The foundation of sports is development, with talents discovery, nurturing and grooming of such discoveries through training and competitions as its strong pillars.
The very essence of competition in the development of sports is to ascertain rate of response and growth within a given period.
In Africa, and especially Nigeria, the very bases of development and its values are being undermined, because of some variables. Some of these variables also came to play in the recently concluded 6th National Youth Games in Ilorin.
Some of these variables include the win-at-all-cost plan, as coaches and administrators would always want to justify their ‘hard work’ by employing all negative means to win events and Games.
This therefore, brings about some level of desperation just to win medals. That obviously defeated the real essence of the National Youth Games.
Screening of athletes, which forms the important bedrock for the Games was believed to have been heavily manipulated, and the outcome showed that over 85 percent of athletes that participated in the youth sports development ritual are clearly over-aged.
National Youth Games started in 2013, as multi-sports Games for U-17 athletes, following the opening of the National Sports Festival. And in 2017, after the third edition, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development announced that it would henceforth, be for athletes of 15 years and below.
The Ministry said that the new rule was to ensure that the objective of the Games are achieved, and reduce age cheats.
One of the objectives of the Games was to create the right platform for new talents to be discovered and nurtured for future competitions. The Ministry agreed that the purpose will be defeated if at the end of the Games the same old athletes emerged.
The Games has continued to provide an avenue to bring the young athletes together under an atmosphere of friendly competition designed to enhance their potentials and all-round development.
Before now, the National Youth Games was believed to have been creating a pool of talented athletes that had continuously represented the country at International competitions. The talents discovered at previous editions of the Games had made Nigeria proud in the comity of great sporting Nations, and it’s believed that the momentum would be sustained.
However, the events that played out in the recently concluded Games had demolished that resolve.
Speaking to newsmen on the development, the Executive Chairman of the Kwara State Sports Commission, Mallam Bola Mogaji described the screening exercise as very bad, even as he suggested to the organisers to allow each Sports Federation to handle the screening of their athletes.
He joined the list of administrators that faulted the screening of athletes, which was done the second time to allow for the clearance of older athletes, owing to pressure from some coaches and administrators.
“After the screening on Thursday October 14th, 2021, which ended in controversy, the processes were re-taken on Friday October 15th, where series on manipulations were allowed to undervalue the exercise, which is classified as the most important aspect of the Games.
“The screening exercise was very bad. I saw some athletes that were allowed to participate, and it’s obvious that they far above 15 years. It’s unbelievable”, he said.
“I would have advised that each Federation do their own screening, because they know their athletes better, and they have their data. Even the athletes know themselves too.
“In badminton for instance, some players were disqualified from taking part in an U-17 competition recently in Lagos for been declared as over-aged, but were allowed to participate in the 6th National Youth Games, which is for athletes U-15 and below.
Also reacting, athletics Coach and Statistician, Lekan Soetan, described the issue of age cheating as a systemic problem in Nigeria, even beyond sports.
“The National Youth Games was initially established to raise talents has lost its vision with states now looking for opportunities to be crowned winners rather than develop talents.
“Nigerians change their original date of birth, and this shows the society we are. And since we don’t have means of verifying our age, you will always have the issues of age cheats. The Games weren’t for any state to win it, it was meant to replace the grassroots aspect of the National Sports Festival,” Soetan said.
The Chairman of Lagos State Sports Commission, Mr. Sola Aiyepeku, also frowned at the unsportsmanlike attitude.
According to him, “How can we explain a situation where athletes of ages 10-11 years old competing with older athletes? It is a sad scenario. If we continue like this, as a nation, it will not end well.
“Then, Nigeria was a leading force in Africa sprint, but today, other countries have taken over from us. This is because we don’t have the pool of athletes from the domestic front who will take over from the ageing ones”.
Before the Games, the Acting Director, Grassroots Sports Development, Alhaji Bode Durotoye has re-affirmed his earlier resolve that screening will continue till the end of the Games, and that any athletes adjudged to be above 15 will be removed, the coach and his or her state sanctioned. However, no athletes was removed despite that most of the athletes were clearly over the age of 15.
The Minister of Youths and Sports, Sunday Dare, who expressed displeasure over the menace of age cheat at the Games condemned the act, and vowed to stop it going forward.
“I want to condemn and express my disappointment about a few of the problem around age cheating that continues to roar its head specifically even during this Games”.
“The Ministry for Youths and Sports Development wants to declare that going forward we will ensure that we will adopt more scientific means of identifying age cheat next time and melt out stiff penalties to the offending athletes and the state they represent”.
In his address during the closing ceremony of the Games, the Minister said “I also need to condemn and express my disappointment about the ugly problems of age cheating that reared its head at these Games. We will ensure that we adopt more scientific and digital means of identifying age cheats next time and mete out stiff penalties to the offending athletes and States.”
Among the efforts to stop age cheat in youth competition intensified by the Minister with logical conclusion ahead of the next National Youth Games are: NIMC registration. There will be a need for all athletes to have National Identity Management Card (NIMC) registration before they can participate henceforth.
As the database will now require one to input their national identity number before the athlete can be registered successfully.
This measure is needed to avoid losing out on a possible potential medalist being screened out as over aged while they are not.
This will in turn, prevent the over aged athletes to be easily identified and screened out in other not to deny qualified athletes a future in their chosen sports.
“This document would be required, would be developed and we will work in conjunction with the Organization in charge. This measure is needed to avoid losing out on a possible potential medalist being screened out as over-aged while they are not or vice versa.
“This is a crucial step in the initiatives that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development has adopted to identify these talents early, give them the technical and financial support, provide them guidance and see them become world beaters in the not too distant future”
This Ministry of Youth and Sports Development was ensure the implementation of its adopted strategies to check age cheat, especially ahead of the 7th edition of the National Youth Games which has been scheduled for Kano State next year. The Ministry must be firm and ensure we have a worthwhile event void of age-cheating, win-at-all-costs syndrome and any vices capable of rubbishing the original essence of the event.
Despite the manipulations, some younger athletes distinguished themselves, against older ones.
Deji Akiwuwo, a Deaf Athlete from Lagos State, who won three gold medals in Deaf Athletics, was specially recognized and called to the podium at the closing ceremony by the Sports Minister for his exceptional performance.
Deji was rewarded with a sum of N200, 000 naira by the Minister for winning three gold medals in 100m, 200m and 400m race.
A lot of athletes like Deji were discovered during the Games. These athletes, if properly nurtured, are potential Olympics and Paralympics gold medalist.
At the end of the Games, Team Delta underlined their dominance by winning it for the sixth time, bagging 60 gold, 26 silver, and 28 bronze medals. They have won all the editions of the Games since 2013 when Abuja hosted the first edition.
Team Lagos came second with 19 gold, 25 silver, and 28 bronze medals, while Edo occupied the third position with 18 gold, 10 silver, and 12 bronze medals.
In fourth place was Bayelsa with 16 gold, 14 silver, and 16 bronze medals while Rivers finished in the fifth position with 11 gold, eight silver, and 14 bronze medals.
Kwara state, which finished 13th at the last edition improved its performance this term with a sixth-place finish, after garnering 10 gold, 10 silver, and 12 bronze medals.