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‘Asaba 2022 National Sports Festival will be different’

As the countdown to Asaba 2022 National Sports Festival begins, Gowon Akpodonor looks at the state of facilities being put in place by the host state, and how other states are preparing their athletes for the fiesta.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday officially flagged off the 21st National Sports Festival by lighting the Torch of Unity at the Statehouse Garden, Abuja. Photo/TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

As the countdown to Asaba 2022 National Sports Festival begins, Gowon Akpodonor looks at the state of facilities being put in place by the host state, and how other states are preparing their athletes for the fiesta.

The flag-off of the Torch of Unity Movement by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on Tuesday officially signalled the countdown to the 21st National Sports Festival tagged ‘Asaba 2022.’

At the ceremony, which took place at the Presidential Villa Abuja, Buhari expressed his delight over the Sports Festival, describing it as the engine room for producing great champions that will represent Nigeria at international competitions.

“All outstanding stars that have written the name of Nigeria in gold were born out of the National Sports Festival,” Buhari said. “This shows that the resources the government is investing in sporting activities are not a waste.”

Buhari, who was represented by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was full of praises for the Main Organising Committee (MON) as well as the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for their commitment and doggedness towards ensuring the successful hosting of the games.

He explained that sports have remained a unifying platform for Nigerians and the government will continue to invest in it.

On his part, Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, described the Sports Festival as the Nigerian Olympics, where the best and brightest athletes are selected to represent the country at international competitions.

“The Touch of Unity Movement being flagged off today by the President will travel around the 36 States of the Federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, and will finally arrive at Delta State, which is the host State of the Festival. I must commend the Executive Governor and the good people of Delta State for their resilience in sports and commitment to hosting a successful festival,” Dare stated.

Before the flag-off ceremony of the Touch of Unity Movement in Abuja, Governor Okowa, who is the Vice-Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had taken his time to inspect projects at Stephen Keshi Stadium, the venue of the 21st National Sports Festival in Asaba.

The Sports Festival will hold from November 28 to December 10, and Okowa was optimistic that the facilities would be ready for the athletes, though he expressed some worries.

“I have gone round and I am worried. I would urge the contractors to move much faster than they are at the moment because there is a date for the festival already.

“I expect the LOC to give me daily reports on their progress and ensure that they meet the time. We cannot afford to move the sports festival further because as you move, you will be moving it into the Christmas period, which is not a good time to travel,” Okowa said.

The Governor, however, stated that the contractors had reassured him that by November 18, they would be out of the place, adding “so, I am going to hold them to their word.”

The ‘slow pace’ of work notwithstanding, Okowa expressed satisfaction with the quality of work done saying: “The work being done is good, all I ask is that they add speed to it. I am told that they work day and night now. I hope that yields result and take us through the finishing of the project by November 18.”

To live up to its promise of hosting the best National Sports Festival ever, Delta State is putting in place a brand new swimming pool, indoor sports hall and tartan track for Asaba 2022 Games.

The Chairman, of Delta Sports Commission, Tonobok Okowa, who is co-chairman of the LOC told The Guardian that there has been ‘great’ improvement in the construction of projects since the governor’s visit.

“As we speak, the contractors are working day and night, and I am very sure the facilities will be ready before the November 18 deadline.

“The beauty of it is that the government and people of Delta State are installing brand new facilities for the National Sports Festival. The tartan track, which was used for Asaba 2018 Africa Senior Athletics Championship has been removed completely and a new one is being put in place.

“The swimming pool is completely new and the government is also building a new Indoor Sports Hall. New roofing of the stadium complex is also going on,” he stated.

For the government and people of Delta State, Team Delta is still the one to beat at Asaba 2022 National Sports Festival.

Speaking with journalists in Asaba, Governor Okowa said: “We are ever prepared and we have always won and we will still win again, so we are not worried.”

State Government is set to challenge Delta State for a top-place finish at the end of the forthcoming 21st National Sports Festival, Asaba 2022.

However, Kwara State Governor, Malam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, has said that his athletes would give Team Delta a big challenge on the medals table at Asaba 2022.

AbdulRazaq, who spoke on Thursday in Ilorin after receiving the festival’s Torch of Unity, promised to give the state athletes all necessary support to ensure it performs excellently at the end of the Games.

The Governor, who was represented by his Deputy, Mr Kayode Alabi, said: “We know Delta State is always winning the festival, but we will make them come second this time around.

“Sport is a unifying factor and we want to ensure we give the necessary attention to it, to gainfully engage our teeming youth.”