poorly in international competitions.

It is our belief that the rules should be returned to the original idea. We think winning the National Sports Festival should be beyond gold, silver and bronze.

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