Sports

Why Nigeria’s National Soccer Team Refuses To Leave Its Hotel

by Tosten Burks

December 14, 2016

After winning the prestigious Women’s Africa Cup of Nations this month, Nigeria’s national soccer team is refusing to leave the Agura Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria—the nation’s capital—where the team has staged a sit-in to protest the government’s refusal to pay outstanding allowances and bonuses. Players have been camping out for 10 days and say they won’t leave until they receive the $23,650 reportedly owed to each woman.

“This is a fight about the welfare of the team. It’s about the way the team has been handled over the years,” Nigeria and Arsenal forward Asisat Oshoala told BBC Sport. “We are champions. We went out to fight for the nation even without being paid. Not everything is about money, but of course it is an issue.”

The Super Falcons, as the team is commonly known, are financially supported by the government-funded Nigerian Football Federation. The NFF claims its budget is tight since Nigeria entered a recession this summer, but the federation has been struggling monetarily since earlier this spring, when it slashed men’s and women’s national team coaching salaries and staff sizes. Women’s coach Florence Omagbemi and her assistants have only received a month’s worth of salary since March.

“The NFF is not happy owing players and coaches, but present severe economic challenges (mean) that it can only continue to seek the understanding of these persons ... until the situation improves,” NFF General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi said in a statement. “We know we have financial commitment to you and we have not at any time stated otherwise.”

The team doesn’t seem to buy the hopeful rhetoric. For one, the Super Falcons have been here before—the team refused to leave a hotel in South Africa for three days in 2004 over outstanding bonuses. The NFF also is a frequent critic of the women’s national team, accusing players of “morally reprehensible” homosexuality (same-sex relationships are banned in Nigeria) and blaming sponsorship deficiencies on this alleged reputation of sexual promiscuity—which has largely been perpetuated by homophobic complaints by these same senior officials. In June, the NFF’s vice president argued that “lesbianism kills teams.”

“Contrary to what was said in that statement, Mr. Sanusi used some strong words during our meeting,” a player who requested anonymity told BBC Sports. “The only thing we understand right now is for them to pay and stop making promises.”

UPDATE: Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari arrived at the National Assembly in Abuja on Wednesday morning to present the government budget for the next fiscal year. Outside the parliament building, women’s national team players protested with signs demanding their bonuses and allowances.

Later players marched to President Buhari’s villa, where they met with his chief of staff Malam Abba Kyari, who reportedly told the team that the situation will be resolved within two days. Players have returned to the hotel to wait for this promise to be fulfilled, according to BBC.

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