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NSF: The games must go on

By Steve Alabi
The youths of Nigeria are gathered in Abuja to fight for honours for their respective states in the irregularly held National Sports Festival. The festival, which holds mixed memories for me, is our own version of the Olympic Games. It is the main sports competition through which talents are supposed to emerge for the country. How has it fared in this task? Before we answer this pertinent question, let me digress a little.

The last festival I covered in my journalism career in the Nigerian Television Authority was the 1991 edition held in Bauchi. The effects of my experience for those two weeks of violence and mayhem remain traumatic for me 27 years after. Brethren of the same ancestry allowed deranged purveyors of fatal religious sentiments to insert daggers of murderous hatred in their hearts. A mere comment over the use of a knife ignited the mayhem in a Bauchi suburb, Yelwa. Within one hour, it had spread like wildfire to the capital city, threatening to halt the ongoing games of unity.

I saw innocent people being massacred to instant death simply for belonging to a faith other than the one ostensibly professed by the murdering mob. I saw man at his most beastly state, reduced to a senseless killing machine, searching for blood in an unbelievably voracious manner. I saw some men of authority reduced to gross incompetence and jellyfish in the face of assault on the fabric of societal cohesion. I saw some others rising up to the occasion and meeting their duty to the nation and mankind with uncommon valour and integrity.

These latter men quenched the raging fire and restored sanity to a poisoned atmosphere. And the games went on, and got concluded despite the evil machinations of deranged elements masquerading as men of faith. The youths of Nigeria firmly rejected their divisive promptings and reaffirmed their own belief and commitment to camaraderie and a united nation. Of course, good prevailed over evil, and no matter what, good will always prevail over evil.

Another edition of the NSF that holds special memories for me is the 5th edition held in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital in 1985. Before these games, all others had been held as open games featuring junior, intermediate and senior categories. The last edition before Kwara ’85, held in Benin City in 1981, had been heavily criticised for gross cheating. Some athletes who competed in the lower cadres at Oluyole ’79 in Ibadan refused to graduate to higher cadres two years after. Desperation had set in, turning competition in the games to a do or die affair. In a bid to curb age cheating, the organizers of the games decided to peg it at junior level at Kwara ’85, hoping to also reignite the games as authentic breeding grounds for new talents.

Alas, they were mistaken. Dubious sports managers from the then 19 states engaged in even more desperate and brazen cheating such that grandfathers and grandmothers were passed of as teenagers with the active collusion of technical officials. Indeed, Kwara ’85 effectively sowed the seed of cheating and fraud in Nigerian sports from which the country is yet to extricate itself. The challenges have remained till today, if not worse.

But beyond all these challenges, the games remain a veritable means of raising and blooding new talents. The desperadoes have not reduced. In fact, they are unlikely to reduce. Men of sickly disposition will always find dubious ways of cutting corners and circumventing the rules. The good thing is that the system, as faulty and assaulted as it is, miraculously works. The production mill may grind very slowly but it does grind, thus justifying the ambitions of the games’ founding fathers.

From the 7,227 athletes vying for honours in Abuja, it is inconceivable that all of them would be the dreaded mercenaries that desperate officials unbundle on the games. Some, no matter how small the number, would be new talents. Even if it is only two or three that eventually get to do Nigeria proud in the international arena, the games are worth it. The games must continue. The games should go on.

We expect the sun to shine on our dear Sunshine State in Abuja very brightly. Since the maiden edition in Lagos in 1973, Ondo State had always done reasonably well, including posting a high 4th position twice. Abuja 2018 should not be different. It is the first festival for the Akeredolu regime and the first for Saka Yusuf Ogunleye, the Youth and Sports Commissioner and Wande Fabuluje, the General Manager of the state’s Sports Council. May they have a wonderful baptism and return with a bag full of medals.

Last Line: The Super Falcons coach, Thomas Dennerby is already deceiving himself on the team’s World Cup chances. Hear him: “I think we have to play well against the favourites of the tournament France the host nation. But the other two games against Norway and Korea Republic I think is a very open games, so I think we have a very good chance to come through to the knockout stage.” A coach who needed prayers and luck to overcome feeble oppositions in Africa thinking this way? He is daydreaming.

NSF: The games must go on

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NSF: The games must go on

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