Youth and Sports Development Minister, Sunday Dare, has revealed that only the Federal Government would decide whether to hold the National Sports Festival this year or move it to a date in 2021.
Tis clarification, he said, became necessary due to numerous enquiries on the fate of the festival following the recent happenings in the sports world.
The growing number of Coronavirus victims across the world has led to the postponement of the Japan 2020 Olympic Games and the Paralympics till 2021 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Speaking through his Special Adviser (Media), John Joshua Akanji, the minister told The Guardian at the weekend that the ministry was following the turn of events and would make the right decision when the time comes.
“The Federal Government is on top of the Coronavirus issue and will take a decision on the festival only when it is satisfied that peoples lives would not be threatened by the virus,” he said.
The National Sports Festival, which was supposed to begin last weekend in Benin, Edo State, was postponed on orders from the Presidency.
Akanji revealed that as a way of helping the fight against the deadly COVID-19, the ministry has provided 57 suites and the health facilities at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja for use as an isolation centre for victims of the virus.
Meanwhile, Dare has assured Nigerians that the sports ministry has been monitoring the programmes of its athletes despite the uncertainty surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) postponed the Tokyo 2020 Olympics indefinitely last week due to the devastating effects of the Covid-19.
Dare said: “The Nigerian authorities through the Sports Ministry called off the National Sports Festival as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of covid-19.
“This means several of our athletes overseas can no longer practice because the sporting facilities have been shut down.
“We are in touch with each one of them through a database to monitor their plans and to understand the kind of support they need.
“Despite the postponement, the adopt-an-athlete plan is on going and the funds are going to them. So, we are happy that those funds can help them at this period when they cannot make money from competitions.
“They are free to leverage on that; they can also look for indoor facilities where they can practice. They can pay to use those facilities, so there’s a continuous engagement with our athletes.”
The Minister insisted Nigeria would stick to 11 sports at the Olympics as earlier decided, adding that funds would be released for pending qualifiers, which the athletes can attend as soon as the virus is stemmed.
He urged them not to relent on their training, adding, “As we speak, in another two days, 33 of the athletes – both foreign and home-based – are completing a video message to lend their voices to the awareness campaign including myself.
“It is being produced as we speak. Our athletes from across the world and the home-based stars will be giving out messages of encouragement to the people.
“We will be prepared whenever the Olympics will hold. What is of the utmost urgency right now is to ensure that COVID-19’s spread is contained so we can all be free again.”