– The Sun News

SHAME OF A NATION

How do we classify the 2016 Class of Super Falcons? Are they heroines or villains? The choice is yours. But I choose to see them as patriots. The familiar turmoil over unpaid allowances to our athletes is on again, further denting Nigeria’s image. 

The Super Falcons’ revolt in Abuja could have been avoided where the system is transparent.  I have often remarked that history is a valuable subject for humanity. Unfortunately, the country’s educational system does not seem to agree with this. Hence, the same mistakes are repeated as we continue to move in the same cycle. 

 Our past activities are often undocumented, hence no where to draw lessons from. For the records, the Super Falcons’ revolt after the victory in Cameroon was not the first instance that the ugly and avoidable incident was happening. 

In October 2004, after the team’s victory in South Africa – the fourth consecutive in the African Women Championship – the players held on to the trophy, the fruit of their labour, and refused to vacate their hotel rooms for homeward journey. 

Twelve years on, Coach Godwin Izilien, the cup-winning coach is yet to be paid. You can see reasons why the current class of 2016 have to press hard for their entitlement but the NFF will want everyone to see the ladies and their coaches as villains. 

After all, all have come to the reality that teachers’ rewards are no longer in heaven.

As for the Class of 2004 Falcons, they were in South Africa like refugees for almost a week. The episode filled the airwave on international satellite television stations especially the SuperSport, CNN and BBC. A pitiable chairman of the then NFA, Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, had to return to Nigeria to see how he could raise money to pay the $6,000 accumulated allowances for each of the players and to offset  the extra days spent in the South African hotel. 

This time around, and coincidentally too, the team beat Cameroon in the final match, but opted to shift their protest to their motherland instead of abroad. That was good enough. They saved the country from a likely international embarrassment. 

Was any lesson learnt from the 2004 episode? Certainly not. It is another case of not learning a lesson from history. Did the sports administrators – Sports minister and the NFF president act appropriately? No! Their actions or inaction only helped in reinforcing the athletes’ belief that administrators cannot be trusted. 

It was gathered that the players were initially threatened with exclusion from future selections. For the present generation, the ultimate of women footballers in the continent is to win the African Women Championship. 

Realistically, winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup (2019) or the Olympic Games (2020) is a forlorn hope. What then will the ladies lose if, as best legs at our disposal, they are excluded? 

The first reference was the issue of chattered flight that undoubtedly cost so much, yet had little or no effect in ensuring the Falcons’ success. The explanation offered in The Guardian last Wednesday which has neither been denied nor modified was: “Neither the Ministry nor the NFF paid for that flight. It was my private arrangement.”

It leaves sour taste in the mouth. It boils down to an assumption that travelling to enjoy the match was more important than ensuring the welfare of the principal actors. 

If the interest of the players were uppermost in the heart, such ‘private arrangement’ should have been done to ameliorate the players’ pains and later deducted when funds are available. 

After all, as beautiful as football is, the players are the reasons why the NFF, CAF and FIFA exist. Without the players, there will be no team, no club and football matches to regulate and no reason for establishment of governing bodies.

Even the Sports Minister did not help matter with his laughable statement that the Nigerian government did not expect a seven-time past winner and defending champion to excel in a competition that the Falcons have obviously had overwhelming dominance.

  Even if the players were not expected to win, they were entitled to allowances up to the stage they crashed out. Further explanations that other tiers of national teams – Super Eagles’ players and Nigerian coaches under the employment of the NFF –  are also being owed  only further illustrate a failed system and organisation. You don’t use your failure to meet certain statutory obligations to justify further failure. 

Little wonder then that clubs under the remit of the NFF will continue to owe players since the umbrella body is also guilty of the act. It may therefore have been a divine intervention that Nigeria will be out of all Africa Cup competitions involving the tree tiers of men teams in 2017. 

The NFF would undoubtedly go completely bankrupt owing to inadequate planning for the competitions. In the very possible scenario of the Super Eagles picking a Russia ‘2018 ticket, we should not be surprised if we are told that the players went out of bound, as they were not supposed to qualify. What a way of managing success.

Super Eagles’ coach, Gernot Rohr, has been scouting in Europe for Nigerian players in the Diaspora hoping to lure them into the Super Eagles’ fold. The unfolding discordant tunes in Nigerian football is not just enough discouragement to those players, it is also capable of making the corporate entities lose faith in Nigerian football. 

