2018 National Sports Festival Ends in Spectacular Fashion as Delta Emerge Overall Winners

The 2018 National Sports Festival (NSF) came to a spectacular end on Sunday in a colourful ceremony that saw the sky lit up with fireworks in the main bowl of the National Stadium, Abuja.

Delta State were handed the winners’ trophy having exhibited an incredible level of superiority in amassing a scarcely believable haul of 163 gold medals, 88 silver and 101 bronze medals to emerge overall winners of the eleven-day event and mark their best ever outing at the NSF.

Edo State who placed third on the medals table were announced as the next hosts of the 20thedition of the NSF, which will be held in 2020 in Benin city.

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, led other government functionaries including the governor of Delta State Ifeanyi Okowa and his counterpart from Edo State Godwin Obaseki at the ceremony.

Other notable names at the event included former Senate President David Mark, former governor of Edo State JohnOdigie-Oyegun and a representative of the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.

A sparse crowd mainly made up of athletes barely filled the cavernous stadium but what was lacking in numbers was more than compensated for by a vibrant atmosphere crackling with excitement stimulated by crowd-pleasing performances by pop-acts like Skales, Seyi Shey and Dice Ailes.

Cultural exhibitions by a group led by Linek Ovie Mensah who along with Dice Ailes were named Youth Ambassadors by the Sports Minister also added colour to the ceremony. The crowd were also treated to a riveting display of calisthenics by students of the Dutse Girls High School, Abuja.

An otherwise uncontroversial event descended into farcical scenes when some athletes from Bayelsa State hoisted aloft placards protesting their ill-treatment at the hands of the Bayelsa State government during the athletes’ march past.

It was an embarrassing scene beamed live across the nation but was a perfect microcosm of the 19th National Sports Festival where stories of record-breaking athletic prowess have been undermined by poor organisation and deplorable tales about athletes’ welfare with virtually every contingent at the festival having complained about unpaid allowances and bonuses.

With the 2018 NSF now at an end, attention must now shift to issues unearthed during the course of the festival chief of which revolves around the organisation and strategic aims of the NSF. The powers that be must determine if the NSF in its present guise is still fit-for-purpose.

With states acquiring mercenary athletes at eye-watering sums to the detriment of younger athletes, the sports ministry must decide if the NSF will remain a jamboree where states participate solely for bragging rights or if it is a veritable celebration of athletic prowess centred on the athletes as chief actors.

As the countdown to Edo 2020 begins, a redefinition of the essence of the National Sports Festival is necessary if it is to serve any meaningful purpose in the long-term development of sports in Nigeria.