Thursday, December 15, 2016

The shabby treatment of Nigeria’s Super Falcons

“Don’t forget that nobody even knew that the team would emerge victorious; if we were confident they would emerge victorious, all the federation would have done is to plan for process of participation and entitlement…”
– Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung
After two weeks of trading tackles (November 19 – December 3, 2016) Nigeria’s Super Falcons in Yaounde, Cameroon won the 2016 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations for the eighth time after beating host Cameroon 1-0 before a capacity 40,000 crowd. An 84th minute goal from Desire Oparanozie was all Nigeria needed to retain the trophy they won in Namibia two years ago, when they beat the same Indomitable Lionesses 2-0. To get to the final, the Super Falcons beat Mali 6–0, played 1–1 with Ghana and trounced Kenya 4–0 to get to the semi-final. In the semi, the Super Falcons defeated South Africa 1- 0, the same margin with which they beat Cameroon in the final.

Super Falcons have dominated this competition, winning all but two of the 10 editions of the tournament.  Arsenal Ladies forward, Asisat Oshoala, scored six goals to emerge the highest goal scorer at the sporting fiesta while three of Nigeria’s players – Osinachi Ohale, Desire Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala – made the Africa best XI players. The Super Falcons’ team coach, Florence Omagbemi, also made history as the first woman to win the Africa Women Cup of Nations as both a player and coach.  A similar feat was achieved by late Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, who was the second African to win Africa Nations Cup both as a player and a coach after Egypt’s Gohary.
The dominance of Nigeria in women’s football has never been in doubt as the record shows. In fact, due to the sterling performance of Nigerian ladies in women’s football, many of them, like their male counterparts, are now playing in big football leagues in Europe and America. They have equally dominated the African Women’s Footballer of the Year award. Nigeria’s Mercy Akhide blazed the trail in 2001 before Perpetual Nkwocha won the award a record four times in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011. Cynthia Uwak won the award twice in 2006 and 2007 before Asisat Oshoala won it again in 2014. Thus, out of the 13 times the awards have been given out, Nigerian ladies have won it a total of eight times.
It is however heartrending that despite all the laurels and fame that Nigeria’s female footballers have brought to this country, they have not been duly recognised and rewarded for their efforts. Their matches are not transmitted live for Nigerians to watch all because the Nigerian Football Federation and the Sports Ministry never bothered to sponsor the live telecast of their matches or look for private sponsor. If it were to be the Super Eagles, they would go all out to ensure live transmission of their matches, even if it’s a mere friendly game. The ladies are also discriminated against in terms of match bonuses and allowances as they are paid less than their male counterparts. Also, there isn’t much celebration of women who won the CAF Women’s Footballer of the Year. Although since 1992, few male Nigerian footballers have won the African Footballer of the Year – Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amunike, Victor Ikpeba, and Nwankwo Kanu – they are more celebrated than their female counterparts.
Worst still, after the ladies won the AWCON for the record eight times on December 3, 2016, they have yet to be paid their camp allowances and match bonuses. The NFF reportedly owes each player $25,000. As I write this, the ladies have refused to hand over the trophy they won in Cameroon and have actually refused to vacate their hotel in Abuja until all their entitlements are paid. Unfortunately, the beret-wearing Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, said they were not able to pay the ladies because they didn’t expect them to win the trophy. What a reckless talk! So despite being the defending champion and having won the competition a record seven times previously, Dalung wasn’t convinced of the ladies’ ability to conquer Africa.
It is not the first time such shabby and demeaning treatment would be meted out to the Super Falcons players. Hear Stella Mbachu. who was a former member of the team: “I can remember that such a thing happened after the team’s triumph in 2014 in Namibia. We were promised to be paid after we arrived in the country but we haven’t heard anything about it. The NFF has been unfair to female players.” Need I say more?
Young as they are, some of these female football players are breadwinners of their families.  And this is Christmas season, a festive period when Nigerians spend a lot. This maltreatment has exposed Nigeria to negative international news and one had expected that the Federal Government and relevant authorities would have done everything to sort out this mess promptly before it degenerates further. Unfortunately, it has been two weeks and all we hear is that government is looking for money to settle the ladies entitlements. This is very ridiculous, demotivating and condemnable. Lack of appreciation, care and support have been the main reasons many Nigerian athletes dump their fatherland for other countries where they are more valued.
It behooves Nigerian sports administrators to nip this ugly incidence in the bud by fully paying these ladies their due wages with apologies. These sports ambassadors are deserving of national honours and should be so recognised for doing the nation proud in football. Sports ministry and the NFF should, after this ugly episode has been put behind them, guard against future occurrence by ensuring that our national sporting teams are well resourced.
Twitter @jideojong