From there they would set themselves on a path where they can do great things for themselves on the big stage and by extension put Nigeria on the map.

The competition started well, producing some of the best talent that made Nigeria proud. However, over time, the competitors began to lose the true essence of the Festival.

Some states resulted in hiring mercenaries or tempting some of the best athletes from other states with deals that would turn their heads. Unfortunately, they have found a way to navigate beyond the rules of the competition.

However, one team has decided not to follow that trend, and that is Team Lagos. In the last two editions, Lagos has done something different from what others are doing, thanks to the genius of Sola Aiyepeku and Toyin Gafaar, who took over as Executive Chairman and Director General of the Lagos State Sports Commission a few years ago. years.

Since the two entered, they have taken a more robust approach to the National Sports Festival, focusing primarily on youth.

President Aiyepeku revealed that the reason for this is to produce athletes who can go on to become world champions, an idea that fully fits the initial goal of the Festival.

“When we joined, one of the first things we decided was that we would pursue talent development in truth and spirit by rebuilding key foundations,” said Sola Aiyepeku.

“However, as we all know, developing talent takes time. So the big question for us was, how do we focus on developing talent while remaining competitive?

“This was the challenge that the CEO and I delivered to the technical department and our coaches.

“The first step we took was to reduce the age of Team Lagos. We had athletes who had been representing Lagos since the early 90s, and we decided that was not an efficient use of resources.

The LSSC president also added that while they recruited the best young talent, they were never forced to pay astronomical fees for athletes.

“We also refused to pay over the odds to athletes who were considered medal guarantees and naturally met strong resistance, but we stood our ground,” Aiyepeku continued.

“We lowered the average age from 34 to 22. We did this by promoting the majority of our contingent to the National Youth Games, many of whom were teenagers.

Aiyepku revealed that the Sports Festival was the first time they had tried their approach and had success, considering it was their first event.

“So the 2022 Sports Festival in Delta was really a testing ground for our idea and vision, and the results were amazing.

“Our coaches and technical department did a great job preparing the athletes and they performed beyond even our expectations.

Even though we finished in fifth place, our wealth of silver and bronze medals showed the real joy for us because Team Lagos was now full of young athletes who could compete now but had at least a ten year track to become. a potential world. class athletes,” added Aiyepeku.

For his part, Toyin Gafaar, General Director, revealed that the reason why his strategy has paid off is because of his great vision and innovation.

“When the president and I decided that we would not join the race to win medals just for the sake of winning medals, we had to clearly encapsulate and share this vision with our staff,” he said.

“That may sound easy, but I assure you, it’s not that easy. Most people in sports are used to seeing the National Sports Festival as a medal-only platform.

“Convincing them that we can remain competitive even with a contingent full of rookies and youngsters was not that easy.

However, I think when they saw that we were serious and also saw that the young athletes were ready and just needed to be given confidence, confidence and platforms, they started to fit the vision and we’re grateful for the work they’ve done. done. I must congratulate all the trainers who work with us.

Working with young athletes requires a lot of sacrifice and commitment, and these coaches demonstrated remarkable commitment,” Gafar concluded.

The new approach of the Lagos team has paid off and there has been a steady progression in the last two editions of the Sports Festival.

The Lagos team had the youngest contingent at the 2020 Edo Sports Festival, finishing with 32 gold medals and over 100 medals. The steady improvement was on display in the games at Delta the last time Team Lagos finished with 41 gold medals and over 172 total medals to finish fifth.

In fact, at Delta 2022, Team Lagos won the prestigious 4×100 meter relay thanks to Olaolu Olatunde, Idris Ojonugwa, Madonna Favor and Ajayi Lawal, who had an average age of 18.

Chief Executive Aiyepeku believes that this is just the beginning of good things and is keen to continue the great work they have started.

“I’m happy with the performance of our young contingent, but I’m actually more excited for their future.

We had athletes as young as 12 in our contingent. Members of our men’s 4 x 100 meters were discovered through the Maltina School Games just a couple of years ago,” he said.

“Our young athletes are already winning multiple gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and are already showing up at the Olympic Games. Imagine what they will be doing in four years! That, to us, is what we consider success.

“We are building a culture of competitive performance driven by sustainability and long-term success. We don’t want our athletes to have dozens of NSF gold medals, but not a runway toward professional or international success.”

“With the continued backing of the Lagos State government, the attraction of Corporate Nigeria and the establishment of regular competitions between festivals, we want them to perform at two, maybe three NSF and then move on to bigger stages, win scholarships, join the international professional circuit and ultimately bringing Glory to Lagos and Nigeria.

This, to us, is our image of success, and we will continue to pursue it in the full knowledge that it is the right thing to do for these young athletes, their families, Lagos and Nigeria.”