By PAUL BASSEY
Four years ago, in a piece entitled “ One visa denial too many”, I wrote
“ 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 enquiry it was discovered that the remaining players were denied visa by the Italian Embassy.
“ 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.” We trudged on against Tahiti.
On September 8 at the Stadio del Mare in Ravanne, the Nigerians got to the quarter final and came against defending champions Brazil and at full time had tied at 8-8 only to lose 8-10 at extra time. In the FIFA website it was reported that the Nigerians ‘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? We asked the NFF to make noise through the media, we thought the National Sports Commission should protest through the Ministry of External Affairs that never again should any Embassy on flimsy excuses deny legitimate application for visas especially when it has to do with National teams of this country.
I have no doubt that certain Federations are still suffering that ignominy in unreported cases.
Let us fast track to 2015, the World Youth Athletics Championships in Cali, Cambodia. The AFN timely drafted our Youth hopefuls to Port Harcourt for a two week intensive camping preparatory to Cali. In doing that some parents had to be consulted to please allow their children and wards to skip school for the period to guarantee a decent showing in Cali!
The next thing we heard was that the children could not travel because the Brazilian Embassy denied them transit visa! Yes TRANSIT VISA. I have asked questions, tried to find out from all concerned why we were denied transit visa. A bitter AFN I was told did all that had to be done and in good time too. When it was discovered that the Brazilians were playing funny, it contacted the IAAF, appealed to the Brazilian Athletics Federation to intervene all to no avail. We cannot take this lying low. We have to get to the bottom of this.
I remember quite vividly that a couple of years ago, track and field was our fall back sport when football d isappointed. We had surplus Nigerian athletes competing on the world stage in as many events. Today you can hardly find one. The ongoing Diamond League series is a clear testimony of our disappearance from the surface of the track and field earth. The day Blessing Okagbare decides to compete, we look forward to a cheer. If she is not there, no one else.
This is the position that led to applaud the emergence of some quality junior athletes that made us proud in African Championships in Warri and Ethiopia. Though their Mauritius consolidation was botched, they still gave a good account of themselves.
Cali was to be a veritable pedestal from where these youngsters would have launched themselves to glory. It is painful that Supersports is carrying the event live, a daily reminder that we have denied some Nigeria youths a life changing opportunity for no fault of theirs. Given the frequency of the World Championship, I do not know how many of the youth will be among the age bracket next time around.
Just as I did four years ago, I am calling on this country to ask questions. The Brazilian Embassy owes this country an explanation why those children were denied visas. Whoever is guilty of denying us an opportunity to empower our youth should be brought to book for next time’s sake.
THE FALCONS WALK A TIGHT ROPE.
Immediately after the wobbling and fumbling at the FIFA Women and U20 World Cups, the NFF came to the conclusion that the technical and tactical acumen of Nigerian coaches was suspect and commenced efforts to replace them with foreigners, but with a plea that we still needed to develop and encourage our coaches.
The Manu Garba and Nduka Ugbade experience had other ingredients …….which needed to be trashed out. In the case of Coach Okon of the Falcons, aside his lack of respect for Sweden, USA and Australia which led to constant unguarded press reports of how he was going to come back with the cup……proverbial pride going before a fall….I have said it again and again that Okon is the best Women football coach in this country TODAY by a mile and his records speak for him. The support I gave for a foreign coach could only be made concrete when coaches like Okon are made to assist them and improve their coaching savvy.
With some key matches coming at the heels of our world cup ouster, the dropping of Coach Okon was ill advised especially when his assistants were told to take over, giving the impression that he was solely responsible for our woes in Canada.
The team that drew with Sweden in what was considered one of the best matches of the World Cup, the team that held eventual winners the US with ten players for over 60 minutes, that team would have beaten Equitorial Guinea last Saturday.
Yes we may, we can beat Equatorial Guinea in a forth night in Bata or Malabo, that is the complexion of football, but let us realize that we are walking a very tight rope, one that is threatening our second Olympics qualification and all hands and feet must be on deck.
See you next week.