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Athletes, stakeholders reject January date for sports festival

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The oft-postponed Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, which was last scheduled for January, next year, will not begin on that date, The Guardian has learnt.

The Sports Ministry and Youth Development had fixed January 3 to 17, for the beginning of the competition following approval it got from the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to hold the festival in Benin City.

However, an Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) official told The Guardian that many athletes have kicked against the new date due top its proximity to the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

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The AFN official, who pleaded anonymity, said the January date arrived at during a virtual meeting convened by Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, does not suit the main actors in the festival.

He said, “January 3 is just three days after Christmas and New Year celebrations and it would be difficult for most of the athletes to hit their best form for the competition.

“We have made our reservations on the timing to the National Council on Sports and I believe the other federations face the same issues.”

The festival suffered a major blow on Thursday when the host state dissolved all the sub-committees it had earlier set up for the games.

In a letter signed by the Secretary of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the festival, Dr. Emmanuel Igbinosa, Edo State hinged the decision to dissolve the sub-committees on the fact that no actual date has been fixed for the festival by the Federal Government.

The letter read: “I am directed by the Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, who also is the LOC chairman for the festival to inform you of the dissolution of all committees with immediate effect.”

Shaibu had earlier rejected the January 3 date for the festival, describing it as ‘insensitive’. Shaibu argued that new date as suggested by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 is not realistic giving the fact the decision was made without proper consultations.

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“The PTF are not sensitive to the feelings of our people and I think the council of sports is the highest decision making as far as a competition like this is concerned.”

He added that the council even after meeting would also need to inform the host state to be part of the new arrangements that they are fixing giving the cultural approach.

Noting that the new date falls within the yuletide season, Shaibu added that it could jeaopardise adequate preparation of athletes towards the multi-sports event.

“The council of sports will hold a meeting to discuss the date the PTF has suggested. I think the date could be adjusted to may be around March ending or beginning of April and that will be subjected to the decision of Council state,” he said.

The festival was initially scheduled to hold in March in Benin, Edo State but was postponed till December due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The December date was shelved by the PTF, who said the country was not safe enough from COVID-19 to allow such a crowd-pulling event to hold in the country.

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