Monumental medal padding taints national sports festival

ceded delta athletes
ceded delta athletes

What sports minister Sunday Dare claimed as the best National Sports Festival ever, Delta 2022,  may end up being the worst in the history of the competition following revelations and allegations of medal padding by some desperate states.

Dare, while speaking at the festival’s closing ceremony December 10, 2022 at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, rsaid, “I salute the government and people of Delta State for the successful organisation of the best National Sports Festival. I commend His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, and his team for the high standard of facilities provided for the Festival.”

However, just over a month after the festival ended, The PUNCH has uncovered a gold medal hoarding scandal that rocked the Games, which officials worked tirelessly to hide from the media and public.

Our correspondent learnt that during the festival, some states, including hosts Delta, were allotted a large number of gold medals they did not win.

A huge issue at the beginning of the festival was the late release of the medals table, which often placed competing states, officials and athletes in a fix on how many medals they had won.

But beyond that, the organisers also allegedly allocated medals wrongly to some states, which in some cases were not properly corrected.

It was learnt that Bayelsa State sports commissioner Daniel Igali held a press conference on Day 6 of the festival to point out the lateness of the table, which was not updated after “about four days late.”

Igali said he and his state’s entourage noticed that Team Bayelsa was wrongly allotted gold that they didn’t win and drew the attention of the sports ministry.

“The total number of gold medals Bayelsa won at the Asaba National Sports Festival was 109 gold medals. However, at the final collation, we were awarded 132 gold medals,” Igali said.

“A day to the end of the festival, the record of medals in my view was about 96 per cent correct. At that time, Delta had 219 gold medals and Bayelsa had 94 gold medals. We did our calculations and concluded that there were less than 70 gold medals in total to be won (before the end of the Games). However, on the last day, inspite of the 70 or so gold medals that were at play, Delta won 91 gold medals. Edo won about 30 gold medals! When I saw the supposed final medals table where Delta had shot up to 320 gold medals and Bayelsa was at 132 gold medals, I immediately reached out to a close friend, an aide to the minister, to alert them of the unspeakable corruption occasioned by the final medals table.

“I promptly protested the award of bogus gold medals to Bayelsa and requested for the medals table to be corrected. I believe that there was either criminal connivance in the allocation of medals at the festival or there was gross incompetence as never seen in any organised multi-sport Games ever.”

Igali said his protest was, however, not given a consideration by the sports ministry, who went ahead to announce the results of the ambiguous medals.

He added, “I didn’t want the minister to announce the results, as it would be a national embarrassment. But that was not immediately heeded and we are where we are now.

“I am told he set up a committee of the same people involved in the fraud and they came out with an insulting video explaining that there was no padding done.”

Igali, an Olympic wrestling gold medallist for his adopted Canada, said despite his efforts, the organisers still went ahead to release an adjusted “final medals table” which gave second-place Bayelsa 21 more gold than they actually won.

“After my complaint, the said committee met and gave us an adjusted medals table. Bayelsa was still awarded 130 gold medals, 21 more than we won.

“So, I pointed out the anomaly and requested for them to send me the total medals Bayelsa won in all sports combined. They sent me the document and I was so disappointed.

“They said Bayelsa won 28 gold medals in chess! Guess what, chess had a total of only 16 gold medals to be won by all states, and Bayelsa won only five gold medals in chess.

The last medals table they released now had Bayelsa with less than 109 gold medals that we won. They have tried to explain away the criminal connivance as best as they can, but it is fast becoming a joke.”

Further checks by our correspondent showed that other states protested the medal padding, which also fell on deaf ears.

“I actually protested officially but I did not receive any acknowledgement. I was told verbally that my protest warranted an inquest, which led to the discovery of some discrepancies. At that point I became vindicated but a proper job was not done because they only touched two states,” Rivers State sports commissioner Chris Green stated.

