All may not be well in the camp of Team Edo as the 19th National Sports Festival gets underway today in Abuja.
The Guardian learnt that athletes and officials of the state refused to embark on the journey to Abuja yesterday morning, protesting over alleged non-payment of their camp allowances for the two weeks they were in camp preparing for the fiesta.
Before the protest yesterday, there were disquiet within the camp of Team Edo as the athletes and officials complained of alleged shoddy treatment in the run up to the Games.
Edo State hosted and won the 2002 edition of the National Sports Festival under the administration of Chief Lucky Igbinedion. Team Edo was beaten to the top position two years later by Delta State, when Abuja hosted the 2004 edition of the fiesta. Since then, Team Edo had been struggling to catch up with Delta State on the medals table, but to no avail.
With Governor Godwin Obaseki's interest in sports, coupled with the recent appointment of sports analyst, Godwin Dudu Orumen as chairman of newly created Edo Sports Commission, many people are looking forward to see a 'focused' Team Edo at Abuja 2018 National Sports Festival. But things seem to be falling apart even before the commencement of the festival.
It was alleged that funding had been a major issue for Team Edo, as coaches had to personally fund the training and preparation of their athletes following alleged non-release of funds by the state government.
One of the coaches alleged that he had to use his 'meagre' resources to feed and take care of athletes under his watch.
"It is totally unacceptable for this to be happening. How can a state that says it wants to win the sports festival act this way? How can they completely abandon athletes and officials like this? If not for the commitment of some of us, we would not even be in a state to compete at the festival," the coach stated.
Corroborating the coach's comments, one of the athletes said it was very sad that despite their readiness to win laurels for the state, they had been treated shabbily by the state.
"We are sad the way we are being treated by the government. We have been left without food and medication. If not for our coaches who have been using their own money for us, things would have been worse."
He said the sorry state of preparation was surprising to him and his colleagues particularly as they know the seriousness Governor Obaseki attached to the Games, especially as he has signalled the intention of the Edo State Government to host the next edition of the festival.
"Something must be wrong somewhere. We don't understand what is happening. Our Governor is not only interested in us doing well at this festival, he is also interested in hosting the next edition. So, why would he allow us to be so badly treated this way?. Some of us are married, and we thought our camp allowance for two week would be enough to take care of our family before we return from Abuja. They should pay us," the athlete stated yesterday.
A source told The Guardian yesterday that while the athletes and their officials were 'protesting' in Benin City over non-payment of their camp allowances, the Sports Commission boss, Dudu-Orumen, had gone to Abuja to present Edo State bid for the 2020 edition of the National Sports Festival. It the bid scales through, it will be the third time the National Sports Festival will be staged in Benin City, haven hosted and won 'Bendel 81 and 'Edo 2002.
Contacted yesterday, Dudu Orumen simply said: "We are handling it."