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Rio Olympics: NFF, Sports Ministry and ticket padding

*Thieving, stealing, padding all the way

From Olukayode Thomas

It is the season of padding. The Nigeria football family, renowned for their sharp practices that could only be rivalled by what obtains in the oil sector, thought it should not be left behind in the padding business. Thus, they launched their own scheme! Though, the size of their padding cannot be compared to that of the members of the House of Representatives.

Before we could put the international shame caused by ‘Get me to Rio Olympics’ appeal fund launched by sprinter Regina George behind us, Nigeria’s Olympics football team made international headlines for the wrong reasons after they were ‘stranded’ in Atlanta and had to be ‘rescued’ by Delta Airlines.

Olukayode Thomas writes on the shenanigans that brought Nigeria international embarrassment. It is the season of padding. From the Senate to the House of Representatives, Budget Office, to PHCN padding bills despite a court order, and in the tradition with Nigeria and Nigerians, once something becomes the vogue, we all try to outdo each other. The Nigeria football family, renowned for their sharp practices that could only be rivaled by what obtains in the oil sector, thought it should not be left behind in the padding business. Thus they launched their own scheme.

After finding a sponsor for an all-expense paid training tour of USA for the U-23 team that will participate in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, they sent a bill for same to the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development. Though the size of their padding cannot be compared to that of the members of  the House of Representatives, still, the international disgrace the nation suffered with global media like BBC, CNN, The Guardian of London, Sky and others devoting quality time and space to it means government must get to its root to prevent recurrence.

The scheme started shortly after Jairo Pachon, the Colombian match agent of NFF and director of Eurodata Sports, secured an all-expense paid training tour of USA for the nation’s U-23 football team to play some friendly games. The tour, which guarantees some appearance fees, has many sponsors including Delta Airline. With an all-expense paid trip in the bag, the NFF approached the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development with budget for a training tour of the USA in order to prepare the U-23 team for the Olympics.

The Ministry turned down the request, citing unavailability of funds. Since the trip has been paid for anyway, the players and coaches travelled to the USA. But it is the season of padding, and the football house, the body that controls the nation’s number one passion, supposed that Speaker Yakubu Dogara and his boys should not have the exclusive right to our commonwealth. They then devise other means.

After their training tour, they stayed back in the USA and a few days to the beginning of the football event of the Olympics, they sent an official of the NFF to the Ministry to request for tickets for the team. At the Ministry, the official was informed that Angie Taylor, head of High Performance Center, had already purchased tickets for the football team and they are expected to return home from their training tour and travel from Nigeria. But officials of the NFF, backed by a large section of the sporting press, started blackmailing the Ministry that NFF must buy their tickets and make their travel arrangements. The Ministry officials, who are not deep enough to stand their ground, caved to the media pressure and agreed to give them the money to buy their tickets. The US dollar equivalent of N80 million was wired to a bank in Seattle. Whereas Abdulmumin Jibrin was the nemesis of Speaker Dogara and his co-paddlers, the nemesis of NFF ticket paddlers was different time zones. Seattle is three hours ahead of Atlanta so the banks had closed for the day therefore, they could not collect the money.

Determined to go ahead with the padding scheme, they insisted they will not leave Atlanta unless government gives them money to purchase tickets. Pleas by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun and Minister of Information Lai Mohammed fell on deaf ears; they even rejected the plane Yemi Idowu chartered for them at the cost of $300,000.00, his personal funds. At this point, the Federal Government called their bluff and told them to forget about going to Rio.

Unlike Dogara who has vowed not to resign, the ticket paddlers quickly retrieved their Delta Airline tickets and rerouted it to Brazil. But the damage had been done. The greed of some NFF officials caused Nigeria to be the object of ridicule in international media.

Players and some officials, who knew nothing about the padding, were made to suffer physical and mental torture for several hours. No doubt, the officials of the NFF must be sanctioned so as to serve as deterrent to others, but the blame also lies with the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung.

Since he assumed office last year, Dalung has done more of talking than acting. His several directives to NFF are either completely ignored or treated with contempt. Even when he warned the NFF against employing a foreign coach, they announced the employment of a French coach who disgraced Nigeria by telling the world that there was no agreement between him and Nigeria. They are on the verge of unveiling a German despite a ministerial directive to the contrary.

Under Dalung, it has been all motion, no movement. If the minister devotes a quarter of the time he spends on social media to his job, our sports will be better. The sporting press is also blameworthy. Most sports journalists knew the NFF officials were being stingy with the truth but refrained from writing the truth because of pecuniary gains, especially appointment as match commissioners and match assessors.

As for NFF, they are lucky we don’t have Minister like Ibrahim Isah Bio. When Sanni Lulu and other members of his board did the same in the run up to the South Africa 2010 World Cup, they were writing statements from Kuje Prison after the World Cup. Getting to the root of this ticket padding saga and sanctioning those found culpable is a litmus test for Dalung, one prays he will not fail the test.

Olukayode Thomas wrote this piece from Lagos

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