“But when the Games secretary appeared on TV to explain the discrepancies, he didn’t mention those that were involved and the punishment meted out to them. They did not even respond to me on the outcome of my petition. Much as I believe in the National Sports Festival, the last edition lost its integrity with the rogue award of medals termed padding. Medals were not only manufactured but were conjured. It was a big shame.”

Indeed, findings by our correspondent showed that the Delta 2022 National Sports Festival had three ‘FINAL MEDALS STANDING’ signed by the Chairman, Games Services of the festival, with all three carrying different dates after the end of the national showpiece.

But only the first medals table, which was dated Saturday December 10, 2022 — the last day of the festival — and was made available to the media and public.

In the table, Team Delta finished top with 320 gold, 200 silver and 128 bronze, amassing a total of 648 medals.

Bayelsa State came second with 132 gold, 115 silver and 90 bronze with a total of 337 medals and Edo State placed third with 78 gold, 94 silver, 167 bronze to end up with a total of 339 medals.

However, after the protest, a new table dated Monday December 12, 2022 was presented by the committee set up by the ministry to handle the matter.

This time, Team Delta were given 319 gold, 200 silver and 130 bronze for a total haul of 649 medals to remain in first place.

Second-place Bayelsa were second with 130 gold, 114 silver and 89 bronze with a total of 333 medals, while Edo were third with 339 medals: 80 gold, 93 silver and 166 bronze.

The third final medals table dated Monday December 19, 2022 also had Delta as winners but with 591 medals: 291 gold, 171 silver and 129 bronze.

Bayelsa maintained second-place with 285 medals: 104 gold, 101 silver and 80 bronze, while Edo remained third with 304 medals: 75 gold, 87 silver and 142 bronze.

“What really irks me in all of these is that we think this is not a big deal,” Igali said. “People even called me an irritant for insisting that we do the right thing.

“How can we have any trust in any multi-sport Games organised by the ministry of youth and sports if they can’t deal decisively with such scandal as never seen in sports ever before?”

Special Assistant on Media to the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Toyin Ibitoye, told The PUNCH the ministry was already investigating the matter and would issue a public statement after concluding investigation.

On likely sanctions for individuals and states found guilty, Ibitoye added, “Let the ministry find out first and discover where the mistake came from. The Director of the National Sports Festival said that there were some changes to how medals were scored in some sports. Let them conclude their investigation and come out with those corrections and the sports ministry will pick it up from there.

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“It’s too early to say what was the motive or if it was an honest mistake or if some individuals were trying to be smart until they conclude all these investigations and come out with their findings.”

But a stakeholder, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted it was “monumental fraud” and not an “honest mistake.”

“Those involved in this monumental fraud know what they are doing. They deliberately added more medals to some unsuspecting states to make it look like an “honest mistake” but the truth is that there they know those they actually manipulated the gold medals me,” our source said.

Another stakeholder said, “Let us just take it that we never had a sports festival. Can you believe that a state had 27 gold medals on the last day, and all of a sudden, it was manipulated to 41 gold. Now, for the rest of us, they made sure they didn’t release our medals on time, so they could manipulate the results.”

The Chairman, Lagos State Sports Commission, Sola Aiyepeku, in a telephone chat with confirmed that Team Lagos were sent an adjusted ‘final medals table’ where they were awarded extra medals.

“The sports ministry sent us an adjusted medals table and added one more silver and two bronze medals,” Aiyepeku said. “All the 41 gold medals Lagos won at the 21st National Sports Festival in Delta were won by Lagos State athletes, there was nothing like medal padding on our side.

“Regarding the adjusted medal, we don’t know what happened as we are not the organisers of the competition, all our medals were won officially and fairly. We don’t allocate or collate medals, we just participated and we have the names and pictures of all our gold medallists at Asaba 2022. Whatever medals the sports ministry says we won is what we won. Plans are in place for the Governor to reward these athletes; you can’t reward athletes that did not win medals.”

Ondo State Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development, Bamidele Ologun, said Team Ondo had three additional gold medals as against six they won, but protested before it was corrected.

