The Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Solomon Dalung, says no fewer than 7,227 athletes are expected to participate in the 19th National Sports Festival which kicks off on Thursday.
Dalung, who briefed State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said that 8,861 delegates were expected.
The FEC meeting was presided over by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
The minister said that the host, Abuja, was already in `high mood’ as there was a road show on Tuesday aimed at mobilising residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for the festival.
Dalung said that the opening ceremony would begin at 5:00p.m., adding that President Muhammadu Buhari and Osinbajo would grace the event.
He said: “As you are all aware, tomorrow is the opening ceremony of the 19thNational Sport Festival.
“The 18th edition was held in Lagos in 2012 and three editions have gone without attention.
“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 have taken place. The sports are: abula, basketball, beach volleyball, cricket, football, handball, hockey and para-soccer.”
Dalung said that the Delegation Registration Meeting (DRM) had been concluded and a total of 8,861 people accredited from 35 states to participate in the festival; only Ebonyi did not participate in the DRM.
“The breakdown is as follows: we are expecting 7,227 athletes; we are expecting 710 coaches; other team officials, 322; state delegates, 602; giving us a total of 8,861.’’
He noted that the National Sports Festival, the National Youths Service Corps and the FCT were post-war legacies of national unity.
Dalung said that the week had been fantastic for Nigeria’s sports family because of the performances of teams that went for international competitions.
He said that Nigeria was a two-time scrabble world champion and a 12-time African champion, as it, for the 12th time, maintained dominance in scrabble after emerging African champion in South Africa.
The minister said that the Super Falcons retained the African championship in women football for the ninth time.
“And in Zambia, our Nigerian team won the Zambian International Badminton Championship,” he said.
According to him, para sports, especially para power lifting, has brought much honour to Nigeria as the country has dominated it since 2012 and maintained Commonwealth and world records.
He said that initial sports facilities did not contemplate the development of para sports, adding that with the emergence and dominance of para sports, the ministry updated sports facilities to accommodate them.
Dalung said that there had been a standing policy that, after every competition, award or prizes were fixed for certain competition medals.
“When you get bronze, you have 2,000 dollars; silver, 3,000 dollars; gold, 5,000 dollars.
” in these, the ministry has lived up to 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, with the record of successes emerging in sports and the positive development, we are reviewing how these things can be handled,” he said.
The minister noted that in 2015, the president had to organise a grand reception for all those who got medals from the first, in 1985, to 2015.
“I think we need that again very soon to accommodate so many medals we have got in the last three years.
“It is more than what we rewarded in 2015; 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 that plans were being made for President Buhari to receive the Super Falcons at the Presidential Villa on Dec. 7.