By NBF News

The 23rd edition of the Nigerian Universities Games Association (NUGA) Games has come and gone but most of the institutions that took part in the biennial tournament would not bury the memory in a hurry. Much controversy as well as criticisms trailed the multi-sports event that ended at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) last week. Though the event got some applause, its lapses outnumbered its gains. OLALEKAN OKUSAN, who was at the championship in the ancient city of Benin, the Edo State capital, chronicles the happenings that marred the championship.

MANY schools lauded the new system of registration introduced by the organisers of this year's NUGA Games and this indeed helped in curbing the use of mercenaries by some institutions. To a large extent, the online registration curtailed the fielding of ineligible athletes by schools and this was a landmark feat achieved by the management of the University of Benin (UNIBEN), which hosted the championship.

More so, this inspired the participating schools to prepare their students as much as possible ahead of the tourney, while school administrators provided the teams the needed tools to excel at the competition. More schools were encouraged to participate, just as some private tertiary institutions keyed into the event.

However, few hours after touching down at the venue of the championship, their hopes of a successful tourney were dashed, as they were shocked at the kind of organisation in place for the competition. For registration, it took hours for teams to complete their documentation, while works were still ongoing in some of the facilities to be used for the event.

A distraught official of the University of Port Harcourt, who pleaded anonymity, was quick to raise this alarm: 'I am indeed disappointed with what I met for this championship. How can you expect that the championship was supposed to hold last year but up till now work is still ongoing in some of the major facilities to be used? I wonder where they spent the over N3 billion budgeted for this championship!'

For three days, work was in top gear at the swimming pool section of the UNIBEN Sports Centre, while there was no possibility of a quick completion of the indoor hall, which plastering work was yet ongoing.

At the opening ceremony, which was graced by a representative of President Goodluck Jonathan, the number one citizen charged the teams to exhibit sportsmanship spirit at the event. Represented by the Director of Human Resources, Federal Ministry of Education, David Momodu, Jonathan expressed optimism that the Games would be a 'keen and thrilling competition, replete with new records that will signal sports renaissance in Nigeria.'

According to him, sports activities have become veritable tools for infrastructure development and not just the competitors' physical and mind development, and 'some of the most popular personalities in the world today are sportsmen and women or personalities involved in some way in the administration of sports.'

He said: 'The 23rd NUGA Games, to my mind, could not have come at a more opportune time as it signals the formal beginning of our preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and several other international competitions,' the president said.

Nevertheless, what the president failed to understand was that using the Games partly as a build-up to the Olympics would just have been a mere statement because it was obvious that the athletes expected at the global sporting events are not discovered at such 'hurriedly packaged' tournaments.

Despite the non-completion of facilities, which forced some of the events to be taken to venues outside the school, the worst scenario happened late on Wednesday, when some UNIBEN students disrupted proceedings in the table tennis and football events. This prompted the NUGA Technical Committee to suspend all events for several hours on Thursday, until there was security assurance from the school management.

At that meeting between the school authority and NUGA executive members, it was resolved that security of the athletes must be guaranteed, which the UNIBEN management agreed to sort out and with that, the NUGA officials gave the Games the go-ahead.

Also of note was UNIBEN's inability to put in place a functional information cum media centre, where information would be passed across and journalists covering the event would have easy access to daily happenings. Several visits by journalists to the supposed media centre were fruitless, as there was no official to attend to them.

There were several allegations against the host school of fielding non-students in some of the events, while some participating schools became culprits of harsh decisions by the Games' jurists. Some of the athletes confirmed to The Guardian that it was obvious from the beginning that the school was not ready for the event.

'I think UNIBEN is not ready for the Games and whoever must have forced them to stage the championship has not done them favour because they were overwhelmed by the situation on ground,' a female athlete said. 'For me, I will say this is the worst NUGA Games I had ever attended since my maiden appearance at the 2006 edition at the University of Maiduguri.'

For the leader of delegation of one of the schools, the atmosphere was not encouraging owing to several controversies that characterised the Games since it began. He put it succinctly: 'I think this is not the kind of Games every school was hoping to attend because some of the students were not sportsmanly enough, while the issue of security was not properly addressed by the host.

