Nigeria’s biggest sports showpiece faces uncertainty as the hope of staging it dims every day , excitement on the part of athletes fades ,optimism by the spectators diminish leaving the possibility of having over 15,000 athletes and officials converge on Edo State in the South-south region of Nigeria hanging in the balance.
The bi annual event was scheduled to be held in the first quarter of 2020 but Covid-19 made it impossible putting the sports festival on the list of sporting events that bore the brunt of the pandemic.
It was another hope deferred when the 14 – 28 February 2021 date to hold the games was postponed again after a meeting of the national sports council presided over by the Minister of Sports and Youth Development , Sunday Dare.
Nigeria’s own mini olympics; the National Sports Festival was meant to be an appetizer for those looking forward to the Olympics where Nigeria joins the rest of the world to participate in the global event of unity through sports. Unfortunately, hopes were dashed as the grip of Covid-19 on the world did not spare some of the few cords that bind us together. Eventually no National Sports Festival ,no Olympics as 2020 came leaving the world with the memories of a pandemic that changed our lives and our plans.
It is 2021 and sport has returned in Nigeria even though with some caution as the country also confronts its own share of the Covid-19 second wave , a situation which has thrown up questions about the risk of hosting a sports festival at this time .
Sports Business enthusiast Adedamilola Adedotun does not not have issues with the festival going ahead as scheduled by the organisers as long as Covid-19 protocols are strictly adhered to .
” Sports events are resuming all over the world as organisers are developing strategies to manage the pandemic, from football, basketball,tennis and UFC, what matters is to ensure that Covid protocols are adhered to”.
He draws his support for the event to hold from the fact that some other sports are back in the country.
“The NPFL (which is the country’s professional football league) has resumed with no fan, the lower leagues have also released their schedules. Also businesses are re-opening across the country, so yes the sports festival should be held but with adequate Covid protocols” he said.
Raymond is a sports journalist who is worried about the quality of the performance the athletes will put up having been out of competition for over a year.
” National sports festival should not be held, it’s simple because there won’t be quality performance from the athletes”.
Eze Alloysius is a Lagos, Nigeria based sports governance promoter and he thinks the pandemic should not be sole reason for the event postponement as Covid is now part of our life,” our reality today is that covid-19 has come to stay, this is the the new normal, even on the international scene major sporting events are almost back”.
“The olympics is about to start too, so what excuse have we not to go ahead with the national sporting events”.
A strong case is made for data as the decider by the organisers to go ahead with the event as data shows that athletes recovery rate from the virus is higher than non athletes according to sports specialist Solomon Ajuziogu
“The percentage of prevalence of the virus among sports people is very low and the fatality is non existent, they are clearly not at really risk as strong people with the immunity to fight the infection”
He suggests that innovation and constant testing should be the rule at the festival.
“we must seek innovative ways to go on with our lives despite the virus as the athletes can play in a quarantined environment and subjected to regular tests as we have seen elsewhere”
It seems that those who are saddled with the responsibility to determine if the festival will hold or not share a different opinion from the athletes and some stakeholders who are eager to see the games declared open.
Aside covid-19, the issue of funding the festival which was raised recently by the Governor of the host state who complained about paucity of funds is germaine,the question of who foots the bills must be sorted before the games can get a green light signal , also the knotty issue of security is critical to the success of the festival at a time the country is fighting crimes on all front.
The National Sports Festival as an event should not be only what we see at the arena because the unseen can make or mar the event.