The Nigerian National Sports Festival is a multi-sport event held biennially. This event is organised by the National Sports Commission, now headed by the Honorable Minister for Youth and Sports. Every two years, the Federal Government, in conjunction with the federation state, hosts the 35 other states of the federation in an organised series of sporty activities filled with funfair and cultural reverberation. Forty-eight years later, the cycle has become a system of poorly or rashly organised festivals and the decline in athletes’ performance at the highest level in the recent decade. The talk of going back to the grassroots and the popularised drawing board has been the loudest. Yet, the National Sports Festival, which should be the easiest solution to the problems rocking the sports sector, has become more of a ritual disguised in a festival’s charade.
The National Sports Festival: How It Started
- The National Sports Festival started in 1973 at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos (which is now in derelicts), under the administration Rtd. General Yakubu Gowon as a tool for fostering national unity owing to the just concluded civil war. As the program evolved, so did the objective to include training athletes for continental and international competition. The seemingly current aim of the National Sports Festival now comprises:
- To build a robust pool of athletes.
- To enhance and elevate sports at the grassroots.
- To establish a standard programme for athletes’ succession.
- To encourage early participation in sports.
- To promote national unity.
- To engage cultural and educational development.
- To engage young athletes in the Olympic movement, skill development, and social responsibility.
All this highlighted looks feasible and will create a dominant sports sector. But have any of these objectives been fully achieved?
The National Sports Festival: How It’s Going
The last edition, the 19th edition, of the National Sports Festival was held in the FCT in 2019. Before then, the previous edition was stage-managed six years before that. This inconsistency has led to the non-development of budding potentials and the sports sector’s stagnancy, if not dormancy. There is hardly a good tale to tell if we look at the years before this. We have gone from the objective of grooming talent like the like of Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Funke Oshonaike Michael Fasuba, Segun Toriola, Jerry Okorodudu to nobody on the center stage.
The problem with the National Sports Festival’s current structure cumulates from the efforts put in by different stakeholders in sporting activity. These efforts include the poaching of the athlete with a high salary from other states, the importation of foreign-grown talent, and scrapping of junior or intermediate players. These have led to the recycling of athletes and naturalisation to other foreign countries they feel athletes feel they can be treated as professional.
The problems with the post-national sports festival are: the cry for flight ticket, a camp for preparation, lockdown of stadia, protest of unpaid bonuses few months to Olympics, with these lingering problems, one good question is: what medal can come from an athlete who should have started preparation for Olympics 4-6 years before the main event, still jostling for allowance and campground few months to the commencement of global event?
On the part of the athletes, they have been left to sacrifice their blood and sweat with little or no resources and the hope of making it to the podium-crucifying them to hopeless ambition. Why should the government invest in the current pool of athletes, as it could yield a little return on investment compared to other capital ventures? In fact, why should it be the government investing in our sports sector? The private sector is yet to see anything attractive in terms of infrastructure and development of programs leaving, leaving the National Sports Commission with much work on its hands.
The National Sports Festival: Edo 2021
Edo state, as the host state for the 20th National Sports Festival, was selected in 2018. Things seem to have been going as planned regarding the standardisation and renovation of sports facilities in different stadia across the state until the novel covid-19 virus struck early in 2020. The pandemic led to a postponement and near cancellation. It kicked off on April 2nd, and it will last till April 15th of 2021(and is already in progress). However, one disturbing factor to note is that there are still no concrete plans to forward towards athlete development and infrastructural development. Hence, we keep going back in circles according to the political climate of the day.
The Way Forward
This is the perfect timing to revamp the rots. With several athletes already qualified for this game, the next best alternative is that once the games are over, they should take time to groom potentials alongside the already experienced ones. More so, talents from across the local- and state-government levels should compete at various qualifying rounds to avoid endless sacrifices that end up as rituals at the national level. The junior cadre needs to be also reintroduced to ensure proper development. These are the immediate objectives to restore the pride of the nation and not at a festival.