'How can we resort to inviting armed security personnel to take over security in such event? I think this goes to show that the school was not well prepared for the Games. It is high time that NUGA ensured that all these things were met before any school is considered to host Games.'

Skipper of the Obafemi Awolowo University's victorious hockey team, David Ogbuke, was straightforward in his assessment of the situation: 'Comparing the 2009 edition hosted by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to this year's event hosted by UNIBEN, I want to say that this Games scored bellow average. The organisation, accommodation and hospitality in general have not been encouraging at all. Sports is all about fun and if you cannot get the fun, that means there is something we are lacking; that means the bond of friendship in sports is missing.'

One of the NUGA technical committee members, pleading anonymity, was totally disappointed with the host, saying: 'We never expected that it would be this bad at all. Though they requested for extension of the date of the Games, but we insisted that they must stage the event because we don't want it to stretch further. But from what we have witnessed so far, we are really surprised with this kind of set-up.'

One of the UNIBEN silver-winning volleyballers told The Guardian that she was indeed disappointed with the organisation of the championship: 'I think if I see the Vice Chancellor I would be willing to let him know that this championship was poorly staged,' she said.

'Having featured in NIPOGA Games before coming to UNIBEN, I saw the kind of organisation put together by YABATECH but what UNIBEN did this year was indeed a shame to NUGA itself. There is nothing good about the entire games and I feel the NUGA body should look into all these in choosing the next host. I am disappointed that my school could not stage a befitting event.'

Aside the irregularities that smeared the Games, there were no new records by the athletes, confirming the obvious that teams did not really prepare well for the Games. However, Local Organising Committee (LOC) Head of Information and Media, Dr. Eddy Erhagbe, has an entirely different opinion to the ones stated so far. He said the tourney would go down memory lane as the best-organised Games in the history of NUGA. He said he was surprised that despite the challenges of sponsorship that the school faced, it was able to host the championship.

'We have been getting commendations for the Games and I don't see why people should start complaining about the organisation,' Erhagbe submitted. 'On the accommodation, we have facilities for over 8,000 students and the athletes that came for NUGA are less than this, so everybody – even those that had their events outside the school – were provided with good accommodation.

'Prior to the Games, the environment was fumigated and if the mosquitoes are coming now, I think it is a general one. Even the facilities that were not ready before the kick-off are now in place. For easy access to information for journalists, we have a functional website where information about the championship is uploaded on regular basis.

'Aside the two incidents that occurred in the table tennis and football events, which have also been resolved, I did not see any problem of security. For days that the championship took place, there was no incident of kidnap or death, so I don't see reasons the issue of security should be raised at this moment. For us, we have organised a befitting NUGA Games, which I believe will rival previous editions in terms of organisation.'

Over 40 schools took part in the championship, which the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) won for the fourth consecutive time. Sports analysts believe this is also a major challenge that could prompt schools to pay attention to sports, as some see the Games as a routine that must be observed biennially without any conscious effort to develop sports in their domains.

Nevertheless, the NUGA Executive Council has given OAU the right to host the 24th edition next year (to restore the normal schedule, which was altered when it was postponed from last year). UNIPORT, with a wide medals gap of 46 gold medals, 16 silver and 15 bronze medals, was the best team at the multi-sports championship. It dominated virtually all the 15 sporting events at the championship, winning over 14 gold medals in the athletics event.

Following UNIPORT in the overall medals table was the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), which had 15 gold, 17 silver and 13 bronze medals, while OAU came third with 13 gold 11 silver and three bronze medals. Host team, UNIBEN, was fourth with 10 gold, 12 silver and 17 bronze medals, while UNIMAID and the University of Lagos (UNILAG) came fifth and sixth respectively.

At the Games' inauguration in 1965, with the University of Ibadan (UI) as host of the maiden edition, one of its purposes was to engender friendship among schools as well as encourage sports participation among students. Previous editions have churned out athletes that have moved up to represent Nigeria at major international competitions. Among them were Super Eagles' former captain, Sunday Oliseh, Africa's fastest man, Olusoji Fasuba, and current national sprint champion, Obinna Metu.

For the NUGA body, this edition should be a lesson that would help to check the reoccurrence of lapses so noted, while efforts must be made to support athletes discovered for them to attain greatness in their chosen fields of sports within and outside their schools.