Olusola Jide Jide
After a week of intense action, passion, and camaraderie, the maiden edition of the National Para-Sports Festival ended yesterday in Abuja with Bayelsa State emerging champions with 31 gold, 30 silver and 32 bronze with a total of 93medals. Oyo came second after securing 24 gold, 15 silver and 21 bronze medals while Kano came third with 21 gold, 13 silver and 8 bronze medals.
However, the sporting event for People Living with Disability (PLWD), the first of its kind in Nigeria, didn’t end without some mixed reactions from the athletes and their officials showered praises on the organisers but lamented over some organisational lapses.
It will be recalled that Nigeria’s para-sports have continued to produce the medals in the Paralympics for the country since Nigeria started participating in the games. Even when their able bodied compatriots fail to deliver, they come to the rescue of Team Nigeria.
Consequently, the decision to domesticate the games so as to harness more talents that can win the nation more laurels has attracted commendations from stakeholders.
The decision to domesticate the special sports led the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to approve the establishment of the National Sports Festival and Para-Sports Department domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development.
Thus, the newly-created department swung into action and organized the festival, which like every other tournament has its success stories as well as areas in which athletes and officials felt things could have been better for a sport played by people with disabilities, including physical and intellectual disabilities.
Our reporter who visited the Moshood Abiola national stadium which hosted most of the events spoke to a cross section of athletes and officials to get their views on the inaugural edition of the sports festival.
Speaking with the Head of Department, Paralympics, Kwara State sports commission, Abdulkadir Abdulkadir, praised the sports ministry for the initiative, but expressed his disappointment over the poor accommodation provided for the athletes.
“We have been looking at how we will introduce this festival for over 30 years. In advanced countries, they have many para-sports, but in Nigeria, we had only 4 which are para-tennis, para-powerlifting, para-wheelchair tennis and para-basketball. But now, we have added more to it like shooting, judo, karate, canoeing, volleyball etc.
“It is a good one for the sports ministry under Sunday Dare to have replicated what they saw during the last Paralympics Games in Tokyo.
“The preparation came late for some states but in Kwara, we had been preparing for a long time. States like Delta, Edo, Lagos, Ogun states didn’t come because the Local Organising Committee failed to send letters to them early. On our part, we talked to our sports loving governor who gave us N15m to come here.
“As for the accommodation at the NYSC Camp in Kubwa, it is very bad. If we are in good accommodation, we will play better than what we are doing now. We are bitten by mosquitoes and there is no light. Again, prior to our arrival, we were told there would be shuttle buses for us but we didn’t see anything,” he concluded.
General Manager, Ondo State Sports Council, Henry Babatunde also lamented over the poor condition of hostels and lack of shuttle buses to convey athletes to their venues.
Mr. Babatunde in an interview with newsmen complained of lapses in organisation of the National Para Sports Festival, stating that lack of vehicles to take athletes to their various venues was telling on them.
He noted that even after day two of the sports festival, some contingents were unable to get their accreditation tags.
Babatunde, also frowned at the unhygienic state of the various hotels provided by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, pointing out that the accommodation facility at the NYSC Orientation Camp Kubwa is infested with mosquitoes and rodents.
He, however, commended the ministry for hosting the National Para Sports Festival, which according to him would give the special athletes a sense of belonging in the society.
In the same vein, Sale Mohammed, a former Nigeria champion in athletics said “It is very important because the athletes are happy to compete and use sports to unite. The athletes are delighted to come together as a family regardless of our tribe, or religion.
“There were many challenges as we know the government is not serious about sports. But our governor did his best to ensure that we come here in spite of a lack of financial resources.
“This festival has brought some people out of the streets where they were begging for money. We had to persuade them and see how they can be given a better life through sports.
“Our accommodation is too far from our venue and there is no provision for athletes to access most of the venues with ease. Next time, they have to address it,” he urged.
Imo state athlete, Favour Nze Tochukwu praised her governor, Hope Uzodinma for his support while lamenting over the hitches experienced in transportation which made them arrive at venues late.
“The governor supports me with a N20,000 monthly welfare allowance for food and other logistics. Here in Abuja, we are faced with transportation challenges because the vehicle comes late forcing us to arrive late for our events. And even when we finish, we get back to the camp late. Our camp is ok,” she stated.
Similarly, a wheelchair racing athlete, Emikuw Emmanuel, representing the FCT said there were initial hiccups but were resolved early. He, however, complained about the timing of the events.
“I am so happy to compete in this sports festival. The game is going well and thanks to the sports minister, Sunday Dare for encouraging us in times like this. I pray God gives him more wisdom to do more for us to become champions.
“There are challenges, but we know how to manage the situation. We had challenges with our camp, but that has been sorted out to the glory of God. We have issues with the late commencement of events which means we close late,” he said.
Meanwhile, over 3145 athletes and officials from at least 22 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) competed in 15 events at the inaugural edition of the National Para-Sports Festival “Abuja 2022’.