The 20th edition of the National Sports Festival was Monday expectedly postponed to April 2021 after debate of the National Council of Sports meeting held via Zoom.
The festival was scheduled to hold from February 14 to 28 in Benin City, the Edo State capital, before it suffered its latest postponement.
General Manager, Ondo State Sports Council, Babatunde Henry, who was part of the meeting said: “We have come to the end of the meeting, the National Sports Festival has been postponed again till April.”
“We have not arrived at a definite date, but we are going to look at a convenient date in April 2021.
“The decision was accepted by all the members of the council, that it should be shifted, considering the possibility of raising funds. You know the Federal Government has promised to assist Edo State in terms of funding and the money cannot be ready in the next one week.
“So, it has to be shifted from February to April, so that there will be enough planning for the Games and ensure that it is postponed again. But that April is very sacrosanct,” Hendy added.
Another source, who was at the meeting, but spoke on the condition of anonymity, also confirmed the postponement.
“The Federal Government is favourably looking at and disposed to holding the NSF in April subject to availability of funds.
“This postponement is regretted. It was occasioned by financial difficulties and accommodation logistics because students (of the University of Benin, one of the festival venues) have resumed. The meeting is over.”
A press release by Special Adviser to the Minister John Joshua-Akanji on Monday evening revealed that Commissioners of Youth and Sports from the 36 states of the federation and Directors of Sports and the deputy governor of Edo state were in attendance.
This recent postponement was occasioned by the second wave of the pandemic and the paucity of funds.
The Edo Government had requested for financial support due to the cost implications it suffered arising from the postponement.
The accommodation prepared at the University of Benin was no longer available for the athletes because students had resumed.
Akanji said Council resolved that it was best to shift the Festival to a later date due to financial challenges raised by the host state, accommodation problems at the University of Benin due to the resumption of academic activities which would affect the camping of athletes.
According to the resolution of the council, the federal government, Edo state and the council on Sports agreed that the Festival will now hold in April since the earlier February date was no longer feasible.
According to the Youth and Sports Minister, “We have seen the Sports Festival postponed three times. As we speak now, most of us should have arrived Edo state getting ready for February 14, Sunday to start the Edo 2020 Sports Festival.
“But flowing from our last meeting a few things came up. There was an undertone that the postponements have occasioned some financial difficulties and strains on the host state, and I dare say even on our part as the Ministry the postponements have also occasioned some financial difficulties.
“On the strength of this similar experience myself, His Excellency the Governor and also Deputy Governor have bounced Ideas, the conversation, back and forth. Of course, when December came, we know that almost everything stopped but it was agreed that it was important to approach the Federal Government for financial support.
“I’m glad to report that the Federal Government is favorably disposed to assisting Edo state to host the Festival. In the next few days, we hope to push through the document through the Ministry of Finance to get the financial support to get the Festival on track. The February 14th date was not cast in stone as we wanted to avoid another postponement. But we must agree that the February 14th date is no longer feasible.
“The importance of the Festival cannot be over emphasized. The idea of not holding the Festival should be thrown out completely. It is an Olympics year; it would help shape the athletes for the Olympics.”
The Chairman of the Main Organizing Committee and Edo state deputy governor Comrade Philip Shuaibu said, “I agree the Festival should hold before the Olympics to get our athletes fit and to secure points they require for the Olympics. Every postponement goes with a cost, but we are totally committed to hosting the festival. We are very expectant of the support of the Federal Government to make the Festival a reality.”
Media houses including Patmos Media Line had earlier reported that Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, complained that the state lacked sufficient funds to host the sports festival due to the effect of COVID-19 on the finances of the state.
The sports festival had suffered epileptic postponements from March 22 to April 2, 2020; then December and February 14-28, 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
About 11,000 athletes are expected to grace the sports festival.