“We protested through a letter because we knew the number of gold medals Ondo won, we knew that we did not win nine gold medals. The General Manager of the Ondo State Sports Council wrote a letter of complaint to the organisers, which I am aware of. We did what we needed to do and in the end, we won only six gold medals.”

Musa Idris, Commissioner for Sports, Kogi State, added that they had similar issues.

“In our own case, two of our medals were not captured on the medals table and I shouted, the Sports Director followed it up and we drew the attention of the organisers, we presented what we scored and it was corrected, “ Idris told The PUNCH.

Some officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also alleged that some state officials paid Games personnel from the sports ministry to add more gold medals to their haul so that they could get more money as rewards from their states.

“These mischievous officials manipulated the table so that they could defraud their states. If they won 10 gold for instance, they would add 30 more gold not won, meaning their state would reward 40 gold medallists and not 10. So, the remaining money for the ghost 30 gold medallists will end up in their pockets without the state government knowing,” a source told The PUNCH.

Brigadier General Benjamin Okaroh (retd.), who heads a committee set up by the ministry to investigate the fraud following widespread protests, corroborated our source’s claim.

Asked during an interview on radio if officials engaged in the fraudulent to get more money from their states on their return home, the retired general stated, “Of course, that’s the reason. Some will even get promoted, that the state did very well. That’s what happens.”

It was also learnt that the officials of the states being accused of the fraud didn’t present the eventual final  medals standings dated December 12, 2022, which had the unmerited gold medals deducted, in order to defraud their states.

Okaroh’s committee, which also has Mrs. Hauwa-Kulu, Madaki Elias-Gora, and an unamed representative of the Delta State Sports Commission, is expected “among other things to determine what went wrong with the medals table computation from the stand point of knowledge and experience of previous festivals. Establish the exact and correct medals table by ridding the table of any double entries and inaccuracies and make recommendations to guide against future occurrence.”

On the controversy over who computes the results between the host state and the sports ministry, Okaroh cleared the air, saying, “The ministry is normally in charge of the Games Services, which includes the Technical Committee. And nobody can change the rules without the input of the ministry, so if anybody has done anything outside that, that isn’t correct because you cannot change the rules of the Games while the Games are ongoing.  The bulk stops on the table of the ministry as far as computing and releasing of the medals is concerned.

“It makes me feel bad, because it is only when the leadership in the Technical Committee is weak, that things like that can happen. If you put your foot down, such things will never happen because I’m always with my computer looking at the medals table as they come in and we release them as at when due. I think it boils down to the Technical Committee, the leadership cannot stamp its authority on its subordinates.

“I remember it actually happened to me in Kaduna (2009 edition of the NSF). The state didn’t win any medal but towards the end, they said they won a medal and I queried it. They struggled, but eventually they disappeared, they didn’t even come back to me again. There was a case involving Delta, about a girl who they said was living in Greece and came into the country without meeting the eligibility rules. And they wanted her to compete, but I called in the police. The former minister Sani Ndanusa had to plead with me not to include police in the matter. Things like these don’t bother me. If it becomes a criminal act, I’ll involve the police.

On fears that he would be working with some people being fingered to be involved in the act, Okaro added, “I don’t know about that but of course, I don’t think it will be business as usual with me. We will look at every aspect dispassionately. I don’t know the kind of influence anybody can wield over me now at my age.

“It will be too early to say I can’t work with some people, but when we start and I see anything tilting towards that, that is when I will raise the alarm bell. I don’t want to condemn anybody when I haven’t even seen the person.”

Veteran sports journalist Ade Ojeikhere called on the Federal Government to cancel the Delta 2022 NSF, adding that those found guilty of “cash-for-gold fraud” sent to jail.

“Cancel the Games,” Ojeikhere stated. “Government should constitute a judicial commission of inquiry where those indicted are banned from coming near sports for 20 years. Where applicable in the event of established cases of fraud with Monet changing hands, culprits can be sent to jail. No half measures.”

Surely, all eyes will be on the sports ministry over how this case is managed, following the biggest scandal that ever rocked the sports festival.

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