The 17th National Sports Festival, christened the “Garden City Games”, has no doubt, raised the stakes in the hosting and organisation of the fiesta.
The innovative creations, the prize money, the colourful opening and closing ceremonies were very unique aspects of the festival that have had very little precedent in the fiesta’s history.
At the close of the games, the host, Rivers State, came first with 135 gold, 79 silver and 85 bronze medals, while the defending champion, Delta came second with 82 gold, 89 silver and 81 bronze medals. Edo placed third with 46 gold, 41 silver and 43 bronze medals.
No doubt, Rivers State entered the record book as one of the few states which have hosted the games twice, its first being in 1988.
Demonstrably, Rivers State had yearned for the opportunity to host the games again and when it came, it was with unrivalled zest and showmanship that it hosted the games.
Against this backdrop, it is understandable why the glamour that attended the 17th national fiesta has elicited from Nigerians, a clamour to rebrand the sports festival, with a view to making it a money-spinning for athletes and the nation.
President Goodluck Jonathan may have himself set the pace of such advocacy, when, during the opening ceremony, he announced cash prizes for the winners of the newly introduced trophies at the fiesta, in honour of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Chief Jerry Enyeazu and Nojeem Mayegun.
Sports analysts recall that it was Gowon, as the nation’s military head of state, who introduced the games in 1973, partly to enhance national unity in a nation that had just gone through a civil war, as well as enhance the physical wellbeing of the nation’s youth.
Eyeazu on his part was the first director of sports to organise the national sports festival, while Mayegun was the first Nigerian to win an Olympic medal.
The trophies were donated by the Plateau, Abia and Lagos State governments.
As the curtain closed on the 17th edition of the games, Rivers state won the N20 million prize money and the “Gowon trophy” that goes with the first place position, while Delta carted home N15 million and the “Enyeazu trophy” for the second placement. Edo won the “Maiyegun trophy” to go home with the third prize money of N10million.
Sports analysts predict that greater awards may well be available in the future, especially as President Jonathan pledged that the prize monies would be reviewed upwards to make the games more competitive.
Invariably, the federal government’s gesture has opened up calls for the general rebranding of the games.
Such calls have been diverse and varied, though they seemed to tally with trends in the world’s major games such as the All-African Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games.
Mr Patrick Ukah, the President of Nigerian Hockey Federation and a marketing consultant, said that it was obvious that the “Garden City Games” had raised the bar for the nation’s sports fiesta hosting.
“I want a situation where other games will be made attractive for participating states and athletes. Corporate bodies and organisations could come in and sponsor the trophies donated for the various sports.
“If for instance, the winner of the Gowon trophy is given N500million, the Enyeazu trophy – N300m and Mayegun trophy – N250m; such will go a long way towards getting the best out of our athletes.
“In addition, it is also possible for states to get sponsorship from corporate bodies for the games,’’ he said.
With the benefit of hindsight, Ukah said that the sponsorship of the Garden City Games by some companies was good but believed that more could still be done.
Retired Brig-Gen Emmanuel Okaro, a sports administrator and Chairman of the Games Services Committee, shared similar viewpoints with Ukah and stressed that the nation’s athletes would be the major beneficiaries of the re-branding.
“Just as it is being done in major games like the All-African Games, Commonwealth and Olympic games, we stand to benefit more if the National Sports Festival is given enough sponsorship.
“Take for instance, the opening and closing ceremonies of the garden city games; it was a spectacular scene like we normally see in other countries of the world.
“With this kind of show, glamour was obviously added to the games and if more money is added to the trophies, our athletes will strive to do better at the games,’’ he said.
Chief AdokiyeAmiesimaka, former Green Eagles winger, also shared same sentiments with Ukah and Okaro, and stressed that the games deserved more glamour and greater competitiveness.
“Apart from acting as an avenue for our youths to meet and for new talents to be discovered, the festival will get more value with good sponsorship. I believe that our sportsmen and women will get busier preparing to compete in every festival’’ he said.
Amiesimaka, after whom the magnificent complex for the games was named, advised that conscious efforts should be made to improve on the value and status of future games, especially as the Rivers state government had raised the bar very high.
As the nation prepares for the next edition of the games in Lagos, sports enthusiasts, athletes and officials are optimistic that greater heights will be attained at the games, in terms of competitiveness, financial benefits to athletes, as well as national prestige.
Mbonye writes from News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)