Super Eagles players during training before their international friendly matches against Algeria and Tunisia, last week•Ministry rules out fans from AFCON qualifier
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is still ‘combing Abuja’ in search of the funds to organise the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier between the Super Eagles and Leone Stars of Sierra Leone, which holds in Benin on November 13, top officials of the federation have revealed.
The NFF secretariat is expected to temporarily relocate to Benin City tomorrow, while Super Eagles players and their officials will start arriving on Sunday.
The Guardian learnt yesterday that the NFF has not received money from the supervising sports ministry to persecute the match, which will be the first competitive game for the Super Eagles since the resumption of sports activities after the COVID-19 lockdown.
A source, who pleaded anonymity, said the delay in securing the needed fund for the match was giving top NFF officials sleepless night.
“I don’t really know the cause of this delay in getting funds from the sports ministry for the Super Eagles versus Leone Stars match. All I know for now is that top officials of the NFF are combing every nook and cranny of Abuja for money. I spent some time with some of them this morning, and it appears they are not making any headway in their search for money. I thought it was the responsibility of the sports ministry to release the money for the national teams to participate in a Nation Cup qualifier. What is happening right now baffles me. We are talking of a national team, and not a club side,” the source said.
Three days ago, NFF president, Amaju Pinnick, led other stakeholders in an inspection tour of Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City in readiness for the match. During the tour, Pinnick, who was accompanied by the Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, said he was in touch with the players. “They are all excited to be here to play for the country, especially Ahmed Musa, the captain of the team, whose mother is from Edo State. He is anxious to play for the nation and his state. Edo state government has made tremendous progress in developing the sporting sector in the state. I will communicate all I have seen here to the Ministry of Youths and Sports and also the executive committee.”
The Guardian recalls that the Super Eagles had earlier warned both the NFF and the sports ministry to get their camp bonuses, daily allowances, as well as flight ticket refunds ready before their arrival for the game, saying they will no longer accept ‘delayed payment.’
MEANWHILE, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 have advised the Edo State government and the NFF against breaching the COVID-19 protocol by allowing fans into the stadium for the match.
In a letter to Edo State’s Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, the Ministry said, “The Ministry wishes to bring to your urgent attention that in compliance with the condition of no gathering agreed upon by the Ministry and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 before the Federal Government opened up football and contacts sports, the match between Nigeria and Sierra Leone will not have any audience and no gathering save for players, match officials and government officials from both countries.
“Tests must be conducted on all of them prior to the match.”
It added: “The no gathering no audience for football and contact sports is still in force, which means there shall be no gathering for the Nigerian vs. Sierra Leone match as any violation of this condition may lead to a roll back of the opening up of football and contact sports in the country.”
“The PTF and the Ministry are on the same page on this matter and the protocol for clearance rests with both the Ministry and the PTF when it comes to staging any sports event in Nigeria. Full compliance with COVID-19 protocols is to be enforced.”
The PTF said it was worried about a spike following the second wave of COVID-19 and is considering another lockdown.
The Edo State government had announced that gates would be thrown open to allow fans to watch the game.