New records were set, upsets recorded, new champions emerged but beyond that, the just concluded 19th National Sports Festival, in the view of many including athletes and coaches, left much to be desired in terms of organisation and execution.
Often fondly referred to as Nigeria’s Olympic Games, it was not out of place to have high expectations from the country’s biggest multi-sports event; especially after a six-year wait.
While a school of thought believes the Sports Ministry and Federal Capital Territory deserve to be praised for at least bringing the Festival back, others feel they deserve knocks for organising what they term a glorified ‘Inter-house sports’.
With PREMIUM TIMES fully on the ground at the 19th National Sports Festival from start to finish, we serve you the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the games.
Lack of publicity
If there was one big disservice done to the 2018 19th National Sports Festival, it was in the area of publicity as many Nigerians including Abuja residents were in the dark as to what was going on in their immediate environment.
“Which match are they playing here or are the Super Eagles in town again,” the taxi man queried as we approached the National Stadium, Abuja, where the opening ceremony for the National Sports Festival was unfolding.
The ignorance of the taxi man who traverses the Abuja metropolis daily and often with his car radio on speaks volumes of the lack of awareness of the games.
It was thus not surprising that save for those occupied by the contingents from the participating states, the seats in the stadium remained empty for the duration of the games.
Nigeria’s queen of the tracks, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, who was also in Abuja, not as an athlete but as a fan, bemoaned the lack of adequate publicity.
“Overall, it was amazing, but the crowd is not really what I expected to see,” she said.
“The energy was low and with sports like this, fans actually make a lot of difference, they come around to cheer you up and it is a different atmosphere with the fans around. We are just here, coaches and athletes, watching ourselves, which is not supposed to be for a major competition like this. However, the athletes gave their best.”
Ms Okagbare offered some advice for the subsequent hosts of the festival.
“For awareness, I don’t know how much of that was done because everywhere was so empty, no sponsor logo, nothing to show that something great was happening.
“They must put everything in place, from the airport, there should be something to create awareness that they are doing the NSF at that location, and there should be great awareness which they didn’t really do at this festival. That will be my recommendation ahead of the next championships.”
While some have argued that given the fact that it was only ten months ago that the Federal Government agreed to take up the responsibility of hosting the Games after Cross Rivers State, which had been handed hosting rights defaulted, organisers of the games did not fare badly in terms of deliverables.
They also said given the difficulty in getting the money released from the government, the organisers of the games did not fare too badly in terms of logistics.
Others, however, believe that the argument fails to take into cognisance the fact that the organisers of the games could have leveraged on the influence of the Federal Government to attract sponsorship for the event.
They hold that for a game of this magnitude, there ought to have been shuttle buses conveying people and even athletes seamlessly from one competition venue to the other.
This was sorely missing as athletes on occasion had to hop into tricycles to venues to compete in their scheduled events.
While many will say that questionable officiating has always been part of past Sports Festivals, findings reveal that it got to new heights in Abuja 2018.
Some states for selfish reasons allegedly tried to compromise officials to get favourable results.
While there were some technical officials who remained above board and dutifully carried out their assignments, there were also some bad eggs who allowed themselves to be compromised and thus made questionable calls which marred what were obviously very competitive events.
“Referees, umpires and judges have not been impressive at this Games,” chairman of Edo State Sports Commission (ESSC), Godwin Dudu-Orumen, said during the festival.
“Their conduct has left a lot of questions unanswered and has certainly affected the quality of the festival.”
He also said the shenanigans of these officials put Nigeria at a disadvantage internationally.
“Now l know why our arbitrating officials hardly make it on to the international platforms,” he said.
He noted that the quality of officiating had cast a shadow over some of the victories recorded at the Games.
Even coaches were not spared by the newly appointed ESSC boss who accused them of colluding with the technical officials in perpetrating fraud at the festival.
Mr Dudu-Orumen was not alone here as a number of other athletes made similar complaints.
In this regard, the Sports Federations have a lot to do in calling their officials to order and applying stiff sanctions on those found guilty of colluding with states officials to influence the outcome of events.
‘Dry’ Opening, Closing Ceremonies
Save for the callisthenics display by young girls selected from Abuja secondary schools and, of course, the display by the singer, Small Doctor, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 19th National Sports Festival were largely ‘dry’ as it is said in the local parlance.
Even though the two ceremonies reportedly gulped so much money, they portrayed the organisers as far from serious as technical glitches here and there worsened an already bad situation.
Even, lighting the torch on the opening day, which was supposed to be the highpoint of the opening day of the festival proved to be too much of problem.
The whole exercise was more like kindergarten stuff and raised questions about the competence of those saddled with this critical aspect for the festival.
Having competition venues far from the athletes’ village was another minus at the just concluded Abuja Games as this development exposed the athletes to more stress. It, in a way had a toll on their overall performance.
Not All Bad…
Aside the drawbacks, the Abuja Festival did give some memorable performances that would linger in the minds of many in the years to come.
The Festival also validated the move by the Sports Ministry under Solomon Dalung to be more deliberate in staging the Youth Games as products from there were seen rubbing shoulders with the established ones.
A 14-year old, Imaobong Nse Uko, even emerged as a national champion in the 400m Women’s event few months after winning in IIorin at the Youth Games.
From the swimming pool, where Delta State ruled with class to the wrestling mat where the prowess of Ondo State was brought to the fore and even the table tennis section where the breakthrough athlete form the festival emerged from, there was a lot to savour from the Abuja games.
The way some youngsters performed in Abuja gives room for optimism that if well harnessed and nurtured, the future is bright for Nigeria sports.
Another high point was the economic and commercial values to the ordinary citizens.
From the opening day to the end, business and commercial activities were on a high as traders did brisk businesses.
From edibles to sportswear, electronics, mobile phones even as far as health products, just about everything was up for sale at the Sports Festival.
However, while most of the traders who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES were happy with their sales, some, particularly those who travelled over long distances to Abuja, judging from their past experiences at festivals were not too happy.
They claimed that unlike other festivals were most of the athletes had much money to throw around; it was not the same in Abuja as the issues of unpaid or slashed allowances was the order of the day in Abuja.
It is also worthy to note that one of the reasons for the National Sports Festival is unity and integration among the youths.
To a large extent that was achieved as athletes from across the 34 states present freely mingled and new friends were made during their 11 days in Abuja.
The 19th National Sports Festival also helped to empower sportspersons. With no competition in the past six years, athletes were grateful for the rewards.
However with states like Delta and a few others promising to reward medals with cash rewards, many athletes are guaranteed a blissful Christmas and New Year celebrations if promises are fulfilled fast by the governors.
In all 1,768 medals were won in Abuja.
With Edo State already named as the next host of the Sports Festival, an Abuja-based journalist, Nnamdi Okosieme, called on them to learn from the mistakes of the just ended games and make the 20th edition of the games more glamorous.
Mr Okosieme told PREMIUM TIMES that Edo would do a better job judging by their ambitious plans as reflected in their hosting bid documents.
“Among other things, they need to make sure athletes don’t stay too far from the competition venues and I think they are taking care of that already as the bid documents reveal that activities will take place at the University of Benin, Benson Idahosa University, Igbinedion University, and the Ambrose All University as well as 20 private schools that already have standard accommodation,” he said.
“They must also ensure a good synergy between their MOC (Main Organising Committee) and the Sports Federations so as to reduce to the barest minimize poor officiating. They must have a better grip on the activities because, in the long run, hosts, state are blamed when things go wrong and not the federations.”