Olympians Deji Aliu and Falitat Ogunkoya have played down the competitiveness of the National Sports Festival following the recent dominance of the event by Delta State, noting that most states are not competing to win, but for participation sake.
Team Delta has won the last six editions of the festival, and the coast looks clear for the hosts of this year’s edition to claim a seventh consecutive title on home soil.
As at Day 8 (Thursday), Delta had taken an unassailable lead with 369 medals: 194 gold, 116 silver, and 59 bronze.
The closest state to Delta, second-place Bayelsa, are far behind with 189 medals (78 gold, 57 silver and 54 bronze medals) while third-place Edo has186 medals (38 gold, 51 silver and 97 bronze).
“Most states are not ready to compete for the festival, lots of states are just competing for the fun of it, not to make an impact, Aliu told The APROKOVIBES.
“Apart from Delta State, other states are just there to make up the numbers and that is sad for Nigerian sports.
“Delta is giving more attention to sports than any other state, good facilities and a sports-loving Governor that supports sports. The state prepares for the sports festival more than other states, the medal table is proof of this.”
Speaking further, Aliu, a member of Nigeria’s bronze-winning men’s 4x100m relay team at the 2004 Olympics, said the festival was not as competitive as it used to be during his time.
“No it was never like this during my days. Then, it was difficult to predict who wins; the chase for medals was intense, every athlete tried to bring their A-game to the table, working so hard. Nobody could just walk in and say he would win. It was very competitive then, but now, it is just about making up the numbers.”
Aliu also faulted the timing of the festival and urged other states to invest more in grassroots sports development, as well as make sports a big business and not recreation in Nigeria.
“Delta’s dominance at the sports festival doesn’t portray anything good for us, the authorities need to go back to the drawing board and try to make amendments,” he added.
“First, the timing of the sports festival is wrong, looking at the sporting calendar. December is not the right time to host a festival, this is like a rest period for the athletes. At this time of the year, most athletes are done with the year’s activities and resting in preparation for next year.
“The sports ministry needs to draw a proper plan that will work with the athletes, then also try to talk to other states to invest more in sports development.
“Many state governors see sports as recreational activities, but the athletes see it as a career. So, we need to motivate the athletes and make it more competitive, or else we will continue to get the results we are getting now.”
Also, Olympic silver and bronze medalist, Ogunkoya, said, “Delta’s dominance at the festival is not good for Nigerian sports, and this is because they pick the best athletes and coaches for the festival, while other state governors do not pay attention to sports.
“During my time, the sports festival was not like this, we participated in many competitions that prepared us for the festival.”