Benin City, the Edo State capital, is agog, as the 20th edition of the National Sports Festival begins on Friday (today), with 8,000 athletes expected to vie for honours in 40 events.
The festival was initially scheduled for March 20 to April 6, 2020 but was called off following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thereafter, the festival suffered three more postponements in December 2020 as well as in January and February this year, due to paucity of funds, with the Edo State Government saying they didn’t have the financial strength to host the national event.
Again, with just few days to the commencement of the festival, It was exclusively learnt that the sports ministry was considering hosting the event in Abuja, as the ministry and the state failed to reach a truce over funds from the Federal Government to stage the festival.
Both parties eventually agreed on terms, and the festival is set to host after initial hiccups.
The main arena for the festival, the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, has been refurbished to world-class standard, with other centres expected to host various events, also in good shape.
The state is ready to start receiving the contingents today, with the Deputy Governor and Chairman, Local Organising Committee of the Games, Philip Shaibu, assuring of the state’s readiness to host a befitting event.
Shaibu told journalists in Benin City on Thursday that the Unity Torch for the Games would arrive Edo on Saturday and would tour the 18 local government areas of the state, before finally arriving at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium main bowl on April 6, where Governor Godwin Obaseki would light it up.
The Games Village opens on Saturday, with athletes and officials expected to present certificates and documentation of COVID-19 tests and vaccination before they are admitted into the facility.
“The visa to be admitted into the Games Village is the evidence that you have taken the COVID-19 vaccine. Athletes at the Games Village will also take the PCR test 72 hours before the commencement of the Games. We are not going to compromise on that as we have agreed with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19,” Shaibu said.
“As a state, we have been able to flatten the curve of the second wave of the pandemic and will not want to use the hosting of the Games to spark off another wave.
“From about 14,000 athletes that were to compete, we have been able to reduce it to about 8,000 athletes. We have a facility prepared for about 18,000 persons, which has now provided opportunity and space for social distancing even in the area of accommodation. We will have a festival that is COVID-19 free.”
On the standard of facilities for the Games, the deputy governor added, “The idea is not to bring world-class equipment for the National Sports Festival, the idea is to expose our young ones in Edo, so that by the time they get used to this kind of facilities, if any of them is invited for any national or international event or other opportunities to participate in any other event, they won’t be looking too naive because these are facilities they are already used to and we want to give them the best.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will officially declare the Games open on Tuesday.