The Minister of Youths and Sports, Mr Solomon Dalung says no fewer than 7227 athletes are expected to participate in the 19th National Sports Festival which kicks off on Dec. 6.
Dalung, who briefed State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said that in total, 8861 delegates were expected.
The meeting was presided over by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
The minister said that Abuja, the host city, was already in `high mood’ as there was a road show on Tuesday aimed at moblising residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for the festival.
Dalung said that the opening ceremony would begin at 5:p.m, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari and the vice-president would grace the event.
He said: “As you are all aware, tomorrow is the opening ceremony of the 19th National Sport Festival.
“The 18th edition was held in Lagos in 2012 and three editions have gone without attention; the inability of our last host led the Federal Government to bring it back to Abuja.
“So far, so good, the touch of unity which started its journey in October after being flagged off by the vice-president had gone round the 36 states and is on its way to Abuja tomorrow morning.
“Zonal eliminations for the festival had taken place in the zones; and the sports are; Abula, Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Cricket, Football, Handball, Hockey and Para-Soccer.
“We have also concluded the Delegation Registration Meeting (DRM) and a total of 8861 persons have been accredited from 35 states to participate in the festival, and only Ebonyi State did not participate in the DRM.
“And the breakdown is as follows; we are expecting 7227 athletes; we are expecting 710 coaches; other team officials, 322, state delegates, 602 giving us a total of 8861.’’
He restated that the National Sports Festival, the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) and the FCT were post-war legacies of national unity.
Dalung said that for Nigeria’s sports family, the week was a very fantastic one because of the performances of teams that went for international competitions.
He said that Nigeria’s Scrabble team was a two-time world champions and a 12-time African champion as it again for the 12th time maintained its dominance in scrabble after emerging African champions in South Africa.
The minister said that the Super Falcons recently retained the African Championship in women football for the ninth time.
“And in Zambia, our Nigerian team won the Zambian International Badminton Championship.
“We can afford to toy with anything but certainly not these three institutions.’’
According to him, para sports had brought honour to Nigeria especially para power lifting which the country has dominated since 2012 and maintained Commonwealth and World record.
He said that the initial sports facilities did not contemplate the development of para sports but with the emergence and dominance of para sports, the ministry had updated sports facilities to accommodate it.
Dalung said that there had been a standing policy that after every competition, award or prizes were fixed for certain competition medals.
“So, when you get bronze, you have 2000 dollars; silver, 3000 dollars; gold, 5000 dollars. These, the ministry has lived up to its expectations but of course you know, the main thing is the presidential blessing which is the dream of every athlete.
“After emerging victorious, he needs a blessing from the father of the nation and I think the record of successes emerging in sports and the positive development, we are reviewing how these things could be handled.
“When we came in 2015, the president had to organise a grand reception and we took all those that got medals right from the first in 1985 to 2015; I think we still need that again very soon to accommodate so many medals we have gotten in the last three years.
“And it is more than what we rewarded in 2015; so when we finish our package in the ministry, we will get the president to give us a day when he will reward them,’’ he said.
He said plans were underway for President Buhari to receive the Super Falcons at the Presidential Villa on Dec. 7