From today till December 9 and beyond, the 18th National Sports Festival, tagged Eko 2012 would engage the attention of sports enthusiasts and stakeholders as it holds a torch on the direction of sports in the country in the foreseeable future.
The Lagos State government is determined to make the competition a memorable event. Governor Babatunde Fashola, an avid sports lover, has ensured that all the six venues for the festival are upgraded and infrastructural facilities are of world-class standard. That is a welcome development.
Indeed, the Director-General of the National Sports Commission, Patrick Ekeji, said he was satisfied with the preparations for Eko 2012 after inspecting its six venues - the Lagos State Sports Council, Yaba; University of Lagos, Akoka; College of Education (Technical), Akoka; Yaba College of Technology; National Stadium, Surulere, and the Teslim Balogun Stadium. We hold that good facilities do not translate to good institutions; only good people do. We, therefore, expect that from the sports festival, the NSC would get back to the drawing board to engineer a winning formula for Nigeria. The country is brimming with raw talents who could be groomed to become world-class athletes, win laurels and end the streak of excuses, losses and shame that have become the nation's lot in our recent outings at international meets.
For us, Eko 2012 should be explored as a talent-hunt festival to kick-start preparation of new stars who would carry the green-white-green flag with distinction at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio-de-Janeiro, Brazil. It was the case in the past when the sports festival foreshadowed the emergence of distinguished athletes such as Charlton Ehizuelen, Hamid Adio, Henry Amike, Yusuf Ali, Innocent Egbunike, Chidi Imoh, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Faith Idehen, Beatrice Utondu, Patience Itanyi and Tina Iheagwam. In boxing, the festival was the breeding ground for household names like Jerry Okorodudu, Peter Koyengwachi and Sabo Mohammed, while in table tennis, it was the likes of Babatunde Obisanya, Atanda Musa, Sunday Eboh, Kuburat Owolabi, Funke Oshonaike and Segun Toriola.
At the London Olympics, the sports minister, Bolaji Abdulahi, could not guarantee an Olympic medal of any hue; we expect that he should begin to produce the goods in the next couple of years. This festival and other grassroots sporting events, including school sports fiestas, should serve as discovery grounds for future superstars, who would be groomed by his ministry through a well thought-out blueprint to train future champions in the Olympics and other international sporting competitions.
Beyond sports, the goodwill that comes with the National Sports Festival should be tapped into. Incidentally, the first edition of the festival was held in Lagos on the heels of the nation's successful hosting of the 2nd All African Games, also in Lagos that year. The festival was initiated to foster friendship and unity among Nigerian youths at the end of the civil war.
While wishing the competitors well in their events, we will hold the NSC responsible if subsequent international engagements end in fiasco as has been the case in recent years. Whatever seepages as a result of corruption, ethnic and political manipulations in our sports must also be purged without delay. We are saddened by insinuations from last week's remark by Clemence Westerhof, a former national coach of the Super Eagles, that Nigerian coaches take bribes to field players. This allegation should be investigated in order to bring back integrity to our sports and put sports development on the path of rectitude. Doing otherwise amounts to chasing shadows.