My unforgettable National Sports Festivals (NSF)

My unforgettable National Sports Festivals (NSF)

One of my fondest memories of the National Sports Festival(NSF) is Kwara ’85. Apart from living in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital at that time, it was the first time I got really close to some of the competitors. The daughter of my uncle’s neighbour ( I have forgotten her name now) who I knew quite well because I visited my uncle every holiday, represented her State in tennis.

And then there was school boy super star Olapade Adenekan.

Adenekan was a student of Cherubim and Seraphim (C & S) College, Ilorin. The school is just a few minutes’ walk from mine, St. Anthony’s Secondary School, Ilorin. This guy’s reputation was rising. Every sports follower in the State knew that a world class athlete was in the making. It was very obvious he was destined for the top. So there was little or no surprise when he was picked to represent Kwara State at the Festival.

At the games proper, our school boy hero was the cynosure of all eyes and he did not disappoint. An international star was born.

After the 1985 NSF, Olapade Adenekan became a national athlete but still remained a student of C & S College, turning out for them in school sports competitions and invitational relays.

In 1987, this guy did something remarkable on the dusty tracks of my school during our annual inter house sports competition. As usual, he was part of his school’s team for the invitational relays. Adenekan was the anchor for his team, he received the baton about 10 metres behind the anchor of the leading team, gave his rival a very hot chase and beat him at the tape to win the race for C & S. The picture of that race and the ensuing uproar are eternally etched on my mind.

12 months later, the young man that graced our dusty school tracks was on the tracks at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. That would be his first Olympic games for Nigeria. He got to the semi finals of his individual events which were the 100 and 200 metres but most of us in Ilorin, especially school boys celebrated all his wins up till the point of his exit.

In 1992, at the Barcelona Games, Adenekan had become one of the top sprinters in the world. He got to the finals of his individual events but sadly didn’t finish on the podium. He was 5th in the 200 metres final and 6th in the 100 metres final.

He did not leave the Olympics empty handed though as he won a silver medal in the 4 x 100m men’s relay. Only the United States of America ran faster than Adenekan and his guys (late Kayode Oluyemi, Chidi Imoh and Davidson Ezinwa) in that historic final.

Olapade Adenekan, who is the first Nigerian to officially run the 100 metres under 10 seconds, would go on to be part of another silver medal winning relay team for Nigeria at the 1997 World Championship in Athens.

After Adenekan, another person that made Kwara 85 an unforgettable National Sports Festival for me is Tayo Balogun, my uncle (Uncle T). A top grade broadcaster and one of my earliest media influences.

Uncle T worked with NTA Ibadan for some years and my family had a ritual of visiting him anytime we were on holidays. It was a short trip from Ilorin to Ibadan and we made that trip very regularly.

Many times, Uncle T would take me to his office, allow me see the very cold studios and newsroom, and just generally have a feel of his work environment…he was probably laying the foundation for my future career.

So, my uncle Tayo Balogun came into town (Ilorin) from Ibadan for the NSF, Kwara 85. He was part of the NTA ‘high powered delegation’ and coverage team. He knew I had more than a passing interest in sports so he would pick me up every day on his way to the games…that was how I, unofficially, covered the Festival.

I got up close and personal with some of the star performers at the games…I remember Falilat Ogunkoya, very faintly though, because my interest was more in the football. The members of the historic 1985 Golden Eaglets were the main attraction. We had goalkeeper Dele Abubakar in the Kwara team, Jimoh Balogun (Tyson) was also in that team but they lost to Ondo in their first game and crashed out disappointingly. Balogun was a part of the silver winning U20 team at Saudi 1989.

I remember Nduka Ugbade played for Lagos, a few of the Eaglets played for Anambra as well but the team to beat was Bendel and I think they won the gold medal for the football event.

I watched a lot of the football event but still enjoyed some of the other sports as well.

Kwara ‘85 was indeed a festival. It was colourful. People would gather around courts and playing fields in good numbers to cheer the athletes. It was beautiful to watch…truly unforgettable.

After the Kwara games, I have also had very fond memories of the 2006 Gateway Games in Ogun State. I think I am yet to see a better organized NSF in recent history.

The Gateway games had a lot of buzz and excitement around it. Ogun State had a good strategy and it was hugely successful every step of the way.

