When Nigeria celebrated its centenary last year in grand style part of the icing on the cake was to be a convergence of athletes for the National Sports Festival, NSF, in Calabar towards the end of 2014.
More than 12,000 athletes from each of Nigeria’s 36 states were expected at the 19th edition of the games dubbed: The Centenary Games. This gathering was not only to compete for honours but also to celebrate the unity and strength of the nation through sports.
Because of preparations for the elections the festival, originally scheduled for November 23 to December 7, 2014, was rescheduled for April this year and then later postponed. That postponement now appears to be indefinite. And so for the first time in a long time the NSF has not been held biennially. The last games were held in Lagos in 2012. Calabar was to play host in 2014 but with the way things are going we might as well forget about the NSF until 2016.
At a ceremony to unveil the games mascot in 2014, Liyel Imoke, former Cross River State governor, said the games “will be a true celebration of all that is great about Nigerian sports as together, we aim to make this event a passionate and vibrant exhibition of the peace, serenity, heritage and generosity of spirit of the good people of Cross River State, not neglecting the real and long-lasting legacy of the festival in form of the sporting infrastructure and the tangible sense of pride and fulfillment amongst the citizenry after a successful hosting of the festival.”
When I interviewed Patrick Ugbe, former commissioner for youth and sports, and chairman of the Local Organising Committee, LOC, early in 2014, it was with exuberant assuredness that he looked forward to the games being held in the Canaan city.
As we sat in his expansive fourth floor office overlooking the lush green landscape and resplendent waters of the Calabar River snaking through the Marina area, Ugbe outlined elaborate plans for the festival that was expected to feature competition in 25 events. Those plans include a new indoor sports center at the U.J Esuene Stadium in Calabar as well as the introduction of some new rules to add more verve to the competition. Among the new rules are plans to allow Nigerian athletes abroad to compete in the games for the first time since the inaugural NSF in 1973.
But as of this writing no athlete home or abroad is sure when the 19th games will hold. And so now the certainty of what would have turned a perfect opportunity for preparing Nigerian athletes for the All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville is up in the air.
As the LOC for the 19th NSF forged ahead with their plans one of the ultimate objectives was for the games to forge unity in the nation, and enhance the goals of the founding fathers of the NSF, whose twin objectives for the festival were:
- Promoting mass participation in amateur sports from the grassroots level throughout the country with a view to discovering hidden talents.
- Promoting healthy and keen competition amongst the competitors and states under a climate of sportsmanship and friendly interaction, thereby enhancing and strengthening unity.
With these important goals it is now imperative for the new administration in Cross River State to give clear signals as to when the games will hold. “Time is no longer available to waste in view of the fact that preparations for the 2016 edition should have started by now,” said Alhassan Yakmut, the director-general of the NSC recently.
Realistically, with the 11th All Africa Games scheduled for September 4 to 19, I don’t see how the NSF can be accommodated in the sporting calendar within the next few months.
If the games do not hold this year, Nigeria would lose its best platform of developing sports and engaging the youths of the nation at the grassroots level.
Another sports issue that has caused some angst among sports lovers is the recent parting of ways between the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, and Stephen Keshi, the former coach of the Super Eagles.
When I first broached this topic in my column last year it was after the Eagles had failed to qualify for this year’s African Cup of Nations, following their 2-2 draw with South Africa. At that time, I had urged both parties to begin anew, because in my humble opinion that was the right “solution for everyone in this matter.”
However, with a new contract signing in April, Keshi was retained by the NFF. But he only lasted one game; the 2-0 win over Chad in Kaduna.
A few weeks after that game Keshi was sacked by the NFF. Although a lack of commitment was cited, no specific reason was given for the sack. The action appears to have something to do with Keshi’s name appearing on the list of candidates who applied to coach the Ivory Coast, although the former Super Eagles coach has feigned ignorance of the matter.
The contract termination brings to an inglorious end of the road for a man regarded as one of the best players and indigenous coach of the Super Eagles.
Keshi has been put through the wringer several times in his tenure as Super Eagles coach and it is only proper now to leave him alone to spend time with his family like he has requested.
Like I mentioned in an earlier column, “Sometimes moving on is the best solution to an intractable situation, and I am sure my good friend, who has sacrificed so much for Nigeria, will find a better and less stressful job.”
It is time for the NFF and Keshi to move on as Nigerian football prepares for a new era with Sunday Oliseh as the new coach of the Super Eagles.
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