*By Dare Kuti*

Sporting greetings to the sports community, families, athletes, and para-athletes who have been agitating over the removal of their sport at the forthcoming National Sports festival. I had wanted to keep mute over the issue of the removal of the Para Sports ahead of the 21st National Sports Festival in Delta but my phone had not stopped buzzing since Monday (17th October 2022).

Some agitated para athletes staged a peaceful protest at the National Stadium in Surulere last Monday to express their displeasure over the removal of most of the para events while leaving three events. The National Council on Sports broke the camel back on Wednesday by announcing that no para-sports will feature at the 21st National Sports Festival in Delta later this year.

Well, it is a good thing that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development ably led by chief Sunday Akin Dare has decided to create a National Para Sports Festival but the timing for the noninclusion of the para-sports is wrong.

Fortunately, the first edition of the National Para Sports Festival was held in Abuja last April and some states could not participate because they did not have a budget. Those that made it to the festival had to stage some demonstrations before the state governments decided to squeeze out money from their respective sports council and sports commissions to attend the maiden edition.

If you paid attention, you will notice that the powerhouse of Sports in Nigeria like Delta, Lagos, Edo, Osun States, and a few others could not send their representation. This led to some athletes disguising themselves under the umbrella of clubs.  

Fast forward to this time around, news filtering around is that of the National Council of Sports in Nigeria meeting and decide to remove three sports- the para-sport that is making Nigeria proud and will continue to make Nigeria proud at future competitions. This implies that athletes like Bose Omolayo, Oluwafeimayo Alice, Innocent Nnamdi, Precious Orji, Latifat Tijani, and many others will not be partaking in any national festival this year 

If you notice the para- powerlifters always come to our rescue when Nigeria needs medals. We have World Record holders, Commonwealth Games record holders Paralympic Games record holders who are making the country proud. It is the same thing with Para Table- Tennis and Para Athletes; they made Nigeria proud in this year's commonwealth games.

So, it would be a disservice to treat them as less human. We know the Minister of Youth and Sports has good intentions but the intentions are coming at the wrong time. 

We should use the first edition thethe ara- the festival as a test- run and we should not disengage those that did not participate in April because many people are keen on attending the festival in Asaba. 

We know the winners of the festival in some States get as much as one million naira. And we all know what this one million can do in the lives of some of them.  Some of them use it to pay their house rent and feed their families. You would also be surprised that if they don't go to the national sports Festival in Delta state the rate of unemployment in the country will increase. 

It will be an eyesore to see Commonwealth Games champions and Paralympians going to the streets to beg when they have another source of livelihood which includes the National Sports Festival 

We are appealing to the Directors of Sports in Nigeria and the Federal  Ministry of Youth and Sports to reconcile. It is not yet late to include the para-sport, the various sports councils and commissions already have this para-athlete included in their budget.  So it is not going to be an extra expense. Their money is already there. So, I am appealing to the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development as well as the National Council on Sports to include the para-sports in the National Sports Festival. If we don't, they will think you are doing them great harm.

We are calling on well-meaning Nigerians, traditional rulers, religious rulers, and Ex International to appeal to the sports authority to consider bringing back the paradigm and include the para-sports in the National Sports Festival.

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