By Salifu Usman, Abuja
Sports and politics have always been intertwined, and it couldn’t have been more obvious during the just concluded 20th National Sports Festival tagged, ‘Edo 2020 Games’, in Edo State. And while it was good that the event commenced with pomp and flair, the fact that the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare opened the ceremony for the commencement of what has been nicknamed the ‘Nigerian Olympics’, but did a disappearing act and was not present at the closing ceremony leaves much to be said.
This has disturbingly raised the more principal issue regarding the effects of boycotting sporting events for political purposes. A source at the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development revealed that “ the Minister decided to cancel his appearance at the closing ceremony due to the antics and hostile attitude of the chairman of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and deputy governor of Edo State, Comrade Philip Shaibu.”
If we remember pointedly, the confrontation between the host state and federal government over the non-release of intervention funds for the Games got to the peak when the Edo State government threatened to shut down the Festival, throw out staff of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development from the Main Organizing Committee (MOC) Secretariat at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.
Though later resolved, the Ministry maintained the LOC chairman continued to heat up the matter in a combative manner, insisting that the federal government is owing the Edo State government.
President Muhammadu Buhari was initially scheduled to declare the Games open on Tuesday April 6, but following his trip abroad for medical checkup, the duty fell in the hands of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. But in a twist of fate, the Vice President could not land in Benin City for the cutting of the tape.
While officially the inability of the Vice President to land in Benin Airport was because of the storm that accompanied the late afternoon rainfall, rumour mill was awash with all manners of postulations that the Number Two Citizen dumped the inauguration simply because Edo State was an opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state, more so that the VP switched to Imo State, APC ruling state to commission some projects executed by Hope Uzodinma administration the same day.
The biannual National Sports Festival (NSF) was conceived in 1973 to promote mass participation in sports and strengthen the fragile unity of the nation following the bitterly-fought civil war of 1967 to 1970. The game also serves as a development and training event to aid athletes prepare for continental and other international meets, but for the leaders to choose such a unifying tool to settle political scores, says a lot!