Finally, the 20th National Sports Festival tagged ‘Edo 2020’ is seeing the light of the day, after months of delay and anguish by sportsmen and women who had girded their loins but were left high and dry by the Sports Ministry. The Vice-President Professor Yemi Osinbajo is expected to officially declare the Games open on April 6, perhaps that is the only time athletes and officials would be assured Edo 2020 will run its full course. Until lately, there were still doubts over the Games starting as scheduled as purveyors of unverified information, rumour-mongers had falsely spread information about another possible postponement.
Who could blame them? The Sports Ministry, the Presidential Task Force on Covid’19 and the Edo State government have had to roll the dice on whether to commence the sports fiesta or not. ‘Edo 2020’ was to hold March 2020, with just a week to go the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare and PTF citing worldwide coronavirus pandemic pulled the plug on the events. It was quite understandable then because sports around the globe took a major hit.
However, when the sporting world gradually began to open arenas to contests, Nigerian sports officials coming under intense criticism by athletes fixed a new date for December 2020. All the major actors were happy with the decision, but their joy was short-lived when the PTF again raised the red flag. February 2021 was then proposed, but the Edo State government cried foul. According to the Edo State deputy governor, Philip Shaibu who is the chairman of the Local Organising Committee, the host government was not consulted; and as if that was not enough, the State governor, Godwin Obaseki dropped a bombshell. “Edo has no money to host.” But now it seems the stars have aligned for the Festival to begin and athletes are warming up to storm their various venues for the events, some of which have already begun. “We have nowhere to go but forward with the National Sports Festival,” said Yusuf Alli, former African long jump champion and current national record holder since1987. “Edo is ready to host and the athletes who have been training for long are ready to compete.”
But it remains to be seen how many states of the federation would be represented in the NSF. Quite a number have complained of lack of funds and no adequate preparations. This is just as mega sports States like Delta, Rivers, Lagos, Edo are set for their usual rivalry. They would be going into the Festival without their foreign-based legions. The timing of the Festival has made it almost certain that they are going to give it a miss, some of the athletes are ‘school-tied’ and others are focused on training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. “We should expect keen competition at Edo 2020,” said former sprinter and coach Emmanuel Bamise. This is because all athletes have been training not just for the Festival but for other competitions.” The National Sports Festival regarded as Nigeria’s mini Olympics began in 1973 in Lagos. It is a franchise of the Federal government and organised by the Sports Ministry. A tool with which the government had hoped to foster national unity and promote sports development in the country.