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Stakeholders count cost of Edo 2020 National Sports Festival postponement

By Christian Okpara
23 March 2020   |   6:47 am
Many things go into preparation for major international or national competitions. From the preparation of the venues of the event to getting the athletes ready for the competition, the participating teams spend a lot of money, time and other resources to ensure they achieve success.

Waiting for a new date… athletes have been forced to adjust their programmes by the postponement of the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival.

Many things go into preparation for major international or national competitions. From the preparation of the venues of the event to getting the athletes ready for the competition, the participating teams spend a lot of money, time and other resources to ensure they achieve success.

Cancelling or postponing a competition on the eve of the kick off is athletes and organisers’ nightmare that many pray doesn’t happen. But sometimes, it becomes inevitable that a well-planned competition is halted abruptly in the interest of the larger society.

The current Coronavirus pandemic ravaging all parts of the world has ensured the postponement or outright cancellation of huge gatherings, including sporting events, resulting in huge losses in revenue and other derivatives expected from such events.

Recently, the English Premier League announced that it would lose more than £750 million if the 2019/2020 season is cancelled. The competition, which employs millions of people, including players, coaches, managers, clubs’ staff and others whose businesses are tied to the action on the field of play, was halted when it became obvious that continuing with matches would endanger the lives of not only the players, but also fans and everybody associated with the game. Although some of the costs would be borne by insurance, analysts say there are only a few things insurance can take care of.

Many other competitions across the world, including the NBA, Major League Soccer, NFL of the United States, German Bundesliga and other football competitions across Europe and the Americas, the ATP competitions and boxing bouts, among other events that necessitate audience participation, have been halted or cancelled outright. Recently, bookmakers described the cancellation of the Grand National, Europe’s biggest horse racing championship, as a ‘devastating blow,’ which may cost their industry in excess of £100 million. The organisers said the biggest betting race of the year – which would have featured Tiger Roll – going for a hat trick of wins – would not hold at Aintree next month, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on the impact on the betting industry, Betfair spokesman, Barry Orr, projected the likely loss of more than £100 million in bookmakers’ revenue.

He told Daily Mail of London: “From a betting perspective, it is a serious body blow. Not only is it the highest-ranking race in terms of turnover on sports books and highest volume on the exchange, but it’s also an important period for companies to engage with the betting and wider public.”

Simon Clare, PR director for Ladbrokes Coral, said: “The wider public health situation that we are all facing is so serious and unprecedented that tough decisions are having to be made for all the right reasons, and this is clearly one of them.”

The coronavirus scare has also hit Nigerian sports with the authorities forced to halt all the football competitions, boxing championships and the National Sports Festival, which was scheduled to begin in Benin City at the weekend. The National Sports Festival, for instance, was postponed with less than 72 hours to its kick off. This decision, although in the interest of the larger society due to its health implications, has rendered all the well-laid out plans by the host and participants useless.

It has also resulted in a huge loss of money to the hosts and some businesses tied to the competition. The postponement has also hit athletes and fans psychologically such that experts predict that most of them might not be ready whenever the festival is reconvened.

Former Olympics women hurdles medallist, Gloria Alozie told The Guardian that the decision by the federal government to postpone Edo 2020 National Sports Festival with just three days to its commencement could have a psychological effect on the athletes.

Alozie said, “To me, cancelling the National Sports Festival with less than three days to its commencement will surely affect the athletes psychologically. But on the other hand, the decision taken by the federal government to stop the games was also good because it is only athletes who are alive that take part in competitions.

“The coronavirus is actually spreading dangerously across the world and it is good for our country to take a precautionary measure. The only problem I had with the cancellation was that it was too close to the commencement of the festival. They should have done that some weeks ago. In a way, the National Sports Festival is our own Olympic Games, and many athletes look up to it with lot of excitement.

“I am sure a lot of athletes will be disappointed with the sudden postponement of the festival. But as I said, it is better to stay alive than to come in contact with the disease while competing at the games. Our health should come first.”

A Lagos-based athlete, Bose, said the postponement was not necessary since there was no reported case of the deadly COVID-19 among the athletes, adding that there was no report yet of a foreign-based athlete.

