Whether Abuja residents are not interested in sports, or the timing was just a bad idea, one can hardly figure out why there was almost an empty stand on Thursday during the opening ceremony of the 19th National Sports Festival.

7,227 athletes, 710 coaches and 322 other officials are participating at the 2018 NSF.

Athletes will complete for honours in 37 sports from December 6 to 16 when the 10-day tournament will end.

The National Sports Festival was instituted by the General Yakubu Gowon administration in 1973 to showcase talents and produce athletes who can represent Nigeria at continental and international competitions.

But the bi-annual event was last held in Lagos in 2012. Lack of funds has stalled states like Cross River from hosting, and so the federal government stepped in to ensure the event is held in 2018, hence the choice of Abuja as venue.

“The foot-dragging of states in hosting the event is informed by their funding challenges. However, the funding challenges are as a result of states not getting their priorities right.” Sports Minister Solomon Dalung said at the opening ceremony.

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“There is nothing as worthy of investment as the National Sports Festival.

“Whatever we are investing in, whether infrastructure or the economy, sports is the institution that supports the unity required for those investments to flourish.”

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Although Abuja residents are not really sports lovers compared to some other cities in Nigeria, the poor publicity and timing did not do any good to the biggest national sporting event.

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Those that watched the opening ceremony live on State Television, NTA, were disappointed with the empty seats at the 60, 000 capacity stadium in Abuja.

Those at the stadium on Thursday night were athletes, coaches and other officials, including a handful of journalists, no fans cheering the athletes.

With Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo physically present, the opening ceremony went on and was held with athletes marching inside the mainbowl.

Osinbajo, among others who held the mic on the big stage, performed to few athletes and other present, with the hope that some other Nigerians will be watching on TV.

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It was really a poor and shady preparation which lack publicity, but it may not be a big deal since its happening in Nigeria where the attention presently, is focused on political campaigns ahead of the 2019 general elections.

But for some people like me, who likes things to be orderly and done rightly, we will be hoping that host for the next edition in 2020 is identified and enough funds are released for adequate preparation.

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