The National Sports Festival: A Hasty Decision?

FROM THE GOLDMINE By Enefiok Udo-Obong

Members of the National Council on Sports ended their meeting over the weekend proposing that the National Sports Festival holds from the 3rd December to the 18th December 2020. The Sports Festival has been embroiled in jump start position for a long time now. The biennial event has undergone postponement and hiccups especially the last year.

On the eve of the opening ceremony, the pandemic struck. The National Sports Festival, Edo 2020 had to be suspended as the nation went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 spread. Though the decision was late in coming, it was a smart and sensible one. The virus was not well understood and reports of its deadliness was spreading across the globe.

Since then there has been uncertainty of the dates of the National Sports Festival. When it was reported by the press to have been postponed indefinitely, the Ministry of Sports denied this.

Sports Minister, Sunday Dare had described as false and unfounded news reports that the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival had been postponed indefinitely. There were media reports that the 20th edition of the sports festival would no longer hold this year, but the Ministry told news reporters that it had not made a final decision then.

A statement by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development Media office clarified that consultations were ongoing between the Ministry, the Edo State Government, the PTF on Covid-19, and the National Council on Sports to decide on a new date to host the Festival.

“Like we did by consulting with the PTF on Covid-19, when we lifted the ban on non-contact sports and later contact sports, discussions are ongoing to decide on a new date for the Festival. The fake news that the Festival has been postponed indefinitely must have emanated from a false source.”

The statement further stated: “We are considering a staggered Festival spanning several weeks and athletes in batches, no fans and strict adherence to the Covid-19 protocol. While we are committed to holding the Festival, we do not want to endanger the lives of athletes and officials. Be rest assured that a decision would be taken in line with the government’s guidelines in the best interest of the common good of our sports and the athletes.”

However, with the announcement over the weekend that the festival will be held in the next five weeks, it is seen as a decision not made in the interest of the athletes or sports.

An athlete needs to prepare for a competition for optimum performance. And preparation takes time and process. With sporting activities suspended for the past five months and training facilities locked up due to the pandemic, athletes have not been preparing.

Also, when sporting events are postponed, a proposed date is fixed immediately. This enables athletes to prepare adequately and coaches to design training programmes again so as to make sure athletes peak at the right time. When the competition date is not known early, they cannot plan their meso and micro training cycles. So just announcing competition dates giving only a few weeks was definitely not one decision taken in the interest of sporting performance. When the decision to postpone the Olympic Games was made, the International Olympic Committee immediately gave an alternate date, giving the athletes a whole year to prepare. The National Sports Festival was postponed without a proposed date fixed.

Observers believe that one of the failures to set a date or to postpone the festival for a year (or for a reasonably adequate time) was based on the political uncertainty of the host state. With Edo State going through a hostile and unpredictable election, hosting of the festival seemed only certain when the political climate was settled.

The December announcement seems also like a non-sporting decision. With the Olympics coming in the summer of 2021 and a host of qualifiers still going on, the National Sports Festival would have been a perfect preparation for our athletes. The most convenient date would have been between March and April, the same months that it was previously scheduled to hold. This would have given the athletes time to prepare and also made sure that those going for the international competitions have top quality competition to help them prepare.

Also, reports around the nation do not give full confidence that the COVID-19 virus has been contained. With rising numbers of positive cases around the country and a second wave spreading worldwide, caution may be the best action yet for the health of athletes and fans.

So the promise of making a decision in the interest of sports and the athletes seems to have been broken as there really is no reason to rush the hosting of the festival before the end of the year. Adding to the reasons listed above, the general unrest of youth across the country, state of security, the ‘ember’ month celebrations and the current economic hardship, it perhaps would have been a good idea to make things stabilize before requiring mass movements of athletes and fans from all over the country.

Sometimes the interest of the athletes, sports and even the nation is best served by some caution and delay.