Monday, 26th September 2022
Breaking News:

Lights up in Akoka as 2022 NUGA games begins

By Tobi Awodipe
19 March 2022   |   3:24 am
After months of preparation, university students from across the country have gathered in Lagos to vie for honours in various sporting events.

UNILAG’s male and female volleyball team training on the newly renovated courts

After months of preparation, university students from across the country have gathered in Lagos to vie for honours in various sporting events. It is the 26th Nigerian Universities Games Association (NUGA) Games, which is featuring athletes from 75 universities, all battling to make their schools the number one sporting higher institution in the country.

The participating universities started arriving in Lagos at the weekend for accreditation and other formalities ahead of the official opening of the competition on Saturday.

According to NUGA officials, preliminary contests in some of the events started on Wednesday in the facilities provided by the host school, University of Lagos (UNILAG).

Speaking on the school’s readiness to host Nigerian students, UNILAG Vice Chancellor, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, at the weekend, promised that everything has been put in place for a successful 2022 games.

As part of efforts to raise the university community’s awareness of the Games, UNILAG organised a preliminary walk around Akoka and its environs, which, Ogundipe said, would “bring new life into the games this year and want our community carried along.”

On what would be different from 1998 when the school last hosted it, he said a far larger number of athletes are participating in the Games this term. He added: “Almost 7000 students from 75 universities will participate in 16 sporting activities.

“For the first time ever, we have produced a torch of unity that we have taken to other universities, and most importantly, we’re not localising the games unlike before. We’re taking it to other places.

“We’re also introducing culture into the games as three Obas will be actively involved. As at this moment, we cannot say how much the games will cost to host but I can say for now that it has cost us over N1 billion.

“When the swimming pool is finished this week, I assure you that it would be the best in the country, same as the cricket and football pitches. The basketball and volleyball courts are ready and are of world-class standard, as well as other facilities we have put and are still putting in place.”

UNILAG has already started looking at ways to preserve the facilities after the Games. Ogundipe said, “we have thought about the sustainability of these facilities and I can assure you that if you come back in two years time, you will see the facilities are still being well maintained. It will generate funds for the university, because we are thinking beyond these games. UNILAG is looking to host the African University Games (AUG), as well as other regional sporting competitions.”

Ogundipe also disclosed that the newly constructed cricket pitch will host other state and national competitions, which are one of the ways to ensure it is in tip top shape.

The vice chancellor revealed that this year’s NUGA Games would adhere strictly to National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) COVID-19 protocols, adding, “The NCDC has been here to inspect everything we have on ground. We also have donations from pharmaceutical companies to keep the athletes safe, as well as all laid down protocols and regulations that we intend to adhere to.”

According to Ogundipe, the hosts and NUGA have taken care of every issue raised by athletes, the media and stakeholders. He assured all the participants that the school has made everything possible to ensure they enjoy themselves during the games.

“The Lagos State government has fulfilled its promise to us and the tracks are ready. The hockey field will be finished this weekend and the swimming pool before Friday.

“The judo mats would be here before Friday as well and the hockey sticks and kits would be here soon as there are still some issues that need to be addressed. We would meet again midweek to see if these issues have been addressed.”

Urging the athletes to be disciplined, he reminded them that they are not only representing the university, but were also showcasing themselves to local and international agents who would be on ground to scout and recruit them.

“I want all athletes to put their best foot forward and showcase themselves to the best of their abilities. It is important for us to come together as a team and family to do the university proud,” he said.

Also speaking on the games, Associate Professor of Sports Administration and Management, Dr. Joseph Awoyinfa, who is Executive Secretary of the 2022 NUGA Games, admitted that preparing for the sports fiesta has not been an easy task, adding, however, that the hard work will only make UNILAG’s victory sweeter at the end of the games.

“We won the rights to host the games since 2018 and ought to have held it in 2019, but unfortunately, the nine months ASUU strike that year prevented it from holding. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 shifted it till this year; but I must commend Professor Ogundipe’s vision and doggedness because his goal is to leave a lasting legacy in the field of sports, as well as a sports academy in UNILAG that would be a hub for talent, education and development where athletes can train for national and international competition.

“We want to make this school a sort of sports academy where students that are good in sports can combine academics with sports. I was sent to Canada and the U.S to understudy their model and we are already partnering with a number of academies to employ it at UNILAG here.

“As far as preparations are concerned, we are totally ready and of the 16 sports that would hold here, the facilities for all are almost completely ready. These sports include swimming, volleyball, tennis, hockey, football, cricket, athletics, basketball, scrabble, chess and a couple of other indoors games.

“The tartan track is the only thing delaying us for now, but the vice chancellor has already said it would be ready before the games start. We are going to participate in all of the 16 games with 353 athletes.”

He named University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) as UNILAG strongest challenger for the title, adding, “we discovered the reason they always triumphed over us was because they have upper hand in swimming as it has about 40 gold medals.

“So, we decided to get an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a Swiss timer and resolved that this year, we will beat UNIPORT mercilessly.”

He disclosed that events would not be counted with stopwatches, which was the practice in the past, adding, “we want everything to be world class and our athletes are already training with the Swiss timer. We’re going to show other schools why we are the university to beat.”

On the yet to be completed sitting pavilion, UNILAG’s Director of Sports, Olagoke Oke, promised that it would be finished well ahead of the opening ceremony. He added: “The roofing will be finished in a couple of days because work is ongoing round the clock. All the courts have been renovated and are ready for play.

“The state government has also been gracious enough to allow us use its sporting facilities as backup. These include Rowe Park and Teslim Balogun Stadium.

“The athletes are well prepared and just two weeks ago, two of our Judo athletes qualified for the Commonwealth Games. I am optimistic about our athletes and as I said already, we are going for gold in all categories.

“What would give us a winning edge, this time around, are the better training and better exposure that we are already doing,” he said.

One of the students UNILAG is banking on for success is Joshua Okorie of the Department of Philosophy, who is a member of school’s football team. He told The Guardian that his team is primed for success after rigorous training and conditioning for the competition.

“We are not here to play, we are here to win gold and that is what we are going to do from next week. Our concerns have been addressed by the vice chancellor, who has told us to focus on bringing home the gold and that is exactly what we are going to do,” he said.