The 19th National Sports Festival hosted by the nation’s capital, FCT has come and gone but without its drama, intrigues, protests, upsets and record breaking feats from athletes.
One death was also recorded as an official was confirmed dead before the closing ceremony at the magnificent Abuja National Stadium on December 16.
The games commenced with the formal opening ceremony on the 6th of December, 2018 when gates of Abuja were opened to a total number of 8,861 delegates which comprises of 7227 athletes, 710 coaches, 322 other team officials, 602 state delegates, with only Ebonyi state failing to participate during the Delegation Registration Meeting (DMR) till 16th December, 2018 when the Festival lights were put off.
The excitement in the air was not unexpected, as festival was being held after six years of absence, since the 2012 edition in Lagos.
Though the hosting rights given to Cross River State after the last edition in 2012 hosted by Lagos was withdrawn and given to the FCT after series of postponements.
At a joint world press conference by the ministries of Sports and FCT prior to the commencement of the Games, Dalung said it is a huge achievement considering the time the federal government decided to take up the organisation of the all important sports fiesta.
There were palpable fears amongst sports loving Nigerians if the biennial games would hold due to lack of publicity about preparations for the Games by sponsors – Greenfield Assets Limited, who were rumoured to have pulled out of the Games.
Trust Sports spoke with a group of Abuja residents who collectively said they don’t know what a sports festival is, let alone know the FCT was hosting such an event.
One of the residents our correspondent spoke with, a taxi driver who declined to give his name asked “what is a festival”?
The Greenfield Assets Limited had entered into a partnership with the federal government through the ministry of youth and sports development to operate, promote, manage and provide all marketing activities for the Festival for a period of 10 years through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) – National Sports Festival Marketing and Management Company Limited.
Then finally came the opening ceremony which was ruined by a very low attendance at the 60,000 sitting capacity National Stadium, Abuja
The ceremony was attended by the Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr Boss Mustapha; the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Barr Solomon Dalung and his counterpart at the FCT, Mohammed Bello amongst other personalities.
As the festival got underway, athletes from many states of the federation started complaining and later protested for being short-changed, abandoned and neglected by their states’ officials.
Team Rivers were among the first states to cry out over the ill treatment meted out to the contingent by the state government.
In an exclusive chat with the athlete on the condition of anonymity, said they have no training equipment and have not been paid the allowances and salaries due to them.
“Yes, they have released the funds, but I have no idea what’s going on. They haven’t given us camping allowance, no facilities or equipment for us to train.
“We haven’t been paid our allowances since the games started, we have just been surviving on our personal funds. We just feed from the food the camp (NYSC) provides for us,” he noted.
It will be recalled that athletes and officials of the contingent had threatened to withdraw from the Games if their salaries and allowances are not paid which was however settled before the Games ended.
Host athletes on the closing day took to the streets of Abuja in protest against the non-payment of their allowances by the FCT administration.
Solomon Chibuike who spoke on behalf of the team, a bronze medalist in boxing event berated the FCT for how poorly they were treated.
“It is bad and callous on part of the FCT administrators to treat us this way, we were not paid our camping allowances, not well fed and abandoned. I came from Lagos and they said they want to pay us N15,000 how can one cope with that after receiving heavy punches from opponents.”
Trust Sports spoke with one of the team captains who declined to give his name, but said most of them were hungry during the Festival and resorted to begging for food.
“We went into some of our games in hunger. We participated in this Festival because we wanted to make names for ourselves. This is very sad experience,” he bemoaned.
According to information gathered, the FCT athletes were to be paid Fifteen thousand naira (N15,000) by the Social Development Secretary officials (SDS) and were later paid N50,000 after much negotiations.
Bayelsa State however staged its protest during the closing ceremony parade at the stadium. Carrying placards with different inscriptions expressing their anger towards the state government for the ill treatment meted out to them.
According to one of the athletes, Evbotokhai Victoria, they were robbed on their way to Abuja ten days ago along Airport – Lugbe road without the government coming to their aid.
“We are not protesting but to pass a message to our governor. He sent us here through some persons to represent Bayelsa.
“We were robbed and we lost our phones and other things to armed robbers. Nobody came to talk to us. We were abandoned and we were only told to go and run.
“We should be encouraged and motivated. We are good people. We are good athletes,” she said.
Despite the poor motivation from some state governments, those that motivated their athletes, saw their contingents amassing medals and setting new national records.
In fact, 59 new national records were set at the 19th National Sports Festival (NSF) where participating athletes shattered old ones.
42 of the new records, according to the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Olusade Adesola, were in weightlifting while 15 were in swimming and two in para-powerlifting.
One of them, Deborah Okpochini, a swimmer who set two new records in1500m freestyle women swimming and 100m Freestyle Swimming.
She posted a time 1.03.05sec in the 100m Freestyle Swimming thus breaking a 27-year old record previously set by Ikaghoemi Joshua while featuring for Rivers State in the 1991 edition of the game.
Deborah again set another festival record in 1500m freestyle women swimming posting a time of 21:05.10 to confine to the dustbin the record set by Blessing Forcados of Delta.
Blessing had posted a time of 21:26.88 in 2006 at the 15th National Sports Festival in Ogun State.
Similarly, Nmor Ifeakachukwu broke a 6-year old record in 200m individual medley men previously set by Kingsley Forcados in 2012.
Nmor posted a time of 02:18.44 to beat Kingsley’s 2:20.94 time set at the 18th National Sports Festival in Lagos.
While records were being broken, some elite athletes suffered some losses such as veteran Table Tennis queen Funke Oshonaike who was knocked out in the quarter-finals Women’s single by 19-year-old Nimota Aregbesola.
Aregbesola representing Lagos State defeated Oshonaike 4-3 (11-9, 10-12, 7-11, 11-6, 11-3, 10-12, 14-12).
The defeat came just a day after she and Segun Toriola who were representing Akwa Ibom were knocked out in the mixed doubles quarter-final by Team Oyo which had the duo of Ajala Fumilola and 56-year-old Taofeeq Maya.
Team Delta who were officially declared the winner of the 2018 National Sports Festival surpassed their own record of 114 gold medals achieved at the last edition of the festival in Lagos by amassing a total of 163 gold medals, 86 silver medals and 101 bronze medals.
With the conclusion of the Games last weekend, Edo state who will host the next edition in two years times have promised to perform beyond reasonable doubts.
Speaking to journalists, Edo State governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki noted that “The sports community will have no cause to regret this momentous decision that has been taken for Edo State to host the next edition of the National Sports Festival.
“We will take every step necessary, make the needed sacrifice to deliver the best games in the annals of the sports festival.” He maintained that though there would be challenges on the way.
According to him, “Whatever challenges there are, we will overcome because Edo people tread where even lions do not. Like our warriors of old, we will slay every foe and surmount every obstacle to succeed.
“The 2020 Sports Festival will be different from any previous edition and any that will come after it. Perhaps it can only be surpassed in splendour and organisation the next time Edo State hosts it afterwards.