According to her, “Up till now, I only heard of two cases in Nigeria or maybe the one this morning as the third one. What pained me most is the effort that we have put into training. For us, who bears the cost? After all, the (football) league is still on. So, why cancel the NSF which everybody has been preparing for?’’

A para-table tennis player, Dupe, who said she was already planning how to celebrate her success at the festival, wondered why the federal government waited until the last moment to postpone the competition.

“I am not happy at all,” she said. “I just think someone will say that it is a joke. Why did they wait till now to postpone the festival, just three days left to the arrival? Some of us are already rounding off training, looking forward to Friday when we would have departed?’’

Biola Rahamon, Team Lagos’ para-table tennis player, described the postponement as a setback for the athletes, adding, “This is a big shock to all of us, because we have been in camp in the last one-week putting finishing touches to our preparation only to be told to go home following the postponement of the festival. It is unfortunate.”

Like Rahmon, African Games medalist, Uzoamaka Otuadinma of Delta State described the decision to shift the festival as unfortunate.“Why did it take them so long to decide on the postponement, especially that we have been in camp for four weeks. It is painful that all our efforts have turned out to be a waste. We are not even sure when the festival will now hold,” Otuadinma said.

In Benin City and its environs, the news of postponement of the National Sports Festival was an unpleasant development to athletes, businesses and some officials of Edo State Government. A hotelier along Airport Road, Benin City, told The Guardian that the festival was cancelled when his organization had already pout everything in place to receive guests.

“Because of this festival,” he said, “we rebuilt some of our facilities, added new ones in anticipation of the huge number of customers that would lodge in our facility during the games. Now the Festival has been called off. They told us it is in the interest of the country and that we wouldn’t lose anything in the long run. Since the festival will still hold in Benin City, we cannot do anything but wait for God’s time.”

The Guardian observed during a recent visit that major roads and prominent centres in the ancient city have been retouched in anticipation of the huge number of visitors to the city during the festival. The bid to host the festival has helped Edo State to rediscover itself in terms of infrastructural development and provision of essential amenities. So, even with the postponement of the festival, Edo State is in a better condition now than before it won the hosting bid.

Secretary, Publicity/Communications Su-Committee, Edo 2020, Musa Ebomhiana, explained that the festival was postponed purely out of fear of the ravaging COVID-19 and “not because we were not ready as the host state. It was our own way of responding to the global out break.”

He added: “Yes, as the hosts, we have recorded some losses in terms of naira and kobo. But we stand to gain by the postponement in terms of lives of our people, our guests, athletes and officials, whose lives are not quantifiable in monetary terms.

“We are more concerned about saving and preserving these lives than the gains from the games. As a responsible government, we could not have gathered over 11,500 athletes and officials in the ancient city of Benin in the name of sports. The inherent danger is better imagined than described, given the fact that the COVIT-19 is highly contagious. For us, the postponement is in the interest of all in response to the global out cry.”

The planners of Edo 2020 National Sports Festival programmed the event in such a way that at the end of the competition, the state would be better infrastructurally than it ever was. There are signs of a new city all over Benin that observers believe that with or without the festival, the state would never be the same again.

As explained by Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, who is the chairman of the local organising committee (LOC), the National Sports Festival has given the state a reason to update its infrastructure. Shaibu explained that the festival had been planned in such a way that money spent on the construction and organization of the event would be regenerated through the same facilities.

Shaibu has been in the thick of action, ensuring that everything is in place ahead of the festival. He also added that preparation had been done with the future of the athletes and facilities well thought-out. He told a group of senior journalists 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.

So whenever the festival is held, there would be landmarks to show that Edo State did not waste public funds for a jamboree.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 hosting of the festival has also helped Edo State to re-engineer its security apparatus with state-of-the-art facilities put in place to secure all the zones of the state.

Shaibu said: “We recently purchased some vehicles for Wabazighan Security outfit to be stationed at strategic areas across the state. We are looking beyond the festival, because we want to make Edo the destination of choice for tourists. So, beyond the competition Edo State has benefited from the right to host the festival.”