By Femi Solaja
The ongoing #EndSARS protest across the country may have forced the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports and host, Edo State government to postpone the much anticipated National Sports Festival planned for next month in Benin.
The national Olympics, which is in its 20th edition was initially scheduled to hold last March but the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to be postponed indefinitely as the nation joined the rest of the world to battle the virus.
But the lifting of ban on contact sports by Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 early this month, paved the way for the Council of Sports made up of Directors in the Ministry, presidents, coaches and technical directors of all the participating national sports federations to meet yesterday and today in Lagos to propose a new date for the hosting.
However, the wild #EndSARS protests nationwide which have paralysed vehicular movement have forced the Council of Sports to now call for an indefinite postponement again.
Today’s meeting was to deliberate on the date which expectedly was to be November and modalities, including strict health protocol put in place to avoid the spread of the virus within the sporting arenas and their respective camps during the festival.
In a telephone interview with THISDAY last night, a top official in the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports confirmed that the event will not hold again this year but the official confirmation will be made before the end of the month.
“There was supposed to be a physical meeting on Wednesday and Thursday this week and all seem set but the current development in the country has knocked off whatever plans we wanted to put in place in respect of the festival.
“It is most unfortunate with the turnout of events but the Edo event is not jinxed and will hold at the most appropriate time and that could be early next year when all stakeholders would have put behind then the trauma we all went through in this year,” the official explained.
Although the Ministry had the option of a having a virtual meeting, the security implication of hosting the youths of the country in the ‘Heartbeat’ of the nation at this auspicious time was looked into with its attendant security implications.
“The ongoing protest no doubt is an eye opener and the essence of the event itself was to unite youths under a friendly atmosphere but there are more to it now that we can expect.
“The country had gone through this in the past and hopefully this one will go too and by the first quarter of next year, things would have come better and athletes will compete for their respective states without fears,” another top official pointed out.
The recently held governorship election in the Edo State was also a factor that led to the long postponement of the festival.
It was generally believed that if the incumbent governor failed to win re-election, that may lead to restructuring of the Local Organising Committee (LOC).
Apart from Super Eagles AFCON 2022 qualifying match with Sierra Leone scheduled to hold at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, the NSF would have been the first major sporting events to hold the recently refurbished facility.