The 19th National Sports Festival (NSF) got underway at the Abuja National Stadium on Thursday, but its Opening Ceremony was characterised by a long delay and poor organisation.
The ceremony, which was initially billed to commence at 4 p.m. after the arrival of the event’s Unity Torch, did not start until around 6:30 p.m.
NAN reports that the ceremony was even deserted by 8 p.m. by the athletes and team officials, who ostensibly were tired after waiting for so long.
From the accreditation of athletes, officials and journalists down to the non-availability of electricity supply to some parts of the stadium, the Opening Ceremony was a flop.
But the day had started in the same vein with the shifting of the commencement of the table tennis events at the Indoor Sports Hall to Friday from Thursday morning.
The Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, arrived at the main bowl of the stadium at 5:27 p.m.
Also, festival officials then had to be scurrying round the stadium main bowl pitch to get the stage and sound equipment working.
Crowd control itself was a problem, as the stadium pitch was a mass movement of many who did not have any business on the pitch.
By the time the state contingents were on to the pitch for the march-past, it was a rowdy scene with many of those on the pitch criss-crossing the tracks and causing disruptions.
The oath-taking by athletes and officials, a normal and necessary routine, only came after majority of the athletes had left the stadium.
It did come after the callisthenics display by FCT school students, and the display was perhaps the best activity on the ceremony’s line-up of activities.
The display drew wild and enthusiastic applause from the spectators, and they were soon bored with long speeches by the dignitaries.
In one of the speeches, the FCT Minister, Muhammed Bello, had in welcoming the participants described as unfortunate the inability to stage the festival for six straight years.
“This event is one of our national symbols and sadly it could not be held for six years since Lagos State hosted it in 2012,” Bello said.
The minister however commended the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development for ensuring that “the jinx was broken”.
He also commended the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for making the festival happen, while assuring participants that as hosts the FCT would do everything to ensure a memorable sports festival.
In his opening remarks, Chairman of the 2018 NSF Local Organising Committee (MOC), Olusade Adesola, said it took the MOC great determination to put the event together due to short preparation time.
“When the Minister inaugurated the MOC in March 2018, we had only eight months to plan and execute. There were challenges and it wasn’t easy but here we are today,” he said.
Adesola, who is also the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development, said 7,227 athletes, 710 coaches and 322 other officials are participating in the 2018 NSF.
He also advised athletes to compete clean and fair, while urging officials to be transparent and just.
The opening ceremony ended after 9 p.m., long after the stadium had been deserted by the athletes, their officials and spectators.
Dignitaries at the ceremony include the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and FCT Area Council chairmen.
NAN reports that the NSF was first held in 1973 as a legacy sports event to help foster Nigeria’s unity, and the last edition was held in 2012 in Lagos.
The 2018 edition is holding between Thursday and Dec. 16.