A National Sports Festival with a difference

On April 6, 2021, the opening ceremony of the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival took place at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, It was indeed colourful and entertaining.


However, just a day after the opening ceremony, a late press statement issued at about 11pm stated that the games would be abruptly ended by noon the next day, Thursday April 8. Musa Ebomhiana, Project Manager, Media, for the games, in a press release, said: “The Local Organising Committee, Edo 2020 regrets to announce that it will end the games abruptly tomorrow, Thursday, April 8, 2021 for lack of funds… regrettably, the FG is yet to redeem its pledge to support us as the host state financially for the cost of postponements.


So, we are left with no option than to end the games at noon tomorrow.”


This was a dramatic twist during a major national event. About 10 hours later, the ministry of sports also issued a press statement signed by Ramon Balogun, Assistant Director of Press, insisting the games must go on as planned because “the sports festival money is being processed and will be released”.


Later same day, the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Mr Philip Shaibu, revealed that the Main Organising Committee (MOC) was in the dark over the amount to be released and when the money would come and vowed to shut down the games. Reason later prevailed same day and all parties involved agreed to continue the games.


No doubt, amazing things happen in Nigeria in amazing ways. Those that wrote the threatening press statement to end the games and those who responded were all in the same place in Benin.


Sadly, it’s the youths that suffer when such things happen. Edo government made it clear that there was no money to stage the event and why the ministry was in a hurry even when the money to assist was not ready remains a mystery.


It is also unfair to expect Edo to be spending money without revealing the amount approved for the games.


We make bold to say there should have been transparency and understanding between the ministry and the Edo government. It is sad that an event which suffered series of postponements witnessed such crises.


It was a national show of shame and it could have been prevented by the ministry. As the organisers of the games, the ministry should have tidied all the loose ends to avoid hitches.


That the matter was later resolved does not mean it never happened. The athletes were distracted and the good start to the games was shaky just as the country became a laughing stock in the eyes of the world.


The lesson here is about planning and the fact it is better to have money at hand before a national event. It could have been further shifted to avoid embarrassment or there should have been a deliberate effort to speed up the release of the funds.


Beyond the crises, we charge the Edo State government to ensure the facilities are well maintained and a good policy should back it up such that future administrations would also embrace the good developmental initiatives of the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration.


We recall that the 20th National Sports Festival started on April 4 with a total of 40 events on parade. It was a delight to see athletes, particularly the young ones from all parts of the federation compete for honours in various sports.


The excitement on the faces of these athletes tells the story of fulfillment. For many, it was dream come true.


The way the officials handled the COVID-19 protocols at the games was commendable. All athletes were tested. Taraba and Oyo states were almost thrown out because some of their athletes were positive. At a stretch, 10 participants tested negative for the disease and they were all placed in isolation. There is also a centre for vaccination at the stadium.


The host, Edo State, deserves a huge applause for presenting state-of -the-art facilities for the competition. The Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium has a lush green grass and modern tartan tracks. The swimming pool is Olympic size while other facilities are indeed worldclass. The football arena also has a Video Assistant Referee equipment – the very first in Nigeria.


Deputy Governor of the state, Philip Shaibu, promised that the facilities would be adequately maintained while more will be built in all local governments of the states to boost sports development in Edo State.


The distractions and drama that characterised the festival were not enough to write off the games since some athletes recorded milestone feats at the games. So many lessons must have been learnt on the administration of sports in the country.


The interest of the athletes should be paramount in a national event. The drama in Edo is enough to show that there is more to event than just the stipulated dates. So much planning will be involved to guarantee a hitchfree event.


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