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When FIFA spoke

By Onochie Anibeze
I wrote in this column last week why the world foot-ball governing body, FIFA, cannot publicly condemn the shortcomings at the on-going Under 17 World Cup.

I said that some of them compromised their positions over a few things and would rather allow the sleeping dog lie. They confirmed my position at the press conference they held on Monday, almost describing everything as perfect.

Yet, some media centres are not functioning, some training pitches could not meet the standard, logistics fall short of the standards which same fifa has set. My senior colleague, Paul Bassey put it this way in his column last Monday:

“I have heard and read about the drainage problems, heard and read about the floodlights that failed and the tear gas that sent players and officials scampering, yet none is reflected on the FIFA website. On the FIFA website are results, analysis of matches and pictures, chronicling the second out of the three unprecedented world cups that Africa will be hosting.”

Do I need to add more to this? FIFA’s vice President Jack Warner said that he was taken aback by  what he perceived as negative  comments in the media about what happened in Enugu and Calabar when rain interrupted matches. Nobody disputes the fact that rain is a natural occurrence. What we simply said, especially in the case of Enugu, was that the drainage system was poorly laid and that the company that did the contract failed to do a good job.

I am from Enugu State and I am proud of the efforts my people made to continue the games after flood raised the turf. If fifa could not complain because one or two of them knew a thing or two about the contract, I would, because after the competition, I’m sure our governor, Sullivan Chime,  will vote more money to reconstruct the drainage. That is tax payers’ money.

It is our money, so Jack Warner should know where I’m coming from. Our people, including LOC members know that we have not gotten a couple of things right due to some challenges. Even the Chief Executive of LOC, Mainasara Illo admits there are challenges.

He was loud and clear on air three days ago. I admire his humility.  If Warner is saying all is well with us, he is being economical with the truth and he is not doing us any good because that will not encourage our people to learn from our past mistakes. But we should all salute Warner for his interest in Nigeria.

After all, he publicly took side with us in yesterday’s match against New Zealand. The FIFA boss is supposed to be neutral. Not when it involves Nigeria.  Modesty permitting, I have covered the previous four World Cups and four consecutive Olympic Games, among many other international events.  I know the basic standards even in cadet events like the one we are hosting.

Our criticisms are not meant to destroy but engineer positive changes. But I must add here that there has been giant improvement especially with attendance. Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Ijebu Ode, Bauchi and Enugu have been turning to cheer players although we know that these crowds are being rented. Whatever the way, the stadium atmosphere on match days has been great for an Under 17 championship. I commend the host cities and the LOC for this.

Warner also berated Abuja fans for booing Eaglets when they were 3-0 down against Germany in their first match. In as much as I won’t be party to booing our teams when they are down, countries have their peculiarities.  Some may call them football traditions. These have advantages and disadvantages.

At this juncture, let me recall the discussion I had with Idah Peterside, the spokesman of the Green Eagles. Idah recalled what the domestic football was like in his time and gave reasons why players of his era developed stronger character than the ones playing now.

He reminded me how strong our domestic league was, the intimidating and electric atmospheres that so toughened players at that local level that when they made it to the national teams they would have passed through a lot of transformation.

They withstood pressure and this helped in international matches. I agreed and recalled what it was like facing Stationery Stores in Lagos in those days. If you had no heart, you wouldn’t survive the atmosphere. But a good number of today’s players went to Europe from junior teams and did not pass through the type of league Idah talked about.

Again, our league is no longer what it was in the Chukwu and Odegbami era up till the Stephen Keshi and Oliseh times that Idah referred to. The players of today are nurtured  in the European system where players are cheered even in defeat.

That is why they easily develop cold feet over any intimidation. Some Eagles sulked when they played Mozambique because the crowd was not friendly. In the match against Tunisia, a defender earlier selected to play took ill few hours to the match.

Doctors diagnosed his problem as shock. He pictured the big occasion and suffered shock. Could that have happened to a player who emerged from a tough system?  A veteran in the industry referred me to the Warner statement and said it would be nice if I told the man about our peculiarities.

He said that booing the players when they failed to live up to expectation was Nigerian fans’ style. You may not like it but it has become part of us and in as much as one can condemn it,  there is also the good side of it.. What would have Jack Warner said if he knew about the Lagos crowd?

Let’s build on our culture.

Killing our support style

And this brings me to what is happening in our stadia. It really pains to see our people copy another country’s unpleasant football culture. I’m talking of South Africa’s Vuvuzela – the horns they blow during games. This is what FIFA almost banned but reluctantly allowed when they realised that vuvzela partly cultural in South Africa.

Radio and Television commentators face difficulties from their positions in the stadia. Other fans know no peace. The noise of Vuvuzela is simply disturbing. The horns don’t produce music. They are not rhythmic, just noisy, very noisy.

And that is what we have adopted.  It is not our way. Our way is to sing motivating songs and sometimes dance, not producing noise. At the Olympics, during the World Cups, our style of support has always thrilled the world.
Foreign journalists do special reports on our style of support – the talking drums, trumpets and our unique way of singing.

A journalist won an award for the special report on our style of support.  Now nobody hears the melodious trumpets and drums of our supporters clubs. Nobody hears those inspiring songs but noises.  I wish we could revert to our own support style.

I start the campaign today. I appeal to you to join me. If we ever succeed, the supporters club should learn by singing a few songs in a match, say just one or two so that everybody in the stadium can chorus with them. I once admonished Dr. Raufu Ladipo and his group to buckle up and carry the crowd along.

But they always preferred to sing many songs and every time they ended up singing alone in one part of the stadium where they appeared contented with television cameras.

Now, the noise of vuvuzela has consumed them and they are dead. But let’s ban vuvuzela and revive OUR OWN, PLEASE. .


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