By Habeeb Kuranga
The National Sports Festival is dubbed the Nigerian Olympics. NSF is a biennial competition which involves athletes from thirty-six states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) competing in various sports.
Being a once in two years competition, the NSF was established in 1973 during General Yakubu Gowon’s military administration. It was in a bid to foster unity and peaceful coexistence among the people of Nigeria after the three years civil war that nearly tore Nigeria into pieces.
Winners of the competition are declared by a medals’ table list, which shows the total number of medals (gold, silver, and bronze) all states have won. The state with the highest number of medals won the competition in that particular year.
The maiden edition of the NSF was held at the national stadium in Surulere, Lagos state. The Midwestern region won the inaugural edition, beating Lagos state to emerge the winner.
Since 1973 when the NSF began, the tournament was not held on two separate occasions, 1983 and 1993. This was majorly because of different coups d’ etat that were staged at particular points in time by the military.
From the 1998 edition in Owerri, the capital city of Imo state, the competition started enjoying some stability.
The most successful state is Delta, with eight titles to its name, winning the last seven editions.
The recent edition, titled Asaba’22, was hosted by Delta state. And no surprise who the winner is, Delta State winning 648 medals in total (320 golds, 200 silvers, and 128 bronzes), followed by Bayelsa state in second with 132 golds, 115 silver and 90 bronze medals making it 337 medals in total. Edo state came third this time around with 339 medals (78 golds, 94 silvers and 167 bronzes). Edo got more medals than Bayelsa, but the total number of gold won by Bayelsa state is more than that of Edo state, making Bayelsa leapfrog Edo state in the log. Oyo state picked up the fourth position with 50 golds, 51 silvers, and 62 bronzes, bringing the totality to 163 medals. Lagos state completed the top 5 with 41 golds, 57 silvers, and 74 bronzes, making the total number of medals for Lagos 172.
Kwara, on the other hand, came 18th with four (4) gold, eight (8) silver and 37 bronze medals, tallying the total number of medals for Kwara 49 medals, an outing when compared to the 2021 sports festival in Edo, where Kwara placed 15th, a very bad and discouraged outing; 7 golds, 6 silvers and 31 bronzes making the total number of medals for Kwara contingents 44.
The Ravens NG takes a critical look at what the causes for such performances are for a state that had produced big talents in various sports in the past.
Reaction from Sports Commission
The Ravens NG, in an engagement with a member of the Kwara State Sports Commission, Mr Abdullahi Yunus Lade, confirmed to this medium that the commission is ‘handicapped’ in some areas of welfare for the athletes, which in turn can affect their performances at the festival. He confirmed to this medium that part of what the state didn’t plan for before arrival at Asaba was the transport of athletes from their various accommodations to the venue of the events.
“One of the unforeseen situations that we need to take care of is the shuttle within Asaba. We were told that shuttle buses are available, but to our dismay, it was not provided for us; we have to source for funds to transport our athletes to and fro the camp to the game village, which is over one hour away.”
Lade further said that the rising cost of fuel, vehicle maintenance, purchase of other types of equipment and increase in the number of Athletes further jeopardised the outing of the athletes, and it left the commission with little or nothing to do to cater properly for the athletes.
“For instance, the cost of fuelling, maintenance of vehicles, purchase of equipment, and increased number of athletes affected all provisions for the festival.
“Even though the fuel budgeted was around N165, amidst fuel scarcity, we are now buying between N250, N270, and N300 and above,” he said.
He also revealed that athletes were also instructed to return their tracksuits after the events so that they would be used for subsequent editions of NSF, an act against the practices of other states and Kwara State itself in the time past.
“On the tracksuit, athletes were instructed by their coaches and secretaries that all tracksuits should be returned so that we can always use them for subsequent events as a result of a paucity of funds.
“However, the top and short playing kits were given as takeaway.”
Reaction from Kwara athletes
The Ravens NG had engaged with at least four of the athletes who represented Kwara at the just concluded NSF Asaba 2022, each of them seeking to be anonymous.
Underpayment of athletes
One of the athletes who participated in Track and Field events who seek anonymity disclosed to this medium that N32,500 were given for thirteen days amounting to N2,500 per day (a claim confirmed by Kwara State Sports Commission) against the N36,000 that was given at the last edition in Edo. In comparison, most states paid nothing less than N50,000 for their athletes.
“For instance, contingents from Abuja and Bayelsa State received N60,000 and N70,000, respectively,” she noted.
Athletes sharing soaps and bedsheets
A racket game player (male) lamented how they were left to share basic provisions like bathing soap and bedsheets: he said, “The outing we had wasn’t too good, but it was expected, if you can imagine, that we were left to be sharing basic provisions like bathing soap and bedsheets. Were they not provided at all? No. But the provisions were very small that they discouraged us and made us feel less important compared to contingents from other states.
“We had a timetable for bedsheets, and if you sleep with a bedsheet today, another person will use it tomorrow. It was like we were in a warzone.”
Hustle for shuttles
Another Track and Field athlete lamented the ‘hustles’ to get to the competition venue every day and how shuttles weren’t provided to convey athletes to the venue.
“Every day, we spent nothing less than one hour on the road before we get to the venue to play. The distance from the camp to the venue was very far, and we thought we were travelling the first day we were going to the venue.
“Very few shuttles were provided to convey us to the competition venue. We had to set out very early in the morning, even when your event was in the afternoon or evening. We do this every day while athletes from other states rest in their respective camps.”
The Ravens NG took it upon itself to know how much was released from the Kwara State Government to the Sports Commission, but the member of the Commission contacted by this medium has yet, till this work is published, said anything about it.
However, the amount released by the State Government is believed amongst sports experts and athletes in Kwara to be between N45m-N50m.