As the curtains fall on the 7th edition of the National Youth Games (NYG) today in Asaba, it has been 10 days of sporting activities characterised by good and unpalatable experiences which can be described as the good, the bad and the ugly.
Despite a series of challenges faced by the teenage athletes and their officials, the games lived up to expectations as national champions emerged and new records were also set in different events.
However, even as the host Delta State is set to clinch its seventh title in a row, the following problems prevailed almost at the biennial sports festival which was held at the Late Stephen Keshi Township Stadium and other sporting facilities in Asaba.
Chaotic screening exercise
Despite the introduction of the National Identification Number (NIN) by the immediate past Minister of Sports, Chief Sunday Dare, to curb age cheating, the Main Organising Committee (MOC) and the sub-committee in charge of screening process resorted to the use of facial screening to determine athletes’ eligibility.
Unfortunately, the use of facial screening sparked a row by athletes and coaches, especially those who got screened out as they demanded for justice by insisting on the use of both the NIN and birth certificate.
It, therefore, took the quick intervention of the new Minister of Sports, Senator Owan Enoh who waded into the controversy by ordering for the use of NIN rather than facial screening to clear athletes to compete in the games.
One of the problems that left a sour taste in the mouth of many was the use of over-aged athletes by some states.
According to the Katsina State acting Director of Sports, Bello Abdullahi, the use of over-aged players has made nonsense of the National Youth Games.
According to him, some states employed mercenaries and over-aged athletes to win by all means.
“Of course, there was age cheating because at the all states directors’ meeting, the issue was brought up because there was cheating during the screening.
“There were a series of screenings because those who were screened out returned through the back door to be screened again.
“If you talk of cheating, then the essence of this U-15 Games has been defeated by the host state and others. It was not only Delta State that cheated. Most of the states indulged in the nefarious act,” he said.
He, therefore, advised the Federal Ministry of Sports Development to clampdown on states that cheat to win medals by all means.
“If they want the games to continue, there should be nothing like medals again. Let states come, compete and go back home without gold, silver or whatever medal,” he said.
Also, the Director of Media and publicity, Nigeria Golf Federation, NGF, Mr Thaddeus Yilmen urged the Federal Ministry of Sports to replace medals with scholarships, saying this will help curb the ‘must win mindset by athletes and coaches’.
“I want the Federal Ministry Sports Development to de-emphasise the issue of medals because it is what is eliciting cheating because the coaches are promised handsome rewards by their governors, if they win. So, most of them are encouraging cheating because they want to get that largesse.
“I think the Ministry should emphasis on scholarship rather than medals. For the national youth games, those who win medals should be given scholarships which should be paid directly to the schools or to the accounts of the kids if they are going to monetise the scholarship.
“This issue of medals is causing a lot of cheating,” he said.
A member of the board of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Ebikpolade Ama-Ebi, advised federations to have a comprehensive database that shows records of players’ details as he said it will help to cut down on age cheating.
“We have to put a system in place that can check cheating. They should have the record of all the athletes that participated in this tournament so that they don’t pop up again at future games,” he said.
Although the host state flooded the social media with pictures of decent accommodation that was provided for the young athletes, the situation on ground was different as some of the athletes had to sleep on torn mattresses inside filthy apartments.
A sport association chairman in Delta State expressed displeasure over the poor condition of accommodation that was provided for some of the contingents.
“Accommodation provided wasn’t the best because we bid for the games and should have done better. Instead, we should have held the games when schools are on holiday. There wouldn’t have been any problem with accommodation.
“Any accommodation shouldn’t be taken for granted. The timing of the games was wrong. You can’t pay hotel accommodation for them and the schools are in session,” he said.
Also, Kaduna Chess Coach, Mohammed Tahiru, said his team experienced lack of power supply, saying their hostels needed finishing touches to make it more habitable.
“Where we were hosted, we had a problem with light because it was a new hostel. They brought a generator but it was not serving all the buildings. There was also the problem of water,” he said.
However, the Project Manager for the Games, Dr Ademola Are, blamed the unfortunate situation on the unexpected upsurge in the number of unregistered athletes.
He said the number over stretched the initial hostel accommodation provided by the Main Organising Committee.
He revealed that the eventual contingent in camp exceeded the initial 5,742 that was projected to over 7,000.
“Most of the states did not stick to the number they registered. For example, there is a state that registered 152 athletes and officials. But by the time they arrived, they paid for 194 and it cut across all of the states. There is another from the South West. This particular state registered for 84 but came in with 126.
“We have more than 7,000 at the moment because of this bloated figure. There is no way we can send them away because they have paid but if we want to be very strict and do it officially, we will tell them to send back those excess numbers,” he said.
It wasn’t all gloomy as the 7th edition of the National Youth Games produced the youngest athlete, five year old Onoja Nahome Ehi, who represented Benue State in chess. She wasn’t alone in the category of youngest athletes as Kano State also came to Asaba with the beautiful six-year old gymnast, Omokorede Lisa just as eight-year old golfer, Funmilayo Oyero of Lagos State and eight-year old Umaru Faruk Al-Mustapha represented Nasarawa State in scrabble. The teenagers no doubt represent the future of sports in the country
The games necessitated an upgrade in some of the facilities which were hitherto in need of attention. Our reporter observed that the holes in the tartan track inside the Stephen Keshi Stadium were fixed for the track and field events. The indoor sports hall also was given a facelift.
In view of the prevailing security challenges in the country, the Games’ organisers must be commended for ensuring that there was adequate security at all the venues. The presence of well equipped security personnel helped to avert any ugly situations during the games.