EXCLUSIVE: 20th National Sports Festival Cancelled?
By Amaechi Agbo
There are indications that the 20th edition of the National Sports Festival, NSF will not hold this year, BestChoiceSports.com.ng can exclusively report.
Tagged “Edo 2020″, the festival otherwise referred to as “Nigeria’s Olympic” had suffered series of postponements before the looming cancellation.
It was understood that the decision to go for cancellation of the festival was not unconnected with Edo State’s unwillingness to host the festival due to ‘lack of fund’.
Edo State was announced as the host state for the 20th edition of the festival on December 16, during the closing ceremony of the 19th edition held in Abuja from 6th to 16th December, 2018.
In February 2019, the ministry of youth and sports development signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU with Edo state on the hosting of the festival.
Since then, efforts were not spared by Edo State government in giving facilities in the state a facelift including University of Benin as well as Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.
However, with the novel COVID-19 pandemic which hit the country in February 2020, the Festival suffered several postponements before it was finally scheduled to hold from February 14 to 28, 2021.
The looming cancellation of the 20th edition of the festival will not come as a surprise to diserning stakeholders.
Following the indefinite postponement of the festival in March 2020 by President Mohammadu Buhari, a new date for the festival was fixed for December.
However, the new December date was later shifted to January. Unfortunately, the meeting leading to the postponment of the festival to January 3 – 17, did not go down well with the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki.
Sources close to the governor said that he was furious over the rescheduling of the festival in a meeting the host state was not part of.
Consequently, the Festival, after another meeting in December, was ‘finally’ scheduled to hold in February from 14 – 28.
But that is not the case as the 20th edition of the festival has been postponed till 2022.
Edo State Backs Out Of The Hosting?
Late January 2021, 26th, to be exact, the Edo State Governor declared that it does not have money to host the festival any more.
The Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, said the state was ready to host the National Sports Festival but expressed fear of lack of funds to host 11,500 athletes and officials at the 20th edition of the sports meet in Benin City.
Obaseki who disclosed this when he received members of the Main Organizing Committee (MOC) from the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development (FMYSD) and the Local Organising Committee who paid him a courtesy visit in Benin City on January 26th, said Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the finances of the state to continue with the hosting.
He noted that the impact of the virus might have a negative effect on hosting the game in the state.
Obaseki said: “Since March last year, you know the financial strength of most states. For us as a state, we are ready to host but don’t have the funds at this point in time to host the games; this is the plain truth.
“If the Federal Government however in its wisdom decides to bring the funding for the games, we will be too willing to host the country,” he said.
Bestchoicesports.com.ng gathered that the festival has been slated to hold in 2022 or later in the year as the ministry of youth and sports is making frantic efforts to salvage the situation.
Sports Minister Meets President Buhari For Assistance
The minister of youth and sports, Sunday Dare said the ministry is not losing sleep over the festival as it has approached the federal government for bail out.
The minister who discloses this on his Twitter handle added that the ministry is waiting for feedback from the federal government.
“The NSF is again right around the corner.
“Edo 2020 is mindful of the issues around COVID-19 second wave and funds.
“Up to speed on the COVID-19 protocols. We are soldering on to deliver on the festival.
“We have approached the FG for financial support. We await a feedback,” he said.
It was gathered that the proposed grant may not come in time for the festival to commence as scheduled on Sunday 14, February, therefore the federal government is proposing a new date.
Sources told our correspondent that the federal government is predisposed to releasing fund for the festival but noted that the fund may not come early for the festival to commence as stipulated
A source said that while the government has not openly said that the festival is postponed or cancelled is a concern.
“Normally they are to make a statement today but they said that the minister has visited Buhari, the President.
“And the feelers is that he got approval that the thing (festival) will hold but he has to move it. That the money will not come in on time.
“So put Edo together and that one together, you will understand the body language.
“Secondly, the one that will be a big problem is that Edo State Government has invested so much in the University of Benin. Now the University is saying they are not going to vacate the students because of the festival,” the source said.
The source noted that the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee and Deputy Governor of Edo State, Mr Philip Shaibu is said to have expressed worry over the uncertainties surrounding the festival.
Efforts to get the Deputy Governor’s views on the development were unsuccessful as he did not pick calls put across to him neither did he respond to an SMS enquiry sent to him as at the time of filing this report.
Calls made to the minister, Sunday Dare; his SA and the Media Aide at the time of this report, were unanswered.
Sources are confident that the February 14 – 28 dates of the festival are not feasible.