New Telegraph

December 6, 2023

Sport must avoid another pause in 2021

The year 2020 was tragically enveloped by the COVID-19 pandemic across the world as many events including the Olympic Games and Nigeria’s National Sports Festival were postponed to check the spread of the deadly virus.

Somehow, sport was on a pause with many notable sports personalities testing positive to the virus and so gradually, events were halted, postponed while some suffered outright cancellation. However, the clever way in which sports bounced back in European countries and even in Africa was amazing but sadly, same did not manifest in Nigeria. The league in Germany, England, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain and other top footballing nations returned with strict COVID-19 protocols.

In Nigeria, the authorities failed to ‘snap out’ of the pandemic setback early enough. It is clear the country’s sports administrators cannot handle emergencies or think out of the box to take crucial decisions.

Nobody saw COVID-19 coming in a promising year as 2020 but the overall reaction to the effects was so poor such that the country was in a standstill even after the PTF approved the restart of sports. Some sports disciplines in Nigeria did not function all through the year and how to sustain the domestic league restart with the protocols remains a big issue.

Though the Nigeria Professional Football League eventually started last weekend across the nation, the Presidential Task Force, the LMC and the NFF were lethargic before the return of sports. In the New Year, 2021, the carryover of postponements of sporting events from last year will be the main attraction.

Sadly, the second wave of COVID-19 is gradually spreading fast with uncertainties over the continuation of the football leagues across the world. Only last week, FIFA announced the cancellation of the male and female U-17 and U-20 World Cups earlier billed for this year. No doubt, many more cancellations and postponements will be announced as the year rolls by.

Since the impact of the pandemic is still prevalent, the year will still witness more challenges as authorities in various sporting disciplines will battle to avoid having sport get into yet another pause in the New Year. Testing of athletes and education about strict compliance to the health protocols are very important but how the administrators will cope with these in the NPFL is another issue. The National Sports Festival suffered three postponements last year and February 14, 2021 has been fixed as yet another start date.

Sports Minister Sunday Dare has said the new date is sacrosanct but more work will have to be done based on the current threat posed by the second wave of COVID-19 if the NSF is to take place. Interestingly, the Tokyo Olympic Games postponed by one year in 2020 is already upon us and there is need for preparations at various levels including health. There are still qualifiers to be staged for the Olympics. Boxing and wrestling are some of the sports still having outstanding qualifiers.

Beyond the fight to keep sports afloat in this time, the ministry of sports should focus more on some sports disciplines and federations. Swimming, shooting, taekwondo, weight lifting, fencing, boxing are some of the sports begging for more attention. Elite athletes, who are potential medal winners at the Olympics must be well-monitored from now and supported with their training and participation at global events across the world. Top athletes need to be motivated and primed for the huge task ahead in Tokyo.

The ministry should go hard on the federations with factional presidents. This cannot be allowed to continue like that in the New Year. We need peace to move forward to enable the federations to plan better and deliver results.

The domestic league deserves better packaging in the New Year. The new Chief Executive Office, Davidson Owumi, has a tough task on his hands to take the league to a higher level. Our league champions should be good enough to compete well in CAF competitions.

Many athletes, sports event organisers, coaching and administrators are yet to come to terms with the disappointments experienced in 2020 and to be faced with another will be a big blow. Authorities in Nigeria should be working on the survival of sports in 2021 even with the threat posed by the pandemic. Consistent survival strategies must be worked out to ensure the second wave of COVID-19 does not have adverse effects on sport again.

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