Inclusion and Deaf Rights Activist, Olatunji Ayodele Rebecca has written an open letter to Sports Minister, Sunday Dare over the exclusion of Para-athletes and Deaf sportspersons from the upcoming National Sports Festival, 2022.
Rebecca, Founder of Collaborating Hands, CODAH, described the exclusion as discriminatory. She went on to urge the Minister to reconsider his decision and demanded the right of the marginalized athletes to equal participation at the upcoming National Sports Festival.
According to her, a sizeable number of Deaf athletes and Para-athletes depend on athletics for their dignity and livelihood.
The activist wrote: “I am constrained to make this an open letter to you because of the situation currently surrounding the upcoming National Sports Festival.
“Secondly, the first few letters that were sent to your office didn’t get any response, hence the protest by Para and Deaf athletes in Lagos State on the 17th and 19th of September, 2022.
“Thirdly, we require a swift, favorable response as the National Sports Festival is almost here.
“I write not to teach you your duty as a minister in this office but to plead with you to reinstate Para and Deaf Sports in the upcoming National Sports Festival 2022.
“In the last 3 years, you have used your office to promote and enhance Youths and sports development in Nigeria. This has birthed many initiatives which are inclusive of people living with disabilities – the most recent being the first Para-Sports Festival.
“We appreciate all your efforts so far and do not take your inclusive act for granted.
“However, Deaf athletes and Para-athletes are at the moment disappointed by the sudden removal of all their sports from the National Sports Festival. This has crushed their hopes of participating in a National sports event of renown.
“We all know that the National Sports Festival happens every 2 years and what this means to the Deaf athletes and Para-athletes is that an opportunity to showcase their abilities as responsible citizens as well as meet with abled athletes all over Nigeria is being denied.
“We are aware that no other sporting event in Nigeria can boast of the recognition and compensation the National Sports Festival commands.
“Yes, I agree that they now have Para Sports Festival – a sporting event dedicated to athletes with Disabilities which started in April this year.
“But I heard some States couldn’t participate because there wasn’t enough budget to cater for all athletes.
“Also, the newly introduced Para-Sports Festival came with little or no incentives. Nor was it given much attention in comparison to the National Sports Festival.
“I know you have good intentions with the Para Festival, however the first edition wasn’t entirely inclusive so shouldn’t it be considered a test run till it measures up?
“The Para-Sports Festival isn’t enough compensation to exclude these athletes from the bigger stage knowing that they have been training for months with no major income as is offered by the opportunity to earn through participating in the National Sports Festival.
“The practice of sports is a human right and I believe every individual must have the possibility of practicing sports without discrimination of any kind in the spirit of the National Sports Festival initiated by General Yakubu Gowon in 1973 as a rallying point for national unity and cultural integration
“Excluding certain groups or sports will do nothing to promote the aforementioned goal.
“The National Sports Festival should be a sport for all and splitting it into Abled-bodied Games and Para-Games is in itself discriminatory. This should be a sport for all – abled or disabled.
“Para-athletes and Deaf athletes have been participating in the National Sports Festival since 1996 and have won many medals – at home and abroad.
“They have always made Nigeria proud and the most recent wins at this year’s Commonwealth Games is a testament to their commitment
“So why now is their participation in a national event considered inconsequential whereas athletes from other West African countries have been invited? This alone sends a strong discriminatory message.
“Not forgetting that these people have families to feed, children’s school fees to pay and rent to settle – amongst many other bills and considering they haven’t been excluded from paying bills, when next will they earn?
“I hope you are aware that most of these athletes are only employed as contract staff, which means payment is dependent on their success in sports events like the National Sports Festival.
“So if you say they can’t participate this year, do you mean they will not earn for another two years?
“I therefore plead again that you to look into this matter of importance because many Deaf and Para athletes’ livelihood and dignity are dependent on this decision.
“I join the Deaf and Para athletes to demand their rights to equal participation at the National Sports Festival, and together, we hope for your favorable response.”
Earlier, INN had reported how the exclusion of athletes with Disabilities from the National Sports Festival led to a two-day protest in Lagos and Edo States.
Police had to fire tear-gas canisters at the protesters to disperse them and restore stability.
The prestigious National Sports Festival is scheduled to hold between 28 November and 10 December.