As the 21st National Sports Festival enters Day eight, some states are gasping for breath in search of medals, others are gathering the precious metals with ease. One of such states is Bayelsa state who seemed unperturbed with the turn of events in some sports considered their area of strength
In this interview with Newspathfinder, the state commissioner for sports and Sydney Olympic Wrestling champion, Chief Daniel Igali said the state’s hope of harvesting medals is not only on swimming as the state came prepared with gamut of sports. He also informed that Bayelsa state has raised the bar of reward for medalists.
Interview by Chigozie Chukwuleta
Q. Your impression on general organization of the 21st National Sports Festival.
A. I think we had a shaky start with accommodation issues and transportation but that’s normal with every major multi sports competition. So in my opinion, Delta state has done very well. In this time of financial difficulties, you have state government spend such enormous resources to put up this kind of tournament together, it’s appreciable. And I want to thank the government and people of Delta state for hosting the national sports festival. Having said that, over the seven days, the competition has been very keen, states have been doing very well. We’ve not had too many issues except for one or two unfortunate incidents about death which is unfortunate. So far so good, I think it is going on very well.
Q. In one of the days you were seen expressing displeasure over an incident involving referees of Wrestling Federation. Are you satisfied so far with level of officiating in Wrestling in this festival?
A. No, in wrestling, every athlete here knows it, you can’t rob an athlete because you are bribed. Sometimes referees make mistakes. What l was impressing on the referees yesterday was, if any referee intentionally errs here on the mat, the person will immediately be suspended from this tournament because I have three replacement referees here. And not only will the person be suspended from this tournament, the referee will be banned for a minimum of two years from participating in any national competition, and at least the next sports festival. So l needed to sound that stern warning to them so that they will know the gravity and enormity of doing things that are underhanded in this tournament.
Q. Your swimming medals hope seems dashed with the challenge encountered by one of your golden girls. How is that going with your team?
A. Well, Bayelsa state came here not with hope only on swimming. We have some sports that are of competitive advantage in our view. But we also came very prepared with a gamut of sports. So far from what I have seen, there are at least 15 different sports which we have won gold medals. That tells you that we are prepared. What l am not too pleased with is the late release of results. I have made it a point in my federation that if we finish competition today, before we start the next session tomorrow, our results for today must reflect on the final table. I find it very difficult to understand why some federations can’t do that. Because as l speak to you, Bayelsa state has won 58 gold medals, we have 36 silver Medals and 50 bronze Medals. We have over 140 medals as we speak but what is reflected is 15 gold medals which does not for me do justice to promptness in a competition of this magnitude. I really want to call on the authorities to ensure that every federation does what is required of them. Within 24 hours results should be on the final table to be presented by the MOC. It does not tell well on us if after seven days of competition, you are still just showing what Bayelsa won on day two of this competition. So please the authorities should take note and ensure that results are put on for public display as soon as possible so that it will reflect the accurate position of all states. That way we all know where we need to do better, if we are behind we need to know why we are behind. But if you are at 58 gold medals and 15 is reflected, it doesn’t really tell good of us and that is something we need to improve on.
Q. Are you considering athletes from here to gain automatic qualification to African championships?
A. Anybody who emerges a champion here automatically becomes number one in their weight class. But we also have our national championships next year in March in Bayelsa before the African championship in May. So that would probably be our final trials for the African championship.
Q. Is it true that Bayelsa state government is fulfilling the promise of instant reward for medalists?
A. Yes, His Excellency Senator Duoye Diri promised that any athlete from Bayelsa extraction that wins a gold medal here in the festival will receive 200,000 as pocket money. That is not what the state government will do to receive them when they get back to Yenegoa. A silver medalist gets 100,000 and bronze medalist gets 50,000. And l can authoritatively tell you that every athlete who has won any gold medal, that is all 58 of them, infact this morning we had another gold medal in swimming, and l am hearing another one, that’s 60 gold medals will get their money today. All the silver medalists, 36 of them and results are still coming in every second, at the end of the day it could be 40 silver medals though we want all those ones in gold, they will all get their 100,000. And all bronze medalists will also get their 50,000. And that is what the prosperity government does. When you have a governor who has been a former commissioner for sports who understands how important it is to motivate your athletes, you do what is needful. And that’s what the governor has done. I really want to use this opportunity to thank His Excellency Senator Duoye Diri and our supervisor, the deputy governor, Senator Lawrence Oborawharievwo for being so huge with us, for the support, the encouragement given to us. And we promised that when we came, we will be on the podium but it may even turn out that we may be on a higher podium than last time. But we are keeping our fingers crossed.