By Kevin Okunzuwa
The forthcoming National Sports Festival (NSF), tagged ‘Edo 2020,’ to hold in Benin City, the capital of Edo, from March 22 to April 1,will be the 20th edition in the series.
Edo secured the hosting right at the 19th edition in 2018, held in Abuja.
There were doubts if Edo would put the necessary infrastructure in place before the festival date, because the major sporting arena, the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium and many of the proposed designated centres, were at the time, in a state of disrepair.
However, about 20 days to the opening ceremony, Gov. Godwin Obaseki, has re-echoed his earlier optimism of the state’s readiness to host the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory, to the best NSF ever.
The governor on Feb. 21, at the launching of the countdown to Edo 2020, said the state, would use the platform of the festival to unite the entire nation.
Speaking at the countdown and sensitisation rally at the Government House, Benin City, the governor noted that “it is exactly 31 days to the NSF.
“This festival is a festival of unity, to unite Nigerians. It is a festival to encourage Nigerian youths to take the country to the next level.
“We are here to begin the countdown. For a big event like the NSF, we have to commence the publicity from now.’’
Obaseki commended media houses for the support being given to the Edo Government in its desire to host the best festival.
At the event, Philip Shaibu, Edo Deputy Governor and Chairman of the Local Organising Committee ( LOC), said that accommodation had been secured for about 11,500 athletes and officials expected to participate in the festival.
Shaibu added that proprietors of hotels across the state had agreed to give 30 per cent discount for guests and spectators.
“From 10 days to the opening of the games, we will publish the names of the hotels and the prices of the rooms to enable our visitors check and know which of the hotels to patronise.’’
On the readiness of the venues, LOC Secretary, Dr Emmanuel Igbinosa, said aside the reconstructed Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, 16 other centres in Benin, with state of the arts facilities, were ready to play host to the 39 sporting events.
Veltrop Limited, the firm handling the upgrading of the swimming pools at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium said that the pools can host any Olympic championship.
“It’s an old pool, what we did was to remodel it and upgrade it, so that it can meet international standard.
“All the things that you need for competitions are here, the starting blocks are there, the lanes are there, and the timing system will eventually be fixed before commencement of the games.
“With all of these, you have a standard pool which can entertain any world competition.
“The pools essentially are ready; all we are waiting for is water supply to fill the two of them.
“The training pool is a five-lane, and this one, which is eight lanes and for competitions, are both ready,” Femi James, the Project Manager of Veltrop said.
He added that the pools had been test run with the just concluded Edo Sports Festival, and found to be excellent.
Corroborating, Godwin Dudu-Orumen, Chairman of Edo Sports Commission, added that” the tracks and lanes are being marked now.
“All utilities are being put in place; the swimming pool has gone through a test run.
“We are just in the final stage of cleaning up the indoors sports hall, with the former South-South gymnasium hall, being acquired by Edo Government from the Federal Government.
“The former South-South gymnasium hall was also used for the just concluded Edo Sports Festival.
“The Imaguero College hall is in good shape, Idia College hall is in good shape too, the University of Benin sports complex is undergoing renovation,” he said
On security, Dudu-Orumen assured of adequate security for both the athletes and officials, stressing that “Benin City and indeed Edo are safe.
“People are going about freely conducting their businesses without fear or molestation of any kind.
“So much investment has gone into preparation for the sports festival.
” The sub-committee in charge of security within the LOC has been busy taking proactive steps to ensure seamless organisation of the games without any security threats,” he said.
Secretary of the LOC, Dr Emmanuel Igbinosa, disclosed that no fewer than 1,000 volunteers would be engaged and deployed to the various centres during the games.
He said that the two campuses of the University of Benin as well as the Benin Technical College were chosen to serve as the games villages.
On the preparedness of the medical personnel, LOC Chairman Shaibu, said that government had ensured that the games villages were equipped with basic health amenities, and prepared to give health tips to the athletes and visitors.
“We will be sensitising them on how to avoid and prevent any disease.
“We will ensure that the games villages do not also lack water and other necessities that will help to prevent any outbreak of epidemics,” he said.
Shaibu, who assured that the games villages and event centres would have clinics, added that the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) would serve as referral centre for extreme cases.
According to him, the issue of logistics, especially transportation, will not be a challenge during the festival.
Shaibu said that adequate buses had been provided to convey athletes and officials to games venues and games villages, adding that visitors would also be provided with good transportation system.
“We have made provisions for enough buses during the games, and routes have also been mapped out to ensure seamless movement during the festival.
“As part of the mapping, special routes have been dedicated to the athletes and officials. We have also worked the transport system in such a way that ensures free flow of traffic.
“We will not be allowing any vehicular movement within 200 to 300 metres close to the stadium and other sporting centres for the visitors,” he said.
He added that athletes and officials would however, be allowed 50 metres close to the stadium.
Shaibu also said that the opening and closing ceremonies would be beamed live to viewers within and outside the country by Multi Choice, owners of DSTV.
Gov. Obaseki had at the unveiling of the festival’s mascot and theme song, said “sports is native to us. We are renewing that nativity.”
Mr Tony Akiotu, the Chairman, Media and Publicity Sub-committee of the LOC, reiterated that the use of mascot during sports, promotes the spirit of sportsmanship, hard work, and hope.
“The figure of the mascot, a leopard, named ‘Etin’ means strength in Edo language,” he said.
The 20th NSF will be the third the state will be hosting.
The old Bendel, with Benin City as capital, hosted the 1981 edition, while Edo in 2002, also hosted the sports festival. (NANFEATURES)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria