The recent controversy over release of funds for the ongoing 20th National Sports Festival in Edo State, has, once again, raised concerns about our seriousness with matters of national significance.
Three days into the event being hosted by Edo State Government at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin- City, the Local Organising Committee, LOC, raised the alarm that the state had ran out of funds and may be forced to abruptly end the national event unless the Federal Government released funds it promised as part of counterpart funding.
Then on Thursday, April 9, the state government carried out its threat. Deputy Governor Phillip Shuabu, who also doubles as Chairman of the LOC, led government official to shut down offices of the Main Organising Committee, MOC and LOC, stating that vendors and traders were calling for payments which the state government could not meet. It gave the Federal Government Friday, April 9 noon deadline to honour its pledge.
The Federal Government did and the games continued.
But did the government need to come to threats and make headlines in the public over the issue before reason could prevail? We do not think so. It was needless.
The Edo 2020 sports fiesta had all the trappings to make it successful and memorable. Right from the start, both the local and central government jointly fought against the odds that militated against holding the event. Twice, the games were shifted and new dates given. Also, the main actors continued giving assurances that the games were on course: If the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr Sunday Dare, was not justifying why the fiesta would be held, the Edo Government would be reminding stakeholders of its determination to host the event, despite the huge financial implications under the current financial squeeze.
In the face of the ravaging global Coronavirus pandemic with its devastating impact on the economy and social life, that decision to reschedule the games is commendable.
In a country where sports generate such excitement that often overrides, though momentarily, the divisive fault lines created and sustained by the absence of purposeful leadership and baleful policies, the decision to host the event was wise.
It is needless to say that sports have become a unifying factor in Nigeria through the years and the presence of athletes, officials from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja at such annual events continues to foster that competitive and cooperative spirit that binds people from diverse backgrounds together.
Abruptly ending the game, therefore, would have been the last straw on the fragile peace and alarming poverty and general fear in the polity occasioned by the worsening insecurity in the country.
While commending both governments for overcoming the temptation to stop the games midway, we call on the MOC and LOC officials to make the remaining days memorable for all the participants. There had been big talk about inadequate accommodation, poor feeding and irregular and delayed posting of results, obviously because of the lingering financial issues arising from poor funding.
Now that it has been settled, we call on the organising officials to also address these challenges which, if left unaddressed, can contribute to dampening morale and zeal of unfulfilled athletes and turn their remaining days there into a jamboree. That is not what they bargained for and that should not be what they get by any stretch of the imagination.
Going forward, we hope that the funding issue and how it was resolved would have provided important lessons for the organisers and participants alike for future events of this nature. Organising events of such national scale and importance must be done on the basis of trust and understanding and partners must be informed when unforeseen challenges start showing up.
That way, team spirit would prevail all through the event for the good of all- the athletes who would be free to showcase their talents and go on to aspire to higher grounds, the governments who would benefit from upgrading and modernising facilities to global standard as well as officials who would have honed their managerial and organisational skills.