In the last 12 days, the best of Nigerian youths have been in Benin City fighting for sporting laurels for their states. But beyond the competition on the track and field, as well as halls, the athletes also got the opportunity to meet their mates from other parts of the country. Some made valuable friends that would last them their lifetime, just as many used the festival to break into big time competition.
The Edo 2020 National Sports Festival has offered all that is good of big time competitions, just as the ugly spectacles were not left out. But in all, the athletes say the competition has given them many things to be thankful to the Federal Government and Edo State for.
Looking back on his team’s outing in Benin, Anambra State Sports Commission Chairman, Mr. Tony Oli, said the Festival has taught his state some lessons that would be useful in preparing for future events, adding that competitions in the games brought out the best in some of his young athletes.
Team Anambra won five gold, eight silver and 20 bronze medals, totalling 33 in all at the festival. It is an improvement on the team’s feat at the Abuja 2018 festival.
Oli said the festival was not only about winning medals, but to make an impact that will eventually launch any discovered athlete to greatness in the nearest future.
“For me, the philosophy of the National Sports Festival is to come and have effective participation and not necessarily to win medals at all cost and I do tell my people that. And for that reason, my joy is that we came here and improved on our record at the 2018 edition. Most importantly, we have two major events that have placed Anambra on the map of the Nigerian sports history.
“Our athlete, who took part in the javelin event on Monday, recorded 73:01, which is a national record. He was in Abuja in 2018 where he won silver with a throw of about 69 metres distance, which is an average. So, to move from there to 73 metres, it means he is on a progressive movement. So, I think we are on a steady growth,” he said.
Apart from the javelin star, the Anambra boss is also excited by the performance of teenage gymnast, who defied her young age to excel in Benin. He said, “the little girl, Stephanie was in 2019 at the National Youth Games at UNILORIN, Ilorin, that was where we introduced her to the national body and there she made her mark. She won one silver and a bronze medals.
We tutored her and here we are at the national level competing with adults. For us, these two medals are worth more than 100 medals because that is what the Nigerian sports industry needs. Pick them young, groom them and these two individuals if the country is serious, should be groomed and positioned for the next Olympics.
“Not this Olympics, because the next one is already at hand, but you take them in the next four years, and they become national assets. So, for me, Anambra State has had an impressive outing at the 20th National Sports Festival in Benin City, Edo State,” he stated.
To Nasarawa State Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development, Othman Bala Adam, Edo 2020 has shown that with adequate preparation, athletes no matter where they come from will excel given the same opportunities as their opponents.
Nasarawa State won four gold, three silver and 11 bronze medals, totalling 18 medals. It is the best result the state has come out with in the history of the Festival. And Adam attributes the feat to the support by Governor Abdullahi Sule to sports development.
“I want to say without any fear of contradiction that this is the first time in the history of Nasarawa State we will have four gold medals.”
While there were good stories to tae home from Benin City, there were also ugly scenes that threatened the integrity of the competition.
First, was the discovery that one of the states brought in a Kenyan to feature in long distance races in their bid to win medals at all cost at the Festival.
Although the incident was treated instantly, with the four medals given to the state withdrawn, it left a sore taste on the buds of sports purists, who have been fighting to clean up Nigerian sports.
Then there was the mass brawl during the last leg of the boxing event, when hoodlums suspected to be supporters of Team Ogun State, invaded the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre wielding dangerous weapons following the defeat of their fighter by a Lagos State boxer.
The fight between Lagos State’s Shittu Afolabi and Kasali Abayomi in the 52kg category ended in 2-2 split decision but the referees adjudged the Lagos boxer the winner due to his technical prowess during the fight that lasted three rounds.
This, however, did not go down well with Team Ogun which mobilised officials, supporters and their boxers to descend on the referees and other boxing officials, throwing chairs, tables and other dangerous weapons even in the presence of the state’s Commissioner for Sports seated as one of the special guests.
Team Lagos won five gold, two silver and a bronze medal on the final day of the boxing event. On the final day of competition, Team Delta won gold in the men’s 4×400 relay, took the silver medal in the women version of the race and got bronze in the mixed 4×100 metres relay.