Bafana Bafana of South Africa came to Nigeria for the opening 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier, beat the Super Eagles at home and deservedly grabbed the three points at stake against a poor, gutless and disorganised host. It says a lot that a first ever competitive loss to South Africa – on home soil, for that matter – was not the worst thing to come out Saturday’s bleak outing in Uyo.
In the aftermath, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials have come under severe criticism, not so much for the result (a camping exercise in France suggests they did quite enough to ensure a favourable result) but for their inability to provide the official Confederation of African Football (CAF) match balls for the game. The game went ahead as scheduled, but with balls on which ‘RSA’ were quite visible. This led to much amusement from the South African match commentary team, as they tried to understand precisely why this farcical situation had played out.
When an explanation eventually came forth, it was every bit as inane as we have come to expect from our football authorities through the years. Improbably, the balls had been stuck at the ports since January, requiring a relatively meagre sum (150,000 Naira) to clear. The NFF’s inability/reluctance to raise this ‘ransom’ led to borrowing from South Africa. As a metaphor for the entire game, it was very apt. The real surprise though is that, to this point, there has been no official explanation offered; no one has lost his job in the face of this staggering shame. It was downright poor, and the fact that no one has been held to account is even more so.
One NFF respondent referred to it as a “national disgrace”, while some of the more experienced journalists in the country have not hesitated to bare their minds on this unfortunate incident. “Calling it a scandal is just trying to water it down, it’s a monumental disaster that a big footballing nation like Nigeria could not present the official match ball for an international game,” said Kunle Solaja, editor of online platform SportsVillageSquare.
“What happens if South Africa had not travelled here with their official balls? It shows that we don’t even travel for away games with our match balls. The person in charge of this issue should be sacked because he has put the country under the spotlight of a global embarrassment.”
Mind you, this incident is not the only ball controversy in Nigerian football lately. Rivers United, representing Nigeria on the continent at the CAF Confederation Cup, were subject to similar ignominy when they admitted they had been training with old balls following their loss to Tunisian side Club, Africain. They similarly had to accept to use the balls brought by FUS Rabat when the Moroccan side came visiting in the competition. Their allotment of 100 balls is included in the total shipment of 250, which NFF has been too poor to clear all this time.
Top football journalist Afolabi Gambari says those responsible should have been sacked already or taken the honourable route by resigning. “Like any right-thinking Nigerian should react, I think it’s calamitous that our administrators have taken ineptitude to a new level,” Gambari said. “I can only say that to be honourable the NFF guys should account for their misdemeanour by resigning their positions because it is a national embarrassment.”
The likelihood of such happening is quite slim though. This is Nigeria, after all: we have had to endure our fair share of shoddiness when it comes to providing equipment for the national team. So, it is unlikely anything will be done. As a matter of fact, as of this moment, the NFF are yet to even acknowledge officially that such a situation exists, in a classic case of burying its head in the sand.
The NFF President Amaju Pinnick has done well for himself, all things considered, but the state of his own home FA is a greater indicator of his leadership ability than being on the CAF Executive Committee and presiding over the Nations Cup committee.
As anyone will tell you, when it comes to hosting sporting events, it is the little things that count. Having the right balls, for example. It is absurd that the NFF reportedly spent around 30 million naira to host a game, and yet were unable to put up 150,000 naira to get their own balls through the ports. In a saner clime, heads would most certainly roll for this sort of embarrassment. But then again, this is Nigeria: making a virtue out of sweeping things underneath the carpet.