Photo : •Dambe action at the Games
The 18th edition of the National Sports Festival tagged Eko 2012 comes to an end today, Sunday, December 9, after 13 days of fierce competition among the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
The states competed in a total of 32 events that included Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Boxing, Chess, Cricket, Cycling, Football, Gymnastics, Handball, Hockey, Kickboxing, Judo, Scrabble, Squash, Swimming, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, Volleyball, Weightlifting and Wrestling.
And in special events like Deaf Sports (Athletics and Table Tennis), Para-Athletics, Para-Power Lifting, Para-Table Tennis and in traditional sports such as Abula, Ayo, Dambe, Kokawa and Langa.
Team Rivers came to the Games as defending champions, having hosted and won the 2011 edition tagged the ‘Garden City Games’ and held in Port Harcourt.
In the first three days, the Rivers team appeared to be heading for a defence of its title, but was stopped by Team Delta that is a perennial winner of the Games.
Delta took over the baton from the Day 3 and topped the medals table all the way to the very last day. The performances of Team Delta athletes have been nothing short of impressive at the Games. The gap between it and second placed Rivers had been created and maintained as far back as Day 5. By Day 8, it was already leading Rivers with six gold medals.
By Day 10, Delta had pulled far away from Rivers with an astounding 18 gold medal gap by the start of events of the day. On Thursday, December 6, Delta had garnered an impressive total of 163 medals which comprised 64 gold medals, 58 silver and 41 bronze. Team Rivers was second with 115 sum total. This included 46 gold medals, 31 silver and 38 bronze.
As at the beginning of events on Day 12, about 24 hours before the end of the Games, Team Delta had an impressive haul of 197 medals that comprised 79 gold medals, 70 silver and 48 bronze. Rivers was second with 140 medals. These included 54 gold medals, 40 silver and 46 bronze. Lagos was third with 112 medals that included 34 gold medals, 32 silver and 46 bronze.
At the Games, the competition appeared to be just between the two South-South states that outshone every other team at the event including hosts Lagos that was always third. The two top teams showed their prowess in events like swimming, combat sports and athletics. But it must be stated that Rivers had a field day in the athletics, especially the 100m dash where its athletes recorded great victories over the Deltans in both the male and female events.
While the battle at the head of the table was between these two, there were other battles within the top 10. Teams Edo, Bayelsa, Ondo and Plateau were often at the other’s necks on the log until Edo and Bayelsa pulled comfortably away by Day 10. Ondo remained ruler of the rest of the top 10 but always had to watch out for Plateau which had set its sights on a top four finish and was in an almost belligerent manner, garnering medals.
Teams Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Cross River, Kano and Ebonyi held sway at the middle of the log while Adamawa, Sokoto, Ekiti, Yobe and Taraba wallowed at the bottom of the log with as few as four medals that comprised two silver and two bronze medals even as at Day 12, 24 hours before the close of the Games.
Going into the last day of activities today before the closing of the Games at around 6 p.m. today, there is not likely to be much difference in the medals table. Given the performances of the various teams in the last 12 days, it is doubtful if there would be a major change today. Indeed, it would be nothing short of a miracle and a shocker if the top five occupied by Delta, Rivers, Lagos, Edo and Bayelsa in that order were to change.
Furthermore, while from all the above it would be safe for many people to say that the top three has been decided, especially with most events having been concluded on Saturday and only a handful left to be completed today, sports could be very surprising at times.
While the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and Main Organising Committee (MOC) have jointly praised this edition of the Games as being one of the best in the history of the fiesta that started in 1973 incidentally in Lagos, a handful of occurrences during the fiesta shows that it is still business as usual as far as certain un-sportsmanly issues are concerned.
Leading is the issue of the using of mercenaries and ineligible athletes. Team Anambra was sanctioned after one of its athletes, John Baptis, was discovered to actually be a Camerounian. The three gold medals the state won in the weightlifting event via the athlete were withdrawn.
Team Ondo’s female squad was sanctioned in the hockey event for fielding ineligible players. Hosts Team Lagos was disqualified from the female table tennis event and its player, Fatima Bello, was handed a three-year ban by the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) for switching allegiances between states without due knowledge of the Federation.
A statement signed by the NTTF President, Kayode Abdulwahab-Omotose and Oguntade announced Bello’s suspension from all table tennis events for three years.
The statement read: “At an emergency meeting of NTTF held on Saturday December 1, on the fraudulent by Fatimo Bello who took up an appointment with Delta State Sports Council from April 2010 to date and collected salary up till September 2012. After thorough investigation, the Federation unanimously agreed that Bello of Lagos State has been suspended from all table tennis event for three years with effect from December 1, 2012.”
One other top issue that continued unabated at the Games was that of poaching and improper switching of states by athletes, often with the encouragement of the receiving states. Ekiti State had reasons to protest at the Games in Lagos after it discovered many of its athletes switched teams at the last minute.
Chairman of Ekiti State Sports Council, Prince Ade Adetola called the attention of the National Sports Commission (NSC) to what he described as this unfair practice by some states.
“As I speak to you here as Chairman of Ekiti State Sports Council, I have seen more than 20 of my athletes, not only by origin but by birth and training that were on the pay role of Ekiti State Sport Council who just disappeared with one excuse or the other only for them to appear in Lagos and be competing for either Rivers, Delta or Lagos State.
“I think the authority behind NSF, I mean the National Sports Commission needs to look into it and do something about it to save our sports. It does not do us good as a nation if protests mar competitions like this. There are many protests here and there as you can see many athletes being banned at this festival due to eligibility issues.
“The festival comes every two years and few months to the Games, somebody would come with money and we know all the states are not equally rich, like my own state is number 35 on the federal allocation list. So, it is demoralising when you work hard to raise athletes, only for people to just come and enrich their contingents with athletes that you have trained,” he told journalists bitterly. Ekiti was 24th on the table as at Saturday.
But on the good side, few federations have discovered some talents and handed them over to the NSC in accordance with the one of the aims for which the festival was created several years ago. Also, interesting traditional sports like Dambe got more recognition although it remains to be seen if the Games would be adequately taken up for development to international standard by the NSC.
In the words of Adetola, the NSC needs to do more to rescue the situation or the National Sports Festival could end up as just another tournament in which winning is all that matters and the real spirit of the Games is abandoned.
So, as the Games come to an end today, while Lagos has been lauded for its timely and inspirational hosting, there is the greater task of ensuring that the sports festival delivers on its objective at the next edition in 2014 because as for this year, the above pointers imply that it may have missed the success mark by a long shot still.