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U-17 football championship: Probing the LOC

THE U-17 World Cup football championship has ended and contrary to expectations that Nigeria would win the championship for a record fourth time, the country’s team failed to live up to this last-minute dream.

Expectations had risen following the surprising ‘success’ of the Super Eagles who scraped through to South Africa 2010 at a time all hope had been lost virtually. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in this way does not help us in anyway for it can only lead more Nigerians to believe that there’s virtue to our attitude of expecting to succeed with little or no preparation.

That attitude marked the country’s effort toward hosting the U-17 championship. It therefore should not be surprising that the handling of the event by the Local Organising Committee is now the subject of a possible probe by the Presidency.

That’s if we must believe comments by the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan. According to reports, there are allegations to the effect that money as well as cars bought for hosting the U-17 tournament were shared by members of the LOC.

This is typical Nigerian behaviour but the Vice President would want Nigerians to know that the cars bought for the U-17 competition were meant specifically for the championship and should under no circumstance be shared out at the end of the games by members of the LOC. Rather, the cars are to be sold at reduced rates to Nigerians. In other words, the LOC erred if the allegation against them turns out to be true.

This is no doubt another case of corruption that should interest the EFCC. Yet, one would insist that things couldn’t have turned out differently given the corrupt atmosphere under which the U-17 games were organised. The most glaring of this concerned the selection of over-aged players for the games.

Only weeks to the games and it was revealed that almost all those selected for the Nigerian team failed the MRI test devised for players. What followed this was the claim that Nigeria would not support such a test on her players, a clear proof that we had something to hide.

When it became clear that we couldn’t escape the test, those in charge of the team had no difficulty raising another set of players within weeks. How this was possible is a mystery the Nigerian Football Federation is yet to tell anybody. But did this solve our entire problem?

Certainly not, for some Nigerians in the know of things and who are desirous of seeing a vigorous youth team built out of the present crop of players insisted many of those in the Nigerian team were closer to 30 than 17. One of such Nigerians was The Punch columnist, Adokiye Amesiemeka, himself a former player for the Nigerian Green Eagles. In a two-part article in his column, Amesiemeka was able to show our football administrators up for the crooks they are.

The captain of our so-called U-17 team was, according to the columnist, a member of a youth team he had put together some seven years ago. This same player then gave his age as 18. This means that not only was the player well known to Amesiemeka but he was already too old for the U-17 game he played in 2009 by at least seven years.

The implication is that this player should be about 25 or 26 now. But that’s not the end of the story for Mr. Amesiemeka would get additional information from those who know our U-17 captain even better that the player was in fact 22  at the material time he claimed to be 18. Which makes him right about 30 years old now. Yet there he was playing in a tournament meant for teenagers.

Age cheats are not new in Nigeria . And this is by no means limited to sports. They can be and have been found in diverse areas from politics, education to beauty pageants. But the damage that such cheats do to our sports is too glaring to be ignored. In football, only few of such players manage to play competitively for any considerable period after they graduate from the youth team.

Their careers end up sooner than expected. The cycle of failure created by this situation is what has led some Nigerians with knowledge in this area to insist on things being done properly. But what do they get for their effort? Nothing but scorn and threats from those who ought to know better.

This was the case with The Punch columnist who got all sorts of threat calls and mails for his effort at exposing those who are making it difficult for us to develop a proper system of transition from age-grade football to the senior levels.

The series of allegations, accusations and counter-accusations, to say nothing of the policy reverses that saw Nigeria at one point turning down the hosting rights for the U-17 games- all of these had conspired to make me lose interest in the games. It accounted for my not seeing even one of the games.

However, I planned to see the finals, my interest having risen after we got to the finals. But reading the details of how we might have cheated in the games, I completely lost interest in seeing the final game. Which was why I didn’t know of our loss to Switzerland until the morning after the games.

I’d believed that we’d win, having come that far and with the home advantage. But that was not to be. Now the LOC is up for probe some have been demanding and our ever willing officials, not unaware that nothing would come of such probes, are obliging them with one.

In the fashion of that Soyinka character in his LP ‘Unlimited Liability Company’, these officials will ‘probe and unrobe’ until we beg them to stop. But we’ll remain where we were, as corrupt as ever until we learn the virtue of good preparation, hard work and honesty.


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