The fourth edition of the National Youth Games which is ongoing on at the Multi-purpose sports complex of the University of Ilorin has come under threat by athletes deemed to be above the maximum age of 15 years for participants.
Past editions of the youth games were usually invaded by age cheats who connived with their states to participate in the games to the detriment of the aims and objectives of the founding fathers of the age-grade competition.
This has remained a worrisome development to the organisers of the games who are yet to fashion out a more reliable means of checking such unhealthy practice.
It will be recalled that prior to the commencement of the Games, the Director of Grassroots Sports Development in the ministry of sports, Dr. Ademola Are in a chat with Trust Sports had warned against age-cheating while revealing that every athlete must undergo the necessary screening to be eligible to contest at the age-grade games.
However, as at the time of this report, Are confirmed to Trust Sports that over 500 athletes had been disqualified by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports over age falsification while frowning at the attitude of states to present over aged players in the desperate bid to win laurels
“We want to ensure that the screening committee does a good job. We don’t want to indulge states that want to win medals by all cost by presenting overage athletes.
“We have conscience and when you see a child less than 15 years old you know. Some persons raised the issue of documents like passport, child certificate and I told them sorry, we might not go with that because they can always get alternative documents everywhere. We want to see these children physically and justice will be done accordingly”
In the same vein, the Minister of sports Barr. Solomon Dalung while speaking to journalists in Ilorin expectedly weighed in and blamed the issues of age cheating at various age-grade competitions on the long years of neglect of youth sports programme.
“The records of the discovery of over 500 overage athletes should not be the preoccupation now, let us not forget where we are coming from. The NYG was abandoned for some years meaning that those who were eligible to compete within those abandoned years were denied their right,” Dalung said.
“So, if we have such things happening now, it is a reflection of the neglect. Talents that were not given the opportunity to express themselves and they have the zeal and determination can lead to what we see as age malpractice,”
“What will you do to people denied participation for years? They will have to struggle to have a way to showcase themselves, which is what is manifesting now,” Dalung said.
Dalung added, “We are trying to ensure that we entrench age policy in the NYG because globally, youths are defined from age 15 and the Youth Olympics is for 15 years and below,”
“But Nigeria has been toying around with the issue of age. This is because we are trying to align with our constitution which talks about taking responsibility at the age of 18. But the National Youth Policy talking about 18-35 and fitting into the global architecture of sports.
“So, what we have here is that we are battling with our past because if you committed injustice against a generation, it will take you time to address it.”
Also, the FCT director of Sports, Chief (Mrs) Dilichukwu Onyedinma while speaking to newsmen blamed states of the federation for wanting to destroy the purpose of the Games by poaching athletes from other states.
According to her, NYG is a developmental program designed to nurture new talents for the country.
“I am begging states to stop poaching athletes at this level because we don’t give them money at this level. When they become elite, then they can get money,” she said.
“Some people felt the screening exercise done was not ok. The first one was looking at the athletes’ faces was perfect but you know there will be one or two mistakes, she noted.
However, the Kano State director of Sports, Ibrahim Galadima disagreed with the screening exercise of looking at the athletes’ faces.
While acknowledging the concept of the games which is to identify new talents, he urged the Sports Ministry to come out with a system to identify athletes who are eligible.
“It is primitive as this age to look at someone’s face and determine his age. It’s not acceptable. There is something wrong with the system. Someone should sit down and device a system,” he quipped.
The 4th edition of NYG commenced on September 7 and scheduled to end September 17 with over 3,800 athletes participating.