Thursday, August 4, 2016

Blame sports minister if U-23 Eagles lose to Japan, says NFF

A repeat of the power tussle between former Sports Minister, Jim Nwobodo and the then chairman of Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Abdulmuminu Aminu, in the late 1990s may be afoot again, unless urgent steps are taken to avert what an official described yesterday as impending ‘war’ between the parties over the shoddy flight arrangement for Nigeria’s U-23 football team to the Rio Olympic Games.

The Olympics Eagles will kick off their Rio 2016 assignment against Japan later this night in the city of Manaus, but there were disturbing reports late yesterday that the Nigerians were still stranded in Atlanta, USA, where they had their training tour as part of the build up to the Games.

The team was earlier scheduled to leave on Friday, last week, but the trip was later postponed to Monday, a date that also failed due to alleged failure of the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, to meet the country’s financial obligations to the airline that was supposed to lift the team to Rio.

Since then, it has been a waiting game for the players and their officials in Atlanta, while their opponents in tonight’s game, Japan, have been training at the match venue.
Not ready to accept any blame should the team fail to live up to expectations in their first game, a top official of the NFF told The Guardian yesterday that Nigerians should know where to channel their grievances.

The official stated that Dalung was just being ‘unnecessarily wicked,’ adding that President Mohammadu Buhari warned him to hand over everything concerning preparations of Team Nigeria for the Rio Olympics two weeks ago.

“It is so sad our team is still stranded in Atlanta, USA at this late hour when all their opponents are already waiting at the venue. Our first match against Japan will take place at 2.00 a.m. Nigerian time on Friday, which is Thursday in Brazil and we are still talking of flight arrangement by this time. Nobody should blame the NFF or the players if they failed against Japan because this could demoralize the boys.

“Why will the sports minister refuse to obey the instruction of the president, who warned him two weeks ago to hand over everything concerning Team Nigeria for the Rio Olympics to the NOC?” the NFF official queried.

According to BBC reports yesterday, the delay means the Nigerians are expected to arrive in Brazil less than 36 hours before their opening match.

“The money paid by the [sports] ministry for the charter flight did not hit airline’s account on Tuesday, so they refused to fly the team to Brazil,” a source close to the NFF said.

The problems seem to have happened due to the money having to go through different bank accounts and currency conversions.

“It is a cumbersome exercise but they should have started the process much earlier, which NFF was pointing out. This issue has nothing to do with the NFF,” the source explained to BBC Sport.

He added that everyone in the NFF was “disturbed” by the situation because Nigeria’s first game against Japan in Manaus is so soon.

The BBC has spoken to several players in the party, who say they do not yet know when they will be travelling.
One of the players explained: “We’ve been told to get ready to fly out in few hours but that’s been the story since last week.”

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