The dreams of Nigerian athletes to compete and win medals at the 2020 National Sports Festival, in Edo State, suffered another setback on Monday when the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare for the fourth time, announced the postponement of the biennial sporting event.
It will be recalled that after two previous postponements, the sports ministry had announced February 14 as the new kick-off date for the 20th edition of the National Sports Festival.
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Unfortunately, as the athletes and their officials were packing their bags to head to Benin City for the event, the chilly news that it was shifted to April hit them like a thunderbolt.
The virtual meeting held by the Extra- Ordinary National Council on Sports (NCS), attended by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare and other relevant stakeholders arrived at the decision after the host state complained of lack of funds and non availability of accommodation for visiting athletes.
It will also be recalled that the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki had earlier said the state is ready to host the NSF but expressed worry over lack of funds to host 11,500 athletes and accompanying officials.
The governor added that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the finances of various states and countries across the globe and Edo State is not left out.
The latest postponement has no doubt thrown the spanners in the works of most of the athletes who were looking forward to the sports festival with the aim of winning medals for their respective states.
Most of the athletes who spoke to Trust Sports, therefore, expressed disappointment over what they tagged endless shifting of the 20th edition of the National Sports Festival.
Some went to the extent of calling on the federal government to come to the aid of Edo State and the Federal ministry of Youth and Sports Development to ensure the festival is held before the Tokyo Olympics.
A Para Table Tennis player, Evelyn Paragon told Trust Sports that she was prepared to represent Delta State but she is now devastated by the news. According to her, she had sacrificed and prepared really hard for podium finish in Benin City.
“After preparing hard for the Festival, I was devastated to hear it has been postponed again. I can liken it to a student preparing for an examination. After the long nights of reading, few days to the exam, you learn the exam has been postponed.It’s a sad experience that can break the hearts of the strongest. It takes a lot for an athlete when you think of the sacrifices that are put into training,” she said.
She, however, supported the government’s decision to take all precautionary measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus even as the fear of the killer disease is partly responsible for the postponement that has brought her much pain.
“If the ministry and the NCDC have said after due considerations, the Festival is postponed, then we have to accept it since there is assurance that the new date sacrosanct.
“There is COVID-19 and we all have to be careful. We are lucky here in Nigeria that there is no mass death as God has been faithful to us. If there is an outbreak, we don’t have what it takes to contain it,” she concluded.
Ibrahim Adamu, a volleyball player also bemoaned the postponement and expressed fears that since idle hands are said to be the devil’s workshop, there may be upsurge in social vices.
Adamu who works with the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps said he was to represent Rivers State, though he hails from Niger State.
“After four postponements, I feel bad about it just as any other athlete will feel. The athletes are the ones suffering this postponement as we have prepared adequately for the festival. Luckily for me, I am gainfully employed. For some of the athletes who don’t have anything to do, this is their only source of livelihood and it is being toyed with.
“Sports keep the youth away from social vices but in this country only a few know the importance of sports. When the youths are kept busy with sporting activities, they hardly have time to think of criminal activities. They are really messing up with the future of budding athletes. It is not funny anymore.
“Yes, there is COVID-19 and we are ready to obey the guidelines, so that is not an excuse as OSOM games was recently held in Abuja. The governor of Edo State said there is no money, so they should talk about that instead of using COVID-19 as an excuse for postponing the games,” he said.
Similarly, Judo player, Enku Ekuta who is to represent Akwa Ibom also expressed disappointment and sadness as she said all she wanted to do was to compete for honours.
“I was sad when I heard the news. We want to compete, we want some action but the government has stopped us. We hope to get back to action and fight for honours,” she said.
In a related development, she called for inclusion of Judo in sporting events that Team Nigeria will feature at the summer 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
It will be recalled that the minister of youth and sports development had declared in 2020 that Team Nigeria will compete in just 11 sports where the country has comparative advantage and the game of judo wasn’t listed.
“The government should include Judo in the events for the Olympics because only 11 sports have been chosen and judo is not among. Honestly, it is disappointing.
“I qualified from the continental quota. Since 2019, I have been attending Olympic qualifiers in Senegal, Tanzania and Madagascar where I picked points that sealed my qualification for the Olympics. But my efforts and qualification would count for nothing, if judo is excluded,” she lamented.