AFTERMATH OF ELECTIONS: Disabled athletes anticipate Sports Festival, return to training

Following the successful June 13 elections of the National Sports Federations, disabled athletes in Lagos have expressed optimism that the National Sports Festival (NSF) which last held five years ago is now very much around the corner.

The elections, which took place at the National Stadium in Abuja on Tuesday, produced winners into various positions, despite allegations and counter allegations by aggrieved contestants following the disqualification of about 177 candidates hours before the polls.

Although it is expected that series of appeals and litigation will follow, disabled athletes at the National Stadium, Surulere, are happy that the elections are finally over and have given way for the Ministry to concentrate on hosting the next edition of the NSF.

Since the 18th edition which held in Lagos in 2012, the Festival, which brings together thousands of sportsmen and women (able and disabled) from across the country every two years, has suffered perpetual delay by the government, as the supposed hosts of the 19th edition (Cross River state) have blamed technical and infrastructural issues for the continuous postponement.

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Barr. Solomon Dalung had in January, 2017 promised, at an event in Delta, that the Festival will be held this year; but there has not been any follow-up comment on that regard. The athletes, however, believe the silence over the past months must be due to the polls and its logistics.

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“Now that the elections are concluded, the Ministry will have the time to talk about festival,” a disabled powerlifter, Kadri told Ripples Nigeria.

“We are all getting ready. Anytime from now we will surely hear about it.”

Some of the athletes, who suspended training for a long time due to the lack of competition, have also returned to the gym with high hopes that the Festival will be hosted anytime soon.

“My coach called me this morning. He said good times are here,” another athlete on clutches said.

“As I walked into the gym, my colleagues were surprised. But I don’t mind. I’m back to resume my training. We have competitions coming.”

Sometime in April, disabled athletes had expressed their frustrations over the continuous postponement of the Sports Festival, saying that “it’s disheartening and unfair” that the government has shown a lack of concern in hosting the biennial games from which they manage to earn some income as sportspersons.

“It’s disheartening. And it’s not fair. It’s been five years since the last festival,” Track & Field (disabled) coach, Shehu Tijani, stuttered when asked how it feels not to have been to a major national competition for so long.

“I really cannot tell what is wrong. As one of the regional coaches, I do attend meetings together with national coaches, sports commissioners and top directors, but we never talk about the Festival. And you know, the festival is like our own Olympic games here in Nigeria, but since the last one, we’ve heard nothing.”

Another athlete, who participated in the Lagos edition and finished fifth place in the men’s powerlifting, added: “To be sincere, I stopped giving my best in training since 2015. Three years of efforts, no gain for it.

“The sacrifices are not worth it. It is frustrating to keep hoping for a competition that never comes.”

He added: “Yes, not everybody will win the gold medal or the silver medal; but the camping allowances, feeding allowances and other consolation prizes can keep our body and soul together at least for some time.”

Started in 1973 and staged at the National Stadium, Surulere, the Sports Festival was originally conceived as a “unifying tool” with the main purpose of promoting peace and cross-cultural affiliation in Nigeria after the Civil War in 1970.

And except in 1983, 1987, 1993 and 1995, the festival has been religiously held biennially until Lagos 2012, and has not been held again since then.

Cross River state, the supposed hosts, are seemingly not willing to let the hosting right of the next edition slide from them.

In March, however, Dalung decried the state’s inability to host the festival, but insisted that the “hosting rights still rests with Calabar until the meeting of the National Sports Council decides otherwise.”

“We shall soon hold the meeting to decide what to do based on the inability of Cross River to host this festival. When we decide, we will let Nigerians know,” he said.

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