Benefits of reviving National Sports Festival


HAVING chosen Ogun to host the 22nd National Sports Festival in 2024, the ball is now in the court of the South-West state, and the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development to revive the true essence of Nigeria’s premier multi-sport competition. It is a daunting challenge. Instructively, the 21st edition of the games that ended last weekend in Delta State gained scant attention, falling under the radar of sports fans that are transfixed by the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Qatar. This denied the sporting public the opportunity to participate and genuinely appraise the standards of the competition and the organisational mettle of Delta.

The host won overall with 648 medals – 320 gold, 200 silver and 129 bronze — followed by Bayelsa and Edo in second and third places respectively. Southern states took the top spots. Contingents from the North were dimmed; Jigawa, Sokoto, and Gombe won no gold medals. Zamfara, was missing altogether in the medals table, coming last.

That is food for thought for the Northern states about how they value sports development. For Delta, the win cements its place as Nigeria’s No.1 state in sports, winning every edition since 2012.

A biennial event, the NSF has been plagued by inconsistency. After the 18th edition hosted by Lagos in 2012, Cross River, which was awarded the hosting rights of the 2014 edition, defaulted for six years. It threw the festival into a jeopardy and set back development and discovery of new talents that would have represented Nigeria in international competitions.

For this, Cross River rightly lost the rights. In a repeat of the first two editions of the festival in Lagos in 1973 and 1975, the Federal Government broke the jinx in 2018 when it hosted the games in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

The states should sit up because these postponements detract from the goals of the festival. The NSF was postponed first from 1983 to 1987. It suffered further postponement in 1993, 1994 and 1995. This speaks volumes about the preparedness of the states to develop sports in their domains.

Interestingly, the 20th edition of the festival suffered hiccups as well, though through no fault of the host Edo. Originally scheduled for March 2020, it was postponed early that year after the global COVID-19 pandemic outbreak hit Nigeria that February. At that point, the shift was a pragmatic decision. Even the Tokyo Olympics was moved from 2020 to 2021. Eventually, Edo staged the games in April 2021.

With Delta keeping to the schedule, Ogun, which earlier hosted the festival in 2006, should not allow any further hiatus. By naming Oyo State as the standby host in the event of Ogun defaulting, the ministry of sports has made a point for consistency.

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By staging the festival regularly as scheduled, Nigeria will give itself a chance to rebuild its international sporting prowess because it is at the grassroots that talents are discovered and later polished to become global stars. In the past, many sports stars, including Chioma Ajunwa, Nigeria’s first Olympics gold medallist, Mary Onyali, Enefiok Udobong, Seyi Fasuba, Blessing Okagbare, Lucy Ejike and the latest sprint sensation, Tobi Amusan, were discovered at the festival. If the festival is staged on schedule, many more of these outstanding talents would be identified and nurtured to stardom.

For now, Nigeria lacks these international class athletes. After a woeful outing at the London 2012 Olympics in which Team Nigeria won no medal, it recovered slightly in Rio 2016 after the men’s football team led by Mikel Obi nicked a bronze medal. In Tokyo 2020, Team Nigeria won just silver and bronze. After its performance at the Barcelona ’92 Olympics, these are bad times in the international arena for Nigerian sports.

Nigeria is currently a laggard in sport, including in athletics, boxing, table tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. In football, the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the World Cup. The football clubs fall repeatedly in continental competitions, the memory of the wins by Rangers, Shooting Stars and Enyimba now a distant memory.

One sure way out is for state governments to invest massively in sports facilities, where young people can train. Since 1910, this has been the practice in Jamaica, where sports contribute 2.0 per cent to the country’s GDP. Comparatively, the National Bureau of Statistics says sports contribute a measly 0.005 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP (2020). Therefore, this should be tackled head on.

States can set themselves the target of constructing sports centres in every local government area. This will foster inclusiveness. In Senegal, there are basketball courts – outdoor and indoor – in every nook and cranny of Dakar, the capital. Senegal is a force to be reckoned with in continental basketball.

In India, there are 52 standard international cricket pitches, the most in any country, with England in second place having only 23 pitches. Ahead of India hosting the 2023 Cricket World Cup, several of its 28 states are building new pitches. State governors should do the needful in this area. They should stop playing lip service to sport development.

According to experts, sport pulls youths away from a life of crime and poverty because it generates employment, and scholarships for talented youths. An economic assessment of the English Premier League in the 2013/14 season by accounting giant EY found that it supported 103,000 full time jobs in the United Kingdom. The EPL generated £6.3 billion in economic output in the UK that year, out of which £3.4 billion was its contribution to the GDP. Overall, sport contributed a gross value-added of £20.3 billion in the same period.

To harness Nigeria’s abundant talents and realise the potential of sport, the NSF should hold regularly. The National Council on Sports should name the host and two as standby to prevent future default, well ahead of time, just like it is being done for major competitions like the Olympic Games. ,

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