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Edo State begins expedition beyond National Sports Festival

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The Edo State government has assured athletes and officials of adequate security during the 2020 National Sports Festival.<br />PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI.

For some communities, hosting a multi-event championship tends to be less positive than anticipated. This is because most host communities end up in debt after the championship is done. This is especially so because, in some cases, no clear thought is given to live after the events. The facilities built for such events often become huge elephant projects and a strain in the resources of the host communities.

But that uncertain fate is not likely to befall Edo State after the 2020 National Sports Festival, which will hold from March 22 to April 1. Recently, the Edo State Government took a group of senior sports editors around the facilities being prepared for the festival and also outlined plans to make the festival an economic booster to the state. Led by the state’s Deputy Governor, Comrade Phillip Shaibu, who is also chairman of the Local Organising Committee (LOC), the editors were educated on the plans to make Edo State the hub of sports in Nigeria and leader in the economic exploitation of the country’s abundant human resources.

Comrade Shaibu explained that the festival has been planned in such a way that money spent on the construction and organization of the event would be regenerated through the same facilities.

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He adds: “Elsewhere, it is not the government that runs sports; the government just provides the facilities and enabling environment, which we have done. When we say the government has no business in sports but to provide facilities, infrastructure and enabling environment, it is true and that is what we have done in Edo State as far as sports is concerned.

“For me, sports is an industry, but I like to borrow my governor’s ideology: sports is another economy. And when you look at it truly, you are going to deal with a lot of issues. You are going to deal with insecurity because these young men and women will be engaged in the afternoon and they will be too tired to be the devil’s workshop.

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“Also, those vendors that would sell jerseys, food vendors and engage in other different businesses would open up and once those businesses kick-start in the local government areas, the state’s GDP will improve and it will reduce unemployment and insecurity. It will also increase wealth. For us, it’s a whole economy on the rise and that is why we will not depend on the government to manage these facilities.”

He disclosed that the all-grass pitch in the new Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City has been structured such that it would serve as a nursery that would grow natural grass, which would, in turn, be sold to anybody desirous of having them in his facility.

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According to Shaibu, “We are training groundsmen on the maintenance of natural grasses such that when the contractors finish with their job, we will have an army of trained personnel that specialize in growing and maintaining grasses.

“This is being replicated across the 20 mini-stadia in the state. Nigerians wouldn’t have to bring in foreigners to come and build grass pitches in the country anymore. Our people will grow the grasses and transplant them to wherever they are needed.”

The deputy governor also revealed that Edo 2020 National Sports Festival has revived the dormant sports culture among the people, adding that the state has started reviving some of the moribund events that it was noted for.

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He added: “We are bringing back Edo Principal’s Cup… We are also bringing back the Governor’s Cup, inter-house sports competitions in government schools, the Ogbe Hard Court Tennis Championship, and gymnastics.

“We are not going to fund all these competitions as a state… It will be in conjunction with the private sector. We want to take advantage of the natural talents that we have in gymnastics in Edo Central and develop them. And we are also combining the 20 mini-stadia with education because the majority of them are built inside schools so that the curriculum will also blend with sporting activities.

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“So at the end of the day, a child can decide to make a career in sports alongside his academic works. This makes the academic work a second job while his skills can take him to any level he wants. When he is done after 35 years or so, he will still have a certificate to fall back on.”

Shaibu assured the people of Edo State that the facilities would continually be in use, adding that Governor Godwin Obaseki has approved Edo State Sports Festival as an annual event, noting, “The local governments will also key into the sporting revolution that we have started. That means every local government area will have its own team, depending on the area where they have skills.

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“For instance, it will be difficult to beat Esan South-East in gymnastics or beat Ikpoba Okha in swimming, just as it will be difficult to beat people from Edo North in long-distance races. Every zone, at the end of the day, would master its areas of potential. The key thing is that we are going to be having these games in schools and outside schools.”

Aside the state’s quest to build a sports economy with the National Sports Festival, Shaibu revealed that the state was also training its athletes to excel in the competition, adding, “we are hosting to win. Since we got the approval to host this sports festival, our athletes have been going for national games in different categories. Why we have done that is to prepare them for this festival, to expose them so that they can compete with the majority of the athletes they will meet at the festival and we have done that beautifully well.

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“During the Edo State festival, we had to adjust our calendar to ensure the athletics events came first because the athletes were to go to another meeting in Akure, Ondo State (All-Comers Athletics competition). So, we had to sponsor them to Akure midway through the Edo festival. So, we have given them the necessary exposure at the national level. They moved into camp to acquire the team spirit.

“We are also conscious of not keeping them for too long in camp because as a sportsman myself, I know that if you overstay in camp, you will hit form and eventually lose it. We have interacted with our psychologists, coaches, directors and the players and discovered that what is best for them is to go camping, build the team spirit and come out when they are hitting their peak form.”

The National Sports Festival features as much as 11,500 athletes and officials, who are expected in camp and looked after by the host state. And Shaibu assured that Edo State is ready to meet the demands of the games.

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“For accommodation,” he said, “we are looking at about 11,500 athletes and officials and what we have done is to go into partnership with the University of Benin and Federal Government Girls College, Benin. And we’ve got accommodation in these places. We are helping the University of Benin, Ugbowo and Ekewan campuses, to renovate all their hostels; we are also doing the same at the Federal Government Girls College… We are furnishing them with beddings to accommodate these athletes. And don’t forget that at the University of Benin, beyond the accommodation, we are also going to help them to fix some of their sporting facilities.

“It is a whole partnership with them and we are going to have about 17 centres where the sports events will take place. As we have always said, we want to redefine how these games are being hosted, so that at the end of the day, Edo will be a reference point. For us, Edo is the home of sports.”

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On the security and traffic management during the games, the deputy governor boasted that Edo has one of the best traffic management teams in Nigeria, adding that Benin City has the best road network in Nigeria.

“And what we have simply done, in line with our infrastructural revolution, is to tar a lot of these roads,” he stated, “map out all the areas of interest, such as areas of accommodation, event areas, among others.

“All these areas have been mapped out and we have a competition guide for all athletes and visitors that would become. And I can tell you that Edo has a good record in terms of running a transportation business. If there is any government that runs transportation very well, it is Edo State.”

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Shaibu revealed that the games’ Transport Committee is headed by the chairman of the Edo City Transport Service, adding that the traffic management team and the security team are working as a team to deal with the issues of movement, security and accommodation, and all other logistics.

According to him, “We are actually ready and we have also done something different with the renovation of Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium. We will be hosting lots of international games there. We have the police, military, State Security Service and we have our own security personnel. We have 1,225 officers that will combine with the security agencies to deal with the issues of security at the accommodation zone, street zone, and the event areas.

“We recently purchased some vehicles for Wabazighan Security outfit to be stationed at strategic areas across the state. We are not only dealing with security for our visitors, but we are also aware that our Edo indigenes might be inconvenienced during this period. So, we have also mapped out strategies to deal with the issue of their inconvenience, because we will be telling them which roads to use and which ones not to use… which means we have to provide security on those alternative routes that we provided for them.”

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