ON Wednesday, October 19, 2022, physically-challenged athletes erupted in rage in Lagos and Benin City. Their grouse was their alleged exclusion from the National Sports Festival, NSF, coming up in Delta State next month.

In Lagos, they locked the National Stadium, Surulere, blocked the flow of traffic on Funsho Williams Avenue and protested with placards for about five hours. 

Due to the suffering that commuters were subjected to by this action, the police from nearby Alaka Police Station dispersed the protesters with teargas, which elicited emotional backlash against the authorities.

We later found out that the para-athletes might have carried out their protest in ignorance of the true situation of things. 

They were integrated into the sports fiesta in 1996, but under the tenure of Sunday Dare, the current Sports Minister, a separate National Para Games was created for them, the first edition of which was held in April this year. Up to 21 states participated.

Quite obviously, the para athletes were not properly briefed as to why they will not be part of the National Sports Festival. 

On the other hand, the athletes did not take adequate steps to get proper information from their Federation. If the protest was against the separation of the para athletes from their able bodied counterparts, they have our full support.

We see no reason for the two sides to be separated and held differently. It smacks of segregation and is totally unacceptable. 

The National Sports Festival draws a lot of spectators from within and outside the host states. How many people will realistically turn up at exclusive para games? Para sports require and deserve integration, not segregation, to achieve the full aims of making life more meaningful for the physically-challenged community.

We saw how, in the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games, the integration of both sides enabled them to be watched as they competed alongside each other. It brought out the best in them, especially highly-achieving Nigerian para athletes.

Nigeria’s para athletes have earned their pride of place in our sports, winning more medals than able-bodied athletes and bringing glory to the country. 

It is unfortunate that after enjoying the klieg lights of (mostly international) competitions, our heroic para athletes only return to hang around our stadia, with many of them basically homeless.

We call for the reintegration of the para athletes with their able-bodied compatriots in our National Sports Festivals. It is the duty of government and the society at large to specially look out for the less privileged ones. They are part and parcel of society and have their constitutional rights just as everyone else.

We must encourage them to continue demonstrating the abilities in disabilities through sports and other fields of human endeavours. 

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