By Pual Bassy
Two Saturdays ago I was the guest of Aisha Falode at the AIT in Abuja. Naturally we got talking about sports and the conversation dovetailed into Nigeriaâ€™s preparedness to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup. I then raised the argument of the team being on ground, that with a good team you may shield some hosting inadequacies.
We remembered the FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa and how the good showing of the Bafana Bafana helped to sustain interest in the competition. Suddenly, we asked ourselves, where is our team? Who is the captain of the U-17 squad? If we do not know the captain do we know any player in the team?
Since coach John Obuh was appointed, we do not seem to have anything to say about a team that is the reigning champion of the world cup, a team that will be called upon to defend the crown in October.
There and then, Aisha decided to do a vox pop, go out to the streets and ask Nigerians about their U-17 team. Looking forward to the airing of that piece.
Three days ago, I had cause to remember that incident when Dr. Amos Adamu, FIFA executive committee member came to the National Stadium to watch track and field. The former director general of the National Sports Commission nearly stopped the event as he was surrounded by former staff, come to exchange pleasantries.
Suddenly we found ourselves alone and the discussion narrowed down to the FIFAU-17 Championship and our readiness to host. Dr. Adamu was confident we will, although he will appreciate some degree of speed in the whole process. Also, he says the LOC will need to be a bit more ready than they are now.
The CAF Executive Committee member and President of WAFU also wished Nigerians will know that hosting the world cup even at U-17 category is not just about stadia but a complete package including hospitals, roads, telecommunication and communicationâ€¦â€¦.
I then asked him about the team. He threw the question back at me only to say that his greatest concern is the FIFA medical test that is yet to be conducted on the team. He will want the team to be on ground early enough in case FIFA doctors are not satisfied with too many, so that we will have enough time to recoup.
Quickly, my mind went to an article I did in March while I was in Algeria as CAF General Coordinator to the CAF U-17 Championship.
Permit me to reproduce that piece entitled RUN, NWOSU RUN, FIFA DOCTORS ARE HERE.
â€œToday is Wednesday March 24, 2009. Time is 6am. I am sitting in my room 1033 Sheraton Hotel in Algiers. In the next six hours I should be on my way to the stadium to supervise aÂ Group A encounter between Cameroun and Guinea.
This match as you will come to realize isÂ a formality as Algeria and Gambia have already qualified from that group. The same story is repeated in Group B where Burkina Faso and Niger are through while Malawi and a youthful Zimbabwe team are heading home. What this means is that Algeria, Gambia, Burkina Faso and Niger are already qualified for Nigeria 2009.
â€œNeedless to tell you that Nigeria is not here. Although we are automatic qualifiersÂ for the World Cup as host, this is a competition that has become our birthright in Africa only for coach Alphonsus Dike and his hapless squad to get us knocked out by Benin.
â€œI know coach Dike will not want to be reminded of that fateful day in Cotonou, September 14, 2008 to be precise when a two goal lead in the first leg in Port Harcourt was cancelled by Benin to throw us out of a competition in which we are world defending champions.
â€œWhat that defeat means is that today we are not in a position to put our team in shape for the world cup which we are hosting later in the year. As you are reading this,Â Coach Henry Nwosu is still struggling to put a team together so he is not even in Algeria to monitor and spy on those teams that are likely to be threats should he make progress in the competition.
â€œIf he had arrived here, I would have advised him to take a second look at Gambia. To get to this stage, Gambia thrashed Sierra Leone 7-1 home and away and shocked favourites Ghana by the away goal rule.
In a match in which our own Taiwo Ogunjobi was match commissioner, Ghana beat Gambia 3-1 in Kumasi only to lose the return leg 2-0 in Bakau two weeks later.
On opening day, Gambia dismissed Guinea 1-0 and later stamped a 2-0 superiority over Cameroun whose players were more or less playing for the attention of the few European scouts that are here.
â€œAfter that, I would have broken two news pieces to the Nigerian coach. The good news is that FIFA has vigorously put in place a medical procedure that will eliminate to the barest minimum the detection of ailments that occasion accidental deaths.
The B part of this breakthrough is that there is a high possibility of detecting the correct ages of players through a morphology test (donâ€™t ask me how it operates).
â€œThe bad news is that Coach Nwosu may now have to start all over again, the process of picking his players for the World Cup. Here in Algeria, the fear of FIFA is the beginning of wisdom.Â Before the competition started FIFA doctors went to work subjecting theÂ 160 players to various tests and at the end of the day six players were found not fit to continue in the competition. Add to this the dope test that is also going on here.
â€œBefore now it was practical to get national team doctors to do independent tests as prescribed by the FIFA medical commission. Unfortunately, this did not quite work out due to the different conditions that the countries are subjected to, technologically and financially.
â€œBefore the start of this competition, therefore, countries were put on notice regarding the medical tests to be supervised by the head of FIFA medical team, Dr. Jiri DvorakÂ and Dr. Astride Junge, the director of the FIFA Medical Research Centre (F-MARC).
â€œThis highly innovative breakthrough in sports science involves a thorough investigation and new methodÂ of medical and physicalÂ examination for the evaluationÂ of the heart, lungs, vertebral columns, knees and also a blood analysis.
â€œWhat I cannot say is whether the players that have been tested and cleared here will be subjected to another test before October. What I know however is that Nigerian players will definitely pass through this test so we should brace ourselves for D-Day lest we are left with a squad that is not numerically sufficient to start a football match.
â€œAt this point, I will not sleep easy if I do not say anything about the youthful squad that Zimbabwe brought to this championship. The moment I saw them I knew they were not going to win the competition. Whereas other countries came with club players, 14 of Zimbabweâ€™s 18-man squad are high school boys including the Moyo twins Elvis and Kevin who attend Mzikilazi High School.
â€œThe other exception must also be Algeria who have also presented 16 players from the Federationâ€™s AC FAF 1 Academy( the exceptions are France based Bendahmane NadirÂ and BenyahiaÂ Mohammed of AS Cannes and O. Nimes respectively) this can be likened to asking The Football Academy in Kwara or the Pepsi Academy to present a team to represent Nigeria in the competition.
The result may not be immediate but the gains can be assured as there will be a future for the national team, where players will naturally grow into the different age group cadres instead of the present practice where we win the World Cup at the U_17 and U_20 cadres yet cannot be guaranteed a quarter final placing at the senior World Cup by the same players who would have grown upÂ progressively to becomeÂ world beaters.â€
I have quoted this extensively to bring home the danger that is looming large. That even as far back as March when I wrote this, four months later we are still in search of a team. I also have it on good authority that some of those players who qualified their countries for October have since been axed by FIFA but have had the benefit of readjusting their squad. For us, whenâ€¦â€¦?
Sadness and Joy
The sports veterans family is in deep sorrow, mourning the death of Madam Peter Osugo. No sooner had the husband, veteran sports journalist( PECOS) celebrated 80 than the dear wife lost the battle with life.
Over the week that pain was lessened when the Almighty saw our very own Pa Ojidoh attaining the ripe old age of 83.
As I spoke to him from his WarriÂ home ,his voice as firm and as compelling as ever, he thanked God for sustenance and added, â€œ I will soon join you again. I will resume my columnâ€. I can see those sports misfits quaking as the chronic crusader for all that is right in sports, resumes his beat.
Sincere condolences Chief Osugo, congratulations Pa Ojidoh
See you next week