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National Sports Festival…From Lagos ’73 To Delta 2022

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At the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, the unity of the country was seriously threatened. The then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, initiated the National Sports Festival in 1973 as a platform to bring together youths from all parts of the country to compete, using sports as a tool to achieve national healing after the brutal 30-month civil war.
He saw the sports festival as a rallying point for national unity and cultural integration. It was named the Unity Games.
The maiden edition of the NSF took place in 1973 at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. For the first time after the civil war, athletes from all nooks and crannies of the country came together to felicitate and compete under a peaceful atmosphere.
The then Midwestern State, under the administration of sports-loving Military Governor, Brigadier Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, won the inaugural edition, beating the host, Lagos, to emerge overall winner.
The sports festival made a great impact on national integration. The unity, long dreamed about by General Gowon, started manifesting as athletes discovered during the festival formed the bedrock of the country’s national teams. A majority of them represented the country in the third All Africa Games held in Algeria.
The second edition also took place in Lagos in 1975, and was won by the then Midwestern State. The festival was moved to Kaduna in 1977, and Bendel State, which came into being following the creation of States in 1976 by the Murtala Mohammed’s administration, topped the medals table.
The city of Ibadan, Oyo State, hosted the 1979 edition tagged ‘Oluyole ’79, and Bendel State also finished top on the medals table. In 1981, Benin City, the capital of the then Bendel State hosted the NSF for the first time, and Bendel State finished top of the medals table.
After Bendel ’81 edition, the NSF suffered its first postponement in 1983 due to what sports ministry officials described then as “unclear political atmosphere” after a military coup.
The National Sports Festival did not hold in 1983 as scheduled, and there was also no festival in 1984. The city of Ilorin, Kwara State, hosted the 1985 edition.
At Kwara ’85, the junior and intermediate cadres (football) were not allowed to take part in the National Sports Festival after they formed the Golden Eaglets to win the maiden FI FA Kodak U-16 Tournament in China.
The NSF did not hold as scheduled in 1987. Rather, it took place in 1988 in Port Harcourt. Bendel State finished top of the medals table at Rivers ’88.
To bridge the gap, Lagos State offered to host the NSF the following year (1989), and finished top of the medals table. The next edition of the NSF took place in Bauchi in 1991, and was nearly marred by religious violence, which broke out a few days after it commenced. In the end, Zone 2, which comprises of Bendel, Ondo and Rivers State finished top of the medals table.
After Bauchi ’91, the National Sports Festival suffered one of its worst postponements. It did not hold in 1993, 94 and 95. Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, hosted the NSF in 1996. By this time, Bendel State had been divided into Edo and Delta States, following the creation of more states by the General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration in August 1991. Lagos State finished on top of the medals table at Makurdi ’96.
There was stability, as the NSF returned to its biannual arrangement. Owerri, the capital of Imo State hosted the 1998 edition, and was won by Lagos State. Nigeria returned to democratic government in 1999, and a year later, the NSF returned to Bauchi State.
Team Delta, under the Chief James Ibori’s administration finished on top of the medals table at Bauchi 2000 with Chief Solomon Ogba as Commissioner for Sports.
Benin City hosted the NSF for the second time in 2002, with Team Edo finishing top of the medals table. The festival moved to Abuja in 2004, which Team Delta won. Delta successfully defended the NSF title two years later at Gateway 2006, Ogun State.
Thereafter, the festival suffered a one-year postponement solicited for by Kaduna State government to enable it complete its facilities. Instead of hosting the event in 2008, the KADA Games was held in 2009.
Team Delta, under the Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan’s administration topped the medals table. Rivers State hosted the National Sports Festival for the second time in 2011. Tagged The Garden City Games, Team Rivers finished on top of the medals table.
Lagos State played host to the NSF in 2012 (just one year interval) to honour the agreement it entered with the Sports Ministry during the bidding process in Kaduna, and Team Delta finished top of the medals table.
Cross River State won the bid to host the 2014 edition of the NSF. But Nigerian youths waited until 2018 for the festival to hold in Abuja.
‘The Centenary Games,’ which was meant to commemorate Nigeria’s 100 years, could not see the light of the day in Calabar.
Abuja 2018 saw Team Delta, under the administration of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, finishing on top of the medals table with Chief Tonobok Okowa as Chairman of the Sports Commission.
Benin City, Edo State, could have hosted the NSF for the third time in 2020, but the outbreak of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic forced the Games to be moved to 2021. And to prove that the victory at Abuja 2018 was not a flunk, Team Delta finished top of the medals table.
The stage is set for Delta 2022, and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa says he would host a festival that all athletes and officials will be proud of.

By: Gowon Akpodonor

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Barcelona Open: Nadal’s Comeback Ended By World No 11

