Nigeria’s under-23 Olympic football team made international headlines few days ago for the wrong reasons after stories emerged of how the team was ‘stranded’ in Atlanta and had to be ‘rescued’ by Delta Airlines.
Little did many know that the real hero was Yemi Idowu, a Nigerian businessman, sports philanthropist and enthusiast.
Mr. Idowu spent $ 300,000 from his personal pockets to provide an aircraft to fly the Dream Team from Atlanta long before Delta Airlines provided an alternate flight plan.
The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) was well aware that the National U-23 was an Olympic Team and the Olympics takes place every four years.
They were also aware that a tradition exists where Team Nigeria departs for major international sports competitions together.
It is also a norm that the Federal Government through the Ministry of Sports hand over officially all the contingent from all sports federations that qualified for the Olympics, including NFF to the Nigerian Olympic Committee.
Around early July, about a month to the beginning of the Olympic games, the NFF under Amaju Pinnick informed the sports minister that they will be taking the U-23 Team to Atlanta in the US for Pre-Olympic camping and from there they will proceed to Rio in Brazil.
The Sports Minister Solomon Dalong made it clear that there was no money for the Atlanta trip, and advised them to camp in Nigeria before flying to the Olympic games in Rio.
The NFF however stated that they had full sponsorship for the Atlanta camping, and thus they didn’t need any money from the federal government.
THE ILL-FATED ATLANTA TRIP
As at the time the NFF dispatched the under-23 Team to Atlanta, USA, the sports minister was not informed.
Few weeks after their stay in Atlanta there were reports that the Nigerian U-23 was about to be thrown out of their Camp in Atlanta.
Meanwhile the media officer of the team who was left behind in Nigeria insisted that the U-23 got an invitation by the city of Atlanta to play in a competition.
Is it not curious to wonder how a team that had full sponsorship to travel to Atlanta, and also allegedly have been invited by the city of Atlanta will get thrown out of the hotel due to unpaid bills?
Few days into the Atlanta stay, the news about the ejection of the under-23 team from their Atlanta hotel spread like wild fire.
Suddenly the supposed sponsors were nowhere to be found and the U-23 team coach Samson Siasia started the outcry about their ejection.
However this failed to extract money from the federal government as they wished, but somehow the team managed to survive several weeks in the hotel in Atlanta.
THE MESSY TICKETING SAGA
The consultant to the Ministry of Sports, Angie Taylor was responsible for arranging tickets for Team Nigeria members residing outside the country especially those in the US.
She arranged tickets for the D’TIGERS, our National Male Basketball Team who were incidentally in Atlanta also and left for Rio four days before the Olympics opening ceremony.
She also arranged for several other athletes outside US.
However NFF’s U-23 team rejected the ticketing agent provided by the sports ministry stating that they had their own ticketing agent.
The NFF thus insisted that the Sports Ministry gave them the funds to pay their agent for the tickets.
The sports minister, Solomon Dalung requested for the name of their ticketing agent and his account details so that the money will be paid to him.
The NFF however refused to give him the agents account details, stating that they wanted the funds instead.
In a bid to avoid a stalemate following the NFF’s insistence to buy their tickets through their ticketing agents the sports ministry approved the release of $174,000 Dollars (About N80 million) through the Nigerian Olympic Committee who remitted the sum to the account of the NFF agent.
After the payment was made, in a surprise move, the agent again asked for more money claiming that he would not allow the team to leave for Rio if the team’s hotel bills were not paid.
The Sports Minister then asked the NFF to talk to their agent and allow the team leave for Rio, since the Olympics was starting in two days.
He also stated that whatever the bill was he would settle it in the interest of the country.
However the agent, Jairo Pashion, a close associate of Coach Samson Siasia insisted that he will not allow the team to leave for the Olympics.
Coach Samson Siasia was then called upon to talk to the agent, but Siasia said ‘it is not my business’.