By Ogunbayo Oluwaseyi (INN), Ogun
The 2022 National Sports Festival (NSF) scheduled to hold from November 28 to December 10 in Asaba, Delta State has generated mixed reactions following exclusion of Para Sports and Deaf sports for the first time in the history of the country’s biggest sports fiesta.
This unwelcome development made aggrieved Para and Deaf athletes to storm the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, in hundreds to lock up exit and entrance gates – thus preventing staff of the sports ministry from entering the complex.
They also prevented vehicles from plying the ever busy Funsho Williams Road, Surulere, Lagos, and not even the arrival of policemen from Barrack Police Station nor appeal by the liaison officer of the ministry, Nkana Nbora, could prevail on the protesting athletes who carried on their protest for over five hours.
The aggrieved athletes described the exclusion of Para and Deaf athletes from the forth coming National Sports Festival (NSF) by sports minister, Sunday Dare as an act of hatred and segregation of the highest order.
They carried strident placards which variously read: “We need equal rights”, “We’re human beings just like you”. “Stop the discrimination”, People with Disabilities in this country deserve a better life”. Do not send us to the streets, etc.”
The aggrieved athletes argued that they cannot be used and dumped by their country and that it is high time the ministry gave more attention to para sports. Sports Minister Sunday Dare was urged to do the right thing.
According to the protesters, Deaf athletes have been participating in the National Sports Festival since 1996 and they queried why it should be stopped now despite their impressive records at the competition.
The protest caused heavy traffic on the ever busy road and left commuters stranded for hours.
Nurudeen Olayiwola Badmus, a deaf athlete explained that it is wrong for the Sports Ministry to brand some sports optional, noting that all sports should be compulsory to give everybody a sense of belonging.
According to him, deaf athletes have been participating in the National Sports Festival since 1996 and have won many medals for the country at the Deaflympics Games. He thus wondered why they should now be denied participation in the biennial festival.
Badmus called for the president’s intervention as they have been training for the festival and looking forward to be in Delta State to represent their various States. The unfortunate announcement, he believes is capable of impacting negatively on the development of the country’s sports.
Meanwhile, President of Deaf Sports Federation of Nigeria, Alhaji Suleiman Dagbo Saka has lamented the inability of the Sports Ministry to come clean on the issue. Dagbo noted that he sent a letter to the Ministry as requested but nothing has come out of it as at time of filing this report.
Akambi Kazeem, a tennis player on wheel chair expressed shock that the Sports Ministry invited some neighbouring countries to be part of the festival while barring special athletes. This, according to him, is a sign that the Government does not care for its citizens.
Kazeem’s words: “It is very sad that we’ve been training for the Sports Festival for many months now, only for the Ministry to de-list our sports. The most annoying thing is that they went ahead to invite athletes from some neighbouring West African countries to be part of the Games while shutting us out. Such action bespeaks segregation of the highest order.
” Many of us have won laurels for the country and depend on sports to take care of our family and personal needs. That’s why we are appealing to President Mohammadu Buhari to wade into the matter and call the minister of Youth and Sports Development to order.
Olasupo Temitope, a swimming/ para canoeing athlete noted that by this unpopular action, the Sports Ministry isn’t encouraging special athletes, not minding the medals they have won for the country at the Commonwealth and Olympics Games.
Olasupo said; “Sports Minister, Sunday Dare and organizers of the National Sports Festival have by their action shown they’re not interested in developing special sports in the country.
How can one explain Nigerian athletes being barred from participating in the biggest sporting event in the country while athletes from other countries are invited to be part of it? Such amounts to insensitivity and must be checked because it not only discourages us from participating in sports but also makes us feel like second class citizens in our own country.”
“You should also understand that most of us are unemployed and depend solely on sports for survival. That’s why we are rejecting the discrimination.
The aggrieved demonstrators vowed that the protests will continue in all 36 States of the Federation and FCT.
Recall that the last National Sport Festival, Edo 2020 held last year and included Para and Deaf Sports.