Just when things were looking up for Nigeria’s Olympic football team, discord has struck once again.
The team’s coach Samson Siasia has backed his squad after they reportedly boycotted a training session ahead of their quarter-final with Denmark on Saturday. The players have not received outstanding allowances from their pre-Olympic training camp in Atlanta, as well as bonuses due for their group stage matches, according to the BBC.
“We have been disrespected from all angles—the sports ministry, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF),” said Siasia in a Friday interview with Lagos-based sports radio station Brila FM, Nigeria’s Today reported.
Siasia claimed that the squad had only received allowances for 11 days, despite participating in months of training in both Nigeria and Atlanta prior to the tournament, and indicated that he would back the players if they decided to boycott their forthcoming match. “Everything is upside down and the boys don’t want to play anymore. Whatever they want to do, I’m with them. They are right for fighting for their rights,” said Siasia.
Nigerian sports minister Solomon Dalung told Newsweek from Rio de Janeiro on Friday that all Nigerian athletes had been paid allowances up to August 14, and would receive a further payment after this date. (According to a statement by Dalung on Tuesday, the allowances totaled around $1,650 per player.) Dalung says that the NFF were investigating the matter of Siasia’s unpaid salary but criticized the coach for raising the issue ahead of such an important game. “The coach is not fair to Nigeria,” says Dalung. “For him to agree to take the team [to Rio] and raise the issue of his salary at this point is not fair, not only [not] fair to the country but not fair to the players themselves. So I think he needs to have a second reflection on the issue.”
The Super Eagles’s preparations for the tournament were thrown into disarray when the Nigerian government was forced to charter a plane to take the team from Atlanta to Manaus after they failed to secure alternative airline tickets in time. Their arrival was further delayed when the provided plane turned out to be too small. The players arrived just hours before their opening match in Manaus on August 4, which they went on to win 5-4.
Nigeria became the first team—and the only African nation—to qualify for the quarter-finals by beating Sweden 1-0 on Sunday, before losing 0-2 to Colombia in a dead rubber. The current outfit have been dubbed Dream Team VI, a reference to Nigeria’s winning team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Nigerian sports minister Solomon Dalung said on Tuesday that the ministry had paid each player an allowance of around $1,650 for the first 11 days of their training camp. Dalung said that the players and staff had been paid upfront “to keep them focused and well-motivated.”
The NFF’s General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi issued a statement on Thursday, denying media reports that the federation had requested that players give back their jerseys after the competition. But Siasia claimed that this was the case, saying that the NFF had ordered they be returned.