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March 1, 2021

Athletes set for protest over sports festival

Athletes set for protest over sports festival

PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI.

• ‘Government Is Toying With Our Future’
There were strong indications yesterday that some Nigerian athletes are weighing the option of staging a protest over what they term as government nonchalant attitude towards the organisation of the 20th National Sports Festival, tagged Edo 2020.

The festival had suffered a series of postponements since it was moved from its initial date of March 2020, due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The Sports Ministry shifted it to December 2020, and later, January 3, 2021, before settling for a new date of February 14 to 28.

But a dark cloud seems to surround the February 14 commencement date, after Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, declared last week the state had no money to host the festival. Obaseki was said to have requested the federal government to provide some billions of naira for Edo State to stage the fiesta.

The Guardian learnt yesterday that some ‘concerned athletes’ held a meeting in one of the South-west states during the week to deliberate on issues concerning the sports festival.

A source hinted yesterday that the athletes, drawn from various sports, expressed their worry over government attitude towards staging the sports festival, which will afford them the chance of testing their fitness level ahead the Tokyo Olympics Games scheduled for July.

According to the source, the ‘concerned athletes’ have sent messages to their counterparts in the various states to prepare for the protest on Wednesday, February 10, if nothing concrete is seen concerning the commencement of the festival.

“This year’s National Sports Festival means a lot for us,” one of the athletes told The Guardian yesterday. “But from the look of things, the government is not ready to stage the event. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, February 14, but as we speak, there is no sign to show that the festival will hold. As athletes, we depend solely on sports to survive, and the government seems to be toying with it.

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“When the festival was postponed in March 2020, the government made it clear that it was as a result of outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Now, things are becoming normal, and sporting activities have picked up. The Nigeria Wrestling Federation held its event in Bayelsa last month, while the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) staged its All-Comers in Akure last week. The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) matches are going on across the country. Why will the government refuse to hold the sports festival, which will give us the platform to test our skills for the Olympics Games? We have to take the bull by the horn. If by Tuesday and no sign that the festival will hold, we will have no choice than to stage a protest,” the athlete stated.

No official of the Sports Ministry and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for Edo 2020 was ready to speak on the issue yesterday.

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