Their first move was to create a sense of purpose and seriousness around the presentation of their bid to host the games. They were business minded and thorough, and they put together a very good bid document that wowed everyone. You would think that the State was seeking to host some international competitions like the Commonwealth or African Games.

After winning the bid to host, the Ogun State Government promised there will not be any postponement. All the facilities would be ready and the 2006 NSF would begin on the date announced at the first instance…and that happened.

The marketing drive for the Gateway games was led by a certain Yomi Majekodunmi, a very charismatic and articulate former Managing Director of a financial institution. His knowledge of the private sector impacted positively on the NSF.

Marketing communications experts, outfits and advertising agencies were also part of the aggressive commercial push. Top music producers, Kennis Music, with some of the nation’s A-list artistes in their stable, produced a theme song for the games. That song was made into a jingle that enjoyed tremendous play time on television and radio.

Some sports shows on television and radio had paid segments devoted to promoting the games. Newspapers had their sports pages dominated by stories around the Gateway Games.

Sponsors were falling over themselves to be part of the action. I am sure they got the mileage and value they craved. The media had so much content to share, and sweet stories to tell.

After a stressful day of competition, the athletes and journalists could unwind at the carnival like concerts put together by the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) if they wanted. The whole of the State was agog.

At the closing ceremony, Governor Gbenga Daniel announced that the Gateway Games was a success and declared a profit.

For many years after the Games, Ogun State was the hub of sports in Nigeria. There were good enough facilities that served as camps for football, athletics and so many other sports.

Sadly, instability and a lack of continuity in governance is making this story of the 2006 NSF look like fairy tales.

Now to the present. Will the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, which is just about 10 days away, go ahead?

I have always had this feeling when Edo State won the bid for this edition of the NSF that they could produce something close to what Ogun State did in 2006.

Gov Obaseki and then Sports Min Solomon Dalung

Immediately after his gubernatorial election success in 2016, Governor Godwin Obaseki, at the instance of living football legend, Segun Odegbami, gathered a lot of sports experts and technocrats to Benin City, Edo State for two days of serious brainstorming sessions on how to return the State to the top of the ladder of sports development in Nigeria.

I am not an expert, I am an emerging learner and student but I was privileged to be among those invited. The seminars and breakout sessions were thorough, all areas were covered, and well thought out recommendations arrived at.

The feelers I get is that the Edo State Government will follow those recommendations to the letter. I see that for Edo State, hosting the NSF is not the end in itself, it is a means to an end.

The upgrading and provision of facilities in the State have more far reaching benefits than just the hosting of the 2020 Games.

Massive investment in sports facilities is going on in all parts of the State. Edo wants to regain its position as the Sports Leader in the country and the NSF is to be the launch pad for this.

Sadly Covid happened.

Already disadvantaged because of the pandemic, since spectators, fans and supporters would not be allowed to be part of it, number of events reduced and staggered, what would be the best option for the NSF going forward?

Strong indications are to the fact that Edo 2020 NSF is going ahead….but before the games begin in a few days it will be important for the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force(PTF) on Covid 19, Federal Ministry of Health, the National Centre for Disease Control(NCDC), Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports, Edo State Government and all the other States of the Federation, to ensure there are no unnecessary risks taken and no measures taken lightly in keeping the Games clean and adhering to all Covid 19 safety protocols.

May Edo 2020 National Sports Festival not be a Covid 19 ‘super spreader’ Festival. Amen.

Short Takes.

Sleep well Group Captain John Obakpolor. We lost another top sports person during the week. Group Captain John Obakpolor, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association(NFA).

During an interview with him so many years ago, he told me that he introduced the title, ‘Technical Adviser’ into Nigerian football lexicon. He was very passionate about football and his first love ‘Aviation’. He will be missed.

May God comfort his family and friends and rest his soul in peace…

CAF drama.

So Ahmad Ahmad is back on his seat as CAF president after a favourable but very ‘temporary’ ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sports(CAS). Is this capable of throwing all previous postulations about next month’s elections overboard?

Will there be new alignments and a reworking of relationships and interests…well, only time can tell.. but be very sure of this fact…there are interesting days and maybe some more drama ahead.

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