THE PLIGHT OF SUPER FALCONS

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The government must redeem its image by paying the players promptly

The barb throwing that has prevailed following the shoddy treatment accorded the national female football team and the failure of authority to pay their bonuses and allowances is a disturbing trend that can dampen patriotism. The gallant Super Falcons placed the country on the path of honour after they defied all odds by beating the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon to win the Africa Women Cup of Nations in style. But they were treated rather shabbily upon return to the country.

The Falcons were hailed by most Nigerians, when they defeated the host country to extend their record of winning the African Women Cup of Nations to nine out of the 11 editions. The performance was not only brilliant, it has made Nigeria the benchmark for excellence in football on the African continent, in addition to making the players role models for many young ladies that look up to them.

Unfortunately, and in a manner that is a wrong emblem for the country, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) elected to deny the players their due on the trumped up excuse that it had no money to offset the accumulated bonuses and allowances. The uncharitable act of the NFF and the Ministry of Sports has made the nation the object of ridicule before the rest of the world, fuelled by the refusal of the players to vacate their hotel almost two weeks after they returned from Cameroon.

In the heat of the crisis, the Sports Minister, Mr. Solomon Dalung, further stoked the fire when he made a rather insensitive comment that the money was not paid because government did not project that the team would win the championship. The unfortunate remark has been condemned by the union of Nigerian professional footballers which has challenged NFF to take responsibility and ensure that the players and their officials are paid their entitlements without further delay.

It is noteworthy that bonus fiasco involving the Super Falcons escalated about two weeks after the national female Under-20 team players were treated the same way by NFF which abandoned the players in a hotel upon their return from the FIFA U20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea. NFF officials offered lack of money as the reason for the non-payment of the allowances.

It does not appear that the NFF and government in particular have learnt a lesson from history as crisis of this nature occurred in 2004, when the Falcons embarked on a sit-in protest and declined to board a plane from South Africa following the non-payment of their bonuses and allowances by government upon winning the Africa Women Championship. The team was stranded in South Africa for days and only agreed to return home after government had indemnified all the full entitlements due to them.

Given the prevailing saga, the predilection of NFF to continue to overstretch itself must be questioned, considering its poor financial state which has made it difficult for it to pay salaries of coaches and allowances in addition to other pecks budgeted for players and team officials on national duty. Twice in September and October this year, a timely intervention by government saved the country from global outrage, when it provided charter flights for Nigeria football teams to the Olympic Games on the eve of the first match in Manaus, Brazil and to Zambia for a crucial World Cup qualifier in Ndola.

We find it strange that of all affiliated members of international football association that participate in all FIFA and CAF organised tournaments, our country is always the object of ridicule before, during and after most tournaments. Something has to be done to redress this emblem of shame. But in the immediate, the federal government must find the money to pay the Falcons their due.