On-field achievements like winning a trophy is supposed to lead to celebrations. Not so in our case.

There have been many instances of promises and pledges made to athletes and such were either unfulfilled or given to the beneficiary decades later. The 2002 World Cup qualifying bonuses to Super Eagles is a case in point. Promises of houses made to the Super Eagles after winning the Africa Cup of Nations at Tunisia’ 94 is yet another instance. Some of the expected beneficiaries – Rashidi Yekini, Stephen Keshi, Uche Okafor and Thompson Oliha – have since passed on.

Financial promises made to the 1985 U-16 World Cup winning side were only fulfilled last year (30 years later) by President Buhari who happened to be at the helms of affairs when the promise was made. One of the beneficiaries, Kingsley Aikhionbore was already dead when the promise was fulfilled 30 years later. 

It is clear that Nigeria has always had history of bonus disputes between players and officials. In 1989, the departure of the national team for a World Cup qualifying duel was held up for nearly five hours at the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport following players’ refusal to leave their hotel until outstanding allowances were settled. Nigeria eventually lost the game in Yaoundé and crashed of Italia ’90 World Cup. Similar money palaver on the eve of Nigeria’s Round of 16 match with Denmark at the France ’98 World Cup. Throughout the night, negotiations that eventually drained the players’ energy were on. 

Little wonder Nigeria lost the match 1-4. Lack of trust between officials and athletes brews discontent. In 2003, Nigerian athletes boycotted the 4x100m and 4x400m women relay races at the World Athletics Championship in Paris to press home the demand for their allowances.  

The FIFA Confederation Cup in Brazil was at the brink of recording its first walkover following the initial refusal of the Super Eagles to board their scheduled flight for Brazil. The issue of outstanding allowances was again the cause. 

There have been longstanding promises that remain unfulfilled. For instance, the promise of scholarship made to the class of 1983 Flying Eagles have not been fulfilled till now. On the strength of the promised scholarship, some of them like Paul Okoku enlisted in American schools and had to fund their education. Thirty three years later, Okoku and co are still waiting. All these issues have to be addressed for sanity to return to our sports.

ALLOWANCE INDUCED TUMOIL IN NIGERIAN SPORTS

·          October 1981: After a surprise 0-2 loss at home to Algeria in the last qualifying stage for Spain ’82 World Cup, the home based Nigerian players threatened to boycott the return leg in Algeria if their demand for N5,000 per player was not met as similar amount had been paid to the foreign-based players invited for the  two-legged contest. Nigeria eventually crashed out 4-1 on aggregate. 

·          September 1989: Super Eagles players revolted and stayed put in their hotel for nearly six hours, refusing to board their flight to Yaoundé for a 1990 World Cup qualifier with Cameroon. Nigeria lost the match and crashed out. 

·          June 1998: Super Eagles players revolted and threatened not to play their scheduled Round of 16 World Cup match. The all-night revolt and haggling for match allowance took its toll the next day. Nigeria crumbled miserably 1-4 to Denmark.

·          January 2001: After the 3-0 defeat of Sudan in a World Cup qualifier, Super Eagles players declined the dinner organized by the then Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili, until the match allowances were brought to them at Hotel Presidential. 

·          January 2002: Super Eagles scheduled friendly match with Egypt was cancelled on the eve of the match when the Nigerian players declined on account of unsettled allowances. 

·          August 2003: Nigerian women boycotted the 4 x 100m and the 4x 400m races at the World Athletics Championships in Paris owing dispute over allowances.

·          October 2004: Super Falcons revolted and stayed put in their hotel in South Africa for almost a week. Coach Godwin Izilien is yet to be paid. 

·          June 2013: Super Eagles players refused to leave their hotel in Namibia and held on for two days, their flight to South Africa enroute Brazil for the FIFA Confederations Cup.

·          June 2014: Super Eagles players boycotted training and threatened a boycott of their Round of 16 World Cup match with France in Brazil as they press for the payment of their allowances. President Goodluck Jonathan had to dispatch the money to the team in Brazil. As in the past following money dispute, they lost the match. 

·          December 2016: Super Falcons are protesting the non-payment of their allowances after winning the African Women Championship for a record eighth time.

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