Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo lit the Torch of Unity on Tuesday in Abuja signalling the beginning of its movement for the 21st Edition of the National Sports Festival.
The festival is scheduled to hold in Asaba for Nov. 28 to Dec. 10.
Performing the exercise at an arena in the State House, Osinbajo said the Torch of Unity, which heralded the festival, symbolised peace and unity in Nigeria.
He said that the torch was also meant to create awareness about the festival amongst Nigerians and also the world at large.
The vice-president said the festival was a crucial activity in Nigeria’s sporting calendar as it had been the avenue to discover many outstanding talents that would go on to become world champions.
“Some of the great champions who we know today were actually discovered at various National Sports Festivals.
“They include the likes of Blessing Okagbare, a world medallist in the 200 meters Olympics and World Championship; and also the medallist in long jump at the Olympics.
“Chioma Ajunwa, notable for being the first Nigerian to win gold at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the first Black woman to win an Olympic Gold in any field event.
“Of course, you also have Olusoji Fasugba who was the African record holder and gold medallist in the 100 meters event with the time of 9.85seconds.
“This was until Akanni Simbine beat that time in 2021 with a time of 9.84seconds; then, Lucy Ejike, a gold medallist and world record holder at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics through to 2021 in Tokyo.
“And Enifiok Udo Ubong, the only Nigerian to win two bronze medals in the 4 x 400 meters relay and also silver medal in long jump.
“Of course, the now legendary Toby Amusan, OON, the current World, Commonwealth, African Champion in the 100 meters hurdles; she is also the recorder holder in these three competitions,’’ Osinbajo added.
According to him, stakeholders are looking forward to even more successful hurl of great stars at 21st National Sports Festival.
He said that the nation was still basking in the euphoria of the outstanding performance of Team Nigeria at the just-concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.
“We are committed to supporting the sports sector to sustain this height – the height that has already been attained.
“We realise that the overall goal of using sports as a tool for meaningfully engaging our young and also for uniting our country is a very sound objective.
“It is one that we intend to continue to pursue on a regular and daily basis,’’ the vice-president stressed.
Osinbajo commended the Minster of Sports and Youth Development, Mr Sunday Dare and the host Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa, for their efforts at bringing the festival to fruition.
Earlier in his remarks, Dare said that the event was very significant in the history of sports development in Nigeria.
Dare recalled that the vice-president, at the same arena, received the Queen’s baton to signal Nigeria’s participation at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“As we light the Torch of Unity at this venue for what is the flagship sports event in Nigeria, we refer to it as the Nigerian Olympics.
“It is from the sports festival that we hope to select our best and brightest to form Team Nigeria for the France 2024 Olympics.
“The torch is the Torch of Unity and over the years, it has united our country’s men and women.
Thirty-Six states and the FCT, 16,000 athletes, more than 28 different sports for age groups between 18 years and 25 years will participate at the National Sports festival.
“The torch is expected to move around the states and the FCT arriving in Asaba to be received by the governor,’’ he said.
The minister thanked the Federal Government for identifying with the festival and providing the support and the resources necessary over the years.
In his goodwill message, Gov. Okowa thanked the Federal Government, particularly the sports ministry for accepting that Delta should host the 21st National Sports Festival.
He said that the state was ready and was working very hard to ensure it provided the best in terms of organisation.
“We are also looking forward very keenly to other states competing with themselves excluding Delta.
“This is because we know we have already won, even ahead of time; but we will like to see other states competing with us,’’ he said.
The symbolic carrying of the torch was led by Mary Onyali, a former Nigerian sprinter.
The torch was afterwards handed over to the vice-president who returned it to the Minister of Sports.
A ceremonial mascot was also handed over to the vice-president by Gov. Okowa.