The much expected 20th National Sports Festival (NSF) expected to begin on December 3 in Benin City has been moved to next year on the advice of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19.
This new shift of the ‘Nigerian Olympics’ is a vindication of THISDAY’s report last month that the NSF is not likely to hold this year which the Federal MInistry of Youth and Sports Development did everything possible to tag ‘fake news.’
But on Tuesday, a few days after the Ministry of Sports fixed December 3 as the start date for the festival it planned to stage in a staggered manner in conjunction with the Edo State government, the PTF on Covid-19 insisted that the date was no longer feasible due to the upsurge in the pandemic in the country.
It therefore advised the sports ministry and the host stage government to move the festival to early next year.
However, independent sources close to the host state told THISDAY on Tuesday that the postponement was not at the instance of the PTF but the ministry and the hosts(Edo State) that refused to accept the conditions given by PTF before the festival can be allowed to go ahead in the face of the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
The Chairman of the Organising Committee of Edo 2020 Sports Festival who also doubles as the Deputy Governor of the state, Phillip Shuaibu, while speaking with reporters in Abuja on Monday insisted that the PTF that has allowed various bodies to return from the lockdown cannot give conditions that make the festival look like the caricature of the purpose to host the games.
“How can PTF who approved that we can now start contact sports, the same PTF that approves opening of NYSC camps across the country, the same PTF that approves that we can all go to churches and mosques – all the market places are opened…and you say we cannot hold the National Sports Festival.
“In sports we have the capacity to control the crowd that comes to the stadium,” fumed the Deputy governor on Monday afternoon.
Similarly, the CPS to the Deputy Governor, Musa Ebomhiana, who also doubles as the Chairman, Publicity sub-committee of the Edo 2020, frowned at the purported postponement of the sports fiesta.
“I do not know why the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 is playing politics with the National Sports Festival when the state has put everything in place to host the fiesta.”
According to him, “The National Council on Sports held recently in Asaba, Delta State, gave a go-ahead order for the festival to hold,” and wondered why the PTF decided to behave the way it did on Tuesday.
The festival was initially scheduled to hold in March this year before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic caused the indefinite postponement.
With the PTF lifting restrictions on both non contact sports and contact sports last month, the National Council on Sports met in Asaba, Delta State where it was agreed that the festival should hold in staggered format, starting on December 3.
The sports ministry later issued a statement clarifying the ‘new normal’ of 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.
“We are considering a staggered Festival spanning several weeks and Athletes in batches, with 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,” concludes the statement from the sports ministry.
Duro Ikhazuagbe, Adibe Emenyonu