Edo 2020: Overcoming all odds for 20th NSF to come alive

April 2, 2021

It is heart-warming to know that after the several postponements, the 20th National Sports Festival (NSF) tagged “Edo 2920” is going underway in Benin.

It is indeed instructive that the government in Edo continued to keep faith in spite of the situation it found itself in.

It showed a strong determination and desire to host the best-ever festival, unlike what was seen in the past when the festival was left with no host for six years.

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Since the hosting right was granted to Edo on Dec 17, 2018 in Abuja, the state strived to keep its promise of presenting athletes with state-of-the-art facilities during the festival.

Determined to deliver on his promise, Gov. Godwin Obaseki handed the festival’s organisation to Philip Shaibu, his trusted deputy and an accomplished athlete as head of the Local Organising Committee (LOC).

The then Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, while announcing Edo as host of the 20th edition, said Edo was chosen after a careful assessment of its bid.

“Edo was chosen after it has clearly shown that it understands what is needed and required of it in hosting the festival.

“The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development will continue to retain its role of technical partners to the festival,’’ he had said.

Dalung disclosed then that Edo beat Delta, Imo and Cross River to clinch the competition’s hosting right.

In his remarks then, Obaseki had expressed the state’s readiness to accept the challenge.

Of course, this was without having the hindsight that the state would have to contend with the challenges of the dreaded coronavirus disease.

The Federal Government, with less than 72 hours to the opening of the festival in March 2020, postponed the games to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The pandemic had attacked the world economy and other spheres of human endeavour, leaving in its stride tales of multiple deaths and worsened health conditions around the world.

NAN findings show that the COVID-19 pandemic caused the most significant disruption to worldwide sports calendar since World War II.

Across the world and to varying degrees, sports events were either cancelled or postponed and, for sports lovers around the world, 2020 has been a major turn-off.

The sports calendar went for a toss, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notwithstanding the COVID-19 challenge, the Edo government continued to make earnest preparations for the NSF.

This was in terms of installation of the state-of-the-art equipment and provision of health facilities to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Gov. Obaseki sometime in March 2020 disclosed that the state had expended over N1 billion to procure medical equipment and building of human capacity to fight COVID-19.

On May 27, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, commended the governor and his deputy and their team for putting in place the Level 3 Bio-safety Molecular Laboratory.

It was cited at the Edo Specialist Hospital In Benin City.

There was was also the 500-bed COVID-19 Isolation and Treatment Centre at the Stella Obasanjo Hospital.

Ehanire thus declared the readiness of Edo to ensure the health of the people of the state was taken good care of.

The minister, impressed with the state of the health facilities, also noted that Edo was ready to respond appropriately to fight COVID-19 in any corner of Nigeria.

Obaseki told the minister that the Level 3 Bio-safety Molecular Laboratory was aimed at handling such diseases as SARS-COV 2 Virus, Ebola virus, Lassa virus and other infectious diseases.

Experts taking the minister’s team round the facility also revealed that the centre could also run samples such as all forms of viral loads, Tuberculosis PCR and Fungi PCR.

Thereafter, the state government never wavered in its commitment to the hosting project as it continued to work with all the relevant stakeholders.

As precautionary measures, both the host state and federal governments agreed on pruning down the number of athletes at the festival from the original 13,000 to about 8,000.

The current Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, thereafter announced the reduction of the number of expected athletes.

Dare also on March 26 in Benin expressed Federal Government’s readiness to support the Edo Government in hosting the 20th NSF after seeing the justification for this.

“In spite of the hiccups being experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government is ready and willing to provide financial support to the Edo Government in hosting the festival between April 2 and April 14.

“The process is ongoing and sometimes it takes time and it is our hope and desire to monitor, follow through and hasten the process.

“We are sure of the process and we have decided to work with the Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu who heads the LOC, to convey to all the 36 state governors and all their sports bodies that by April 2 camp for the festival will open,” he had said.

