At long last, the National Sports Festival (NSF), which has suffered a series of postponements, will start in Benin, Edo State on April 2. The best athletes from various sports disciplines are expected to be on parade. It is a good preparation for the Olympic Games taking place in Tokyo later in the year.
In this event, coaches in various sports from the states are expected to present their best athletes so that national coaches in the sports federations can identify them and groom them for the future.
We believe there should be different roles for the national coaches. Some should focus on athletes that are already good enough to be in the senior ranks, while others should focus on the junior ones that will need to be exposed and groomed for the national teams in future.
People have various views about the festival but the fact that it is an opportunity for hidden talents to be discovered makes it a big event. It is Nigeria’s version of the Olympic Games.
The athletics federation should be up and doing to identify the young ones who will take over from Blessing Okagbare, Ese Brume, Divine Oduduru, Tobi Amusan and others.
All these top athletes are products of the sports festival and so we should take the event seriously. We make bold to say that this is not a jamboree. The Ministry of Sports and the Edo State Government did very well to get this far with the NSF.
Their relentless efforts at this crucial time of COVID-19 pandemic were commendable.
Sports Minister Sunday Dare wanted the games to be staged as a good preparation for the Olympics and it is happening this week.
The minister must, however, charge all the organs in the technical departments of the ministry to support the federations to catch the athletes young in Edo State. It is, however, interesting that shortly before the games, the finals of the revived National Principals Cup will be staged in Abuja.
The best secondary schools from the zonal stage will tango in the semifinals and thereafter play in the grand finale. Finals in athletics and table tennis will also be decided.
For this event, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) should have all the age-grade coaches and national scouts in attendance. Some talents might not even wait to go through the transition process, rather, they could go straight into the U-20 team or even the senior team.
For example, Nwankwo Kanu was in secondary school when he came into national limelight as a player in the domestic league and the U-17 team. In this competition, potential for U-15 and U-17 players will be on parade. The age-grade coaches should not be looking for players abroad if they can monitor the talents coming up in various parts of the country. National U-15, U-17 and U-20 coaches should be interested in the finals of the National Principals Cup with the aim of boosting their respective teams. The country is blessed with enormous talents all over the federation but somehow, the coaches prefer the ‘readymade’ stars rather than nurture some of these talents into stardom. In the past months, we are aware talks over sports policy have been a serious issue. There should be a template to guarantee solid developmental plans that will be good enough to help the youths grow. In every society, there should be a systemic approach to development in various areas. Sport is a peculiar industry in which it is expected that development should come almost always. When a crop of players are running the show, it is always good to have a plan for the young ones who will take over from the senior ones at their peak. In table tennis, it is strange that after attending the Olympic Games seven times, Segun Toriola, getting close to 50 years, remains one of the best players in the country.
In a national competition, Toriola still features in the semis and ordinarily if there is a good developmental plan, younger players should be ruling the ping pong game. In the same sport, 45-yearold Funke Oshonaike is still one of the best in the country.
She is exceptional and fought her way on the continent to win a ticket to the forthcoming games in Tokyo. With a good youth programme, Oshonaike should have thrown in the towel. Today, she is still a national team player.
It could be recalled that Oshonaike, Bose Kaffo and Biola Odumosu in the early 90s sent the older players packing in the game from their teenage years. They featured in national competitions in their secondary school days.
There was a developmental structure at the time coupled with technical backing. The Ministry of Sports and various sports federations, including the NFF, must be ready to reap from the youths programme currently on parade.
The Higher Institution Football League is also coming up shortly but if the authorities fail to capitalize on the gains of these youth programmes, the overall expectation is lost. Nigeria is blessed with talents and we charge the authorities to always make deliberate efforts to catch them young.