The 18th edition of the National Sports Festival (NSF), tagged Eko 2012, has ended in Lagos with Team Delta predictably emerging the overall winner of the sports fiesta. The Delta State Team emerged victorious with 116 gold, 97 silver and 75 bronze medals. Defending champion, Rivers State, placed second with 76 gold, 71 silver and 71 bronze medals, while host team, Lagos State, got third position having won 65 gold, 47 silver and 71 bronze medals. Edo State, one of the favourites at the event, came fourth with 25 gold, 23 silver and 44 bronze medals while Bayelsa State finished in the fifth position with 19 gold, 17 silver and 22 bronze medals.
With this result, Team Delta won the N20 million promised the best overall team at the competition by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan while Rivers State and Lagos State will receive the president’s largesse of N15 million and N10 million respectively for emerging second and third in the competition. Delta State won the competition for the fifth time.
It won at Bauchi 2000, Edo 2002, Abuja 2004 and Kaduna 2009. Its latest victory has confirmed the sports supremacy of Delta State in Nigeria. Eko 2012 has come and gone but memories of the spectacular event, especially its colourful opening and closing ceremonies, will continue to linger. Notwithstanding that the opening ceremony and some of the sporting events witnessed low turn out, Eko 2012 can be adjudged as one of the best in the history of the festival. One of the notable discoveries of this tournament is a 13-year-old female swimmer, Ayomide Bello, who won three silver medals for Team Lagos.
Another surprise of the competition is Team Jigawa’s emergence in 13th position on the medals table. The team, despite obvious handicaps like lack of standard training facilities and exposure, was able to haul three gold and six bronze. Its performance remains the best from the North in the competition. The insecurity in the Northern part of the country may, however, have affected the performance of many Northern states. Apart from Imo and Ebonyi States, the South-East did not fare well in this competition. The zone’s poor showing at the sports festival is a pointer to the long years of neglect of sports in the zone by successive administrations.
It is a pity that none of the South-East states has won the competition since its debut in 1973. The South-East was not in the game at all. Besides Lagos State, all past winners have come from the present South-South geo-political zone. The zone is unarguably the sports orbit of Nigeria. Generally, the standard of the competition was very low. The tournament did not throw up the expected array of new talents. Most of the champions produced cannot face their foreign counterparts in terms of quality of performance.
The times the athletes returned in most of the events were below par. The equipment used for some of the events was far below international standards. In addition, there are allegations of poor officiating while poaching, which has been outlawed in the competition, reigned supreme. Poaching worked terribly against the discovery of new talents as states hired athletes that could win them medals. This practice vitiates the spirit of the games.
It is ironical that a sports event of this magnitude took place in Lagos and none of the events held at the National Stadium, Surulere. It is an indictment of our maintenance culture. It is shameful that those in charge of sports in the country cannot maintain such sports edifices like the National Stadium. There is urgent need to overhaul sports in Nigeria. Schools’ sports competitions should produce athletes for the National Sports Festival.
That is how new talents can be discovered and new records set. We recall that Hakeem Olajuwon and Mary Onyali-Omagbemi were discovered at past National Sports Festivals. But poaching, importation and buying of talented athletes are now the order of the day. This will definitely work against discovery of new talents and should be stopped. We praise Lagos State government for the successful organisation and hosting of this festival.
We congratulate all the winners and all other participants for the spirit of sportsmanship and friendship displayed during the competition. Let all states be represented by their indigenes at the festival. That is the only way we can build our sports and discover new talents that can be nurtured for future international sporting events. Again, let those knowledgeable in sporting matters be charged with the management of our sports.
Our sports fortune is on the decline because round pegs are put in square holes. Until this is reversed, there will be no end to our poor showing at sporting events, globally. Let the 2014 host, Cross River State, correct some of the anomalies of this year’s edition and improve on the standard of the games.