Dare also gave the assurance that the official opening of the festival would be on April 6, and commended the state government’s commitment in ensuring that the festival was hosted.

“President Muhammadu Buhari will officially declare the festival open on April 6,” he further said.

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The minister disclosed however that there have been and there were going to be some changes to what were earlier planned.

He nonetheless expressed happiness that Edo was ready and adequately prepared with facilities in place to host the games.

“There is no better place to host Nigerian athletes for the Tokyo Olympics than Edo State.

“The state already has the facilities and the national camp will be set up in Edo state,” the sports minister had said.

Dare added that the ministry was working with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID 19 and other stakeholders for the necessary support in terms of vaccination.

On his part, the LOC chairman who made clarification on health precautions put in place said the Main Organising Committee (MOC) has taken some crucial decisions.

One of them is that decision that all athletes/officials from the 36 states and the FCT participating in the NSF must take COVID-19 tests 72 hours before arrival for the tournament.

“All athletes/officials are to take COVID-19 vaccines at least 12 days before arrival for the tournament.

“Athletes/officials are to present certificates and documentation of COVID-19 tests and vaccination before they can be admitted into the Games Villages.”

On facilities on ground, Dare described the facilities at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in the City as world-class.

He said the Obaseki-led Edo government had set a standard in Nigeria with them.

“I can’t ask for more and sports men and women can’t ask for better facilities than what we have here at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.

“The facilities and equipment here excite the athletes as the facilities are comparable to what you find anywhere in the world.

“This is a revamp of sports facilities of global standard never seen before anywhere in the country.

“This is a standard and model that raises the bar for any other state that wants to revamp its sports facilities,” the minister said.

“I am satisfied with what I have seen here and most of our athletes will be ready to compete here and set new personal and world records,” he said.

Nigerian Olympian, Mary Onyali, who was on the minister’s entourage, expressed delight at the facilities at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.

She said they were comparable with what anyone would find in developed nations.

“You can’t find anything better than this right now in the South of Sahara. These facilities are world-class and all you need is for you to be here at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.

“These facilities cater for more than 1,000 athletes a year and you know what that will do for our sports,” she said.

With preparations all top notch, the LOC chairman, who announced that Edo would be presenting 689 athletes and 236 officials, added that “we are hosting to win fair and square.”

The LOC chairman, who also supervised the testing and vaccination of members of Team Edo against COVID-19 ahead of the Games opening, said his committee would not compromise on health protocols.

While addressing the state’s athletes, he said: “We are hosting to win and we must win clean without using drugs or cheats.

“We trust you and know you will make us proud. We will not do anything to give us a bad name.

“Our junior brothers, Delta, are already boasting that they will win. We will tell them that we are their senior brothers and will clinch the most gold medals to win the games.”

Participating athletes from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are expected to compete in 38 sports events spread across about 10 venues within the Benin metropolis.

2012 champions Delta emerged champions of the 19th edition in Abuja in 2018 with 163 gold medals, 88 silver medals and 101 bronze medals to amass a whooping total of 352 medals.

NAN reports that the festival was in limbo for six years as Cross River failed to host it since the last edition tagged “Eko 2012” when they won the hosting right.

Hosting the biennial event was eventually taken up by the Federal Government which hosted it in 2018.

The then Bendel State, now split into Edo and Delta, won the NSF’s inaugural edition in 1973 in Lagos State.

Bendel went on to host the 1981 edition, while the 2002 edition was now won by Edo after the splitting of Bendel.

The “Edo 2020” festival has a leopard as its mascot, named ”Etin” and meaning “Strength”, which has not only in the long run become of significance.

This significance is in the strength Team Edo has been loudly proclaiming it has to dislodge the likes of recent winners Delta and Rivers and win the festival.

More significant is the strength Edo as a state has displayed not in the provision of world-class facilities, but in subduing all other odds for the 20th NSF to come alive. (NAN)

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