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Rafael Nadal’s injury comeback was ended by Alex de Minaur as the 12-time champion waved goodbye to the Barcelona Open for possibly the final time. Nadal, 37, returned to court on Tuesday after a three-month absence, making light work of 21-year-old Italian Flavio Cobolli in a straight-set win.
A day later, Nadal lost 7-5 6-1 to world number 11 De Minaur in round two.
Nadal, a 22-time major winner, has indicated he plans to retire in 2024 if he is unable to compete regularly.
The former world number one, now ranked 644th, has only played five matches since January 2023 because of hip and abdominal injuries.
Nadal is hoping to be fit enough to make a return to the French Open, where he won a record 14 men’s singles titles, next month.
Facing a player of De Minaur’s pedigree was always likely to be a considerable step up, and a truer test of his level than his comeback outing against 62nd-ranked Cobolli.
The 25-year-old Australian tried to test Nadal’s movement by using drop shots early in the match, an effective tactic which helped him move 2-0 in front and tee up another break point for 3-0.
But Nadal survived to hold and improved his level, producing a number of explosive cross-court backhand winners as he fought back to lead 4-3.
Another backhand winner, this time down the line, even drew a clap of the strings from De Minaur and teed up another break point for Nadal.
Taking the chance would have left Nadal serving for the set, but De Minaur recovered and won 19 of the next 24 points to win an opener lasting more than an hour.
After so long out, and with playing on consecutive days, Nadal’s endurance was always going to be tested, particularly against an opponent known for his athleticism.
De Minaur played smartly in a one-sided second set and broke Nadal’s serve three times, silencing the Barcelona crowd in the process, to secure an impressive victory.
Nadal left the court bearing his name – for what could be the final time – to a standing ovation and rapturous send-off.
Meanwhile, British men’s number two Jack Draper reached his 10th ATP Tour quarter-finals at the BMW Open in Munich.
Draper, 22, fought back after a rain delay to earn a 4-6 6-1 6-1 win over
German world number 179 Rudolf Molleker at the clay-court event.

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Leverkusen Chief Backs Alonso To Join Madrid

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Bayer Leverkusen chief executive Fernando Carro has claimed that Xabi Alonso will coach Real Madrid, while also lending fresh hope to Liverpool.
Alonso’s remarkable success at Leverkusen, who clinched their first-ever Bundesliga crown at the weekend, has positioned him as one of the most sought-after managers in Europe, with Liverpool and Bayern Munich previously leading the chase. Despite the interest, the 42-year-old Spaniard has affirmed his commitment to remain at the helm of the Bundesliga outfit for at least one more season.
However, Leverkusen’s leadership acknowledges the challenge of retaining Alonso over the long term, given his burgeoning reputation and the inevitable interest from top clubs across Europe. Among the potential destinations for Alonso, Real Madrid stands out prominently as Carro expressed his belief that Alonso could eventually return to the Spanish capital, where he enjoyed a distinguished playing career.
Speaking to Tidesports source, Carro also suggested Liverpool still have a chance of striking a deal for Alonso one day, as he stated: “I have no doubt that Xabi Alonso will coach Real Madrid at some point. What I am not clear about is when, but that he will end up at Real Madrid I have no doubt, as it is also possible that he trains Liverpool or Bayern.
There are a lot of clubs interested, that’s how it is, which doesn’t mean that in the future he can’t coach some of the clubs mentioned, especially his former teams as a player. But he feels comfortable here, otherwise he wouldn’t continue. We will maintain our ambition to play in the Champions League next year.”
Despite Real Madrid’s current managerial stability under Carlo Ancelotti, whose contract is due to run until 2026, reports suggest that the club’s hierarchy views Alonso as the ideal candidate to succeed Ancelotti when his tenure concludes. The backing of Real Madrid’s board, including club president Florentino Perez, further solidifies Alonso’s prospects of potentially assuming the managerial reins at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2026. Allegedly aware of the esteem in which the club’s leadership holds him, Alonso has opted to remain at Leverkusen, biding his time for a potential return to Real Madrid.
Alonso is focused on preparing Leverkusen for the second leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final against West Ham at London Stadium on April 18, following their 2-0 victory in the first leg at BayArena.

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Barca Blame Referee, Panic For Loss To PSG

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Barcelona had a two-goal aggregate lead and were seemingly in control of their UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg match against Paris St- Germain in Spain until it all turned to chaos.
A disaster performance from the referee, panic from Barcelona’s players and an unnecessary expulsion, according to Barca sources, were all blamed on a dramatic Tuesday evening at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys as PSG ran out 4-1 winners.
Barcelona centre-back Ronald Araujo’s sending off turned the tide in their Champions League quarter-final as PSG came from 3-2 down in the first leg to win the tie 6-4 on aggregate.
A double from Kylian Mbappe, a long-range strike from Vitinha and an Ousmane Dembele goal against his former club sent Barcelona spiralling out of control – and out of the competition.
As Barcelona turned in a performance riddled with mistakes, referee Istvan Kovacs had a busy evening. The Romanian showed three red cards to the hosts – manager Xavi’s frustrations getting the better of him, before a member of his coaching staff was dismissed for dissent. That only compounded the damage done by Araujo’s red-card inducing challenge on Bradley Barcola early in the first half.
“The referee was really bad. I told him his performance was a disaster. I don’t like to talk about referees, but it had a clear impact in the season and it has to be said,” Xavi told news men.
“We are very upset and angry because the red card was the decisive factor in the match. With 11, we were in a good position, playing well and in command.
“It’s too much to flash a red card in a game like this. There was another game after that… It is a pity that the work of the season was ruined by an unnecessary expulsion.”
Araujo’s early exit allowed PSG to build momentum. The goals flowed; Barcelona collapsed. Joao Cancelo needlessly brought down Dembele in the box, allowing Mbappe to score the first of his two goals from the penalty spot.
“You can’t make mistakes in the Champions League,” former Barcelona striker Thierry Henry said after the game.
“If you make mistakes, you pay the price straight away and that’s why it is so hard to win that competition because you cannot make one mistake.”
Having left Paris with a 3-2 victory, Barcelona got off to the perfect start in their second leg when Raphinha deflected in teenager Lamine Yamal’s cross.
But Barcelona’s lead did not last long and PSG took control in the second half as the cards came from Kovacs.

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