By Paul Bassey
From September 1-11 2011 in Ravenna Italy, Nigerians sat through a harrowing experience as their decimated beach soccer team, faced a herculean task in the 5th FIFA beach Soccer competition.

Vice champions of Africa, Nigeria competed with 15 other countries for the prized beach soccer trophy.

Contesting in Group C the Beach Eagles as the country’s national team is known and called faced Russia in the first match and lost 4-8. It was in the course of that match, during the commentaries, that Nigerians got to know that Nigeria arrived the competition with 9 players instead of 12 as stipulated in the rules and regulations.

On enguiry it was discovered that the remaining players could not get visa in time and were likely to join their colleagues later. By the time Nigeria lined out against Venezuela in their next match, Emmanuel Zabi, Shehu Maijana and Musa Najare were still yet to arrive Italy.

Gratefully, we won that match 5-3 and went on to face Tahiti in the last group match which we also won 4-1.

At this point it was believed, perhaps that all was well as no one seemed to bother anymore about the need to get those players flown in. It was when we faced defending Champions Brazil in the quarter final that it dawned on us that extra feet were needed in a sport that is as physical as it is exhausting.

In what was considered the most exciting match of the championship, our boys fought back gallantly to level with the Brazilians 8-8 at full time only to lose 8-10 in extra time, no thanks to the absence of extra man power. On September 8 at the Stadio del Mare in Ravanne, the Nigerian players according to FIFA ‘sprawled on the ground’ after the energy sapping encounter. FIFA had entitled the match BRAZIL OUTLAST BRAVE NIGERIANS. ‘outlast’ was definitely the word that best describes a team that was not complete even for a top class tournament of that nature.

Question. Why did the three players not make it to Italy?

The shocking reply was that they were denied visas!

This is as unbelievable as it is true.

The story has it that when the team was departing for a training tour of Portugal, the NFF applied for  Shengen visas for the squad, one in which they could easily use to cross over to Italy for the competition. Portugal granted nine players visa and left out three.

Efforts to get the players visa met a diplomatic brick wall.

The NFF I gathered then approached the Italian Embassy and asked for visa for the three to proceed straight to competition venue. Again the request was turned down the technical reason being that since one European country had turned down the request, another could not grant same.

Bizarre as this may sound, the next step was to inform FIFA given the very explicit hosting demands that makes it mandatory for visa doors to be thrown open to participating countries.

Abridging a very long story, FIFA did not succeed to get Italy to give the players visa, nor did it consent to their substitution on health grounds, as the time for such had elapsed.

Question. Why were Messrs Zabi, Maijana and Najare denied visas?

Nobody claims to know. Did the Embassies not state the reason for the visa denial? NFF sources say ‘no’.

This is definitely one visa denial too many.

We cannot allow ourselves further humiliation by embassies even on the flimsiest of excuses.

The Nigeria Football Federation should as a matter of urgency file a protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the National Sports Commission seeking an explanation on why those three Nigerian players were dropped.

Being a law abiding country we are ready to make amends if reasons so advanced are tenable. If not, we should demand unreserved apology for an act that is believed to have contributed to our early ouster from the competition.

There may also be need to mention here the psychological trauma that the trio are going through for being punished as it were for a sin they are so far ignorant about.

Cases like this are common within our sports environment and should not be allowed to continue. This is definitely a slap on a country that presented those players as her ambassadors.

Never again.

See you next week.

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