The national sports festival is Nigeria’s own version of the Olympic games and the dream of every upcoming athletes is to have an experience of the games while for others it is an opportunity to write their names in the history books.
However the importance athletes attach to the National Sports Festival, the recent choice of ready-made materials known as contract athletes every festival year has put sports journalists and coaches on both sides of the divide because of its impact on the fortunes of athletes.
The National Sports Festival was first staged in 1973 at the National Stadium, Sururlere by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Sports Commission.
The sports fiesta which was originally billed to be a biennial event has suffered some inconsistencies, traceable to delay in the completion of facilities and recently, the covid 19 pandemics.
The festival, when it was conceptualized in the early 70s by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, was aimed at promoting peace and cross-cultural affiliation in the country after the Nigerian Civil War in 1970 as well as developing sports at the grassroots level, establishing a standard programme for athletes’ succession, encouraging early participation in Sports and engaging young athletes in the Olympic Movement.
Today the dream of the founding fathers of the biggest domestic sporting fiesta on the continent appears defeated according to some Port Harcourt- based sports journalists.
They said over dependence on contract athletes by states is to be blamed for the narrow pool of talents in the country and a decline in the succession chain.
Kingsley Oyero and others think otherwise, they opined, that sports is business and as such there is nothing wrong with the use of contract athletes by states.
They said the use of contract athletes also brings more spark to the games.
The desperation of states to win, most especially those in the southern parts of the country, is the reason for the use of contract athletes hence the development of talents becomes secondary.
The sports journalists who are on both sides of the divide on the use of contract athletes however agreed that the earlier the sports ministry defines its new objectives for the national sports festival, the better it will be for the country.
Moving forward They expect states to put the same energy that they put in engaging contract athletes in the development of talents at the grassroots after the 20th national sports festival in Benin city.