Nigeria kit bungle outrages Super Falcons fans

Nigeria's Super Falcons faced France in a friendly in April this year, their only match since December 2016. JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images

Another Africa Women Cup of Nations has rolled around, and once again Nigeria find themselves in the news for the wrong reasons after Super Falcons players traveled in their own clothes instead of team kit.

On Tuesday, the team departed Nigeria for an eight-day training camp at the famous Sol Beni in Cote d'Ivoire, but pictures from their departure at the airport sparked indignation among fans.

The women were photographed dressed in their own clothes instead of team gear, with star striker and African Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala in an LA Lakers kit. Defender Onome Obi was in her club shirt.

Such was the anger among fans that the hashtag #RespectOurSuperFalcons trended on Nigerian Twitter for a while.

NFF Chief Media Officer Ademola Olajire told KweséESPN that the team had clothes they could have traveled in: "They had tracksuits that they could have worn, but for some reason chose to travel in mufti [civvies]."

But player sources told KweséESPN that the squad were not issued enough kits on arrival at their first camp in Nigeria, so they opted to wear plain clothes instead, to avoid some players wearing team gear and not others.

A high ranking member of the NFF told KweséESPN that there had indeed been issues with delivery of the kit, which had been ordered well in advance but that there had been issues with paying their supplier.

"We were unable to pay him yet because of our financial situation, but we hope to have the issue resolved as soon as possible," the source said.

Those financial issues stem from the NFF's inability to access huge parts of its N1.1 billion budget from the Sports Ministry.

Despite the end of the recent leadership crisis, a battle of wills has ensued between the Ministry and the NFF, which has led to the football federation being unable to access its statutory grants and, according to the official, the NFF has been running on fumes.

By Wednesday, and following the intervention of high-ranking government officials, the kit had been cleared from the ports, and General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi said the squad would get them in Ivory Coast by Thursday.

"By tomorrow (Thursday) the head of technical is going to take kits to them because the kits were at the port and they have been cleared," Sanusi said.

"Those who saw their training will attest to the fact that they trained in the Nigerian jersey so it will be very wrong of anybody to say they have been abandoned."

This latest kit snafu has been a damaging setback in the NFF's efforts to repair the perception of neglect towards the Super Falcons, especially after the public protest organised by the team on their return from winning their eighth African title two years ago in Cameroon.

For one year the team had no coach and payed no games, before facing off against France this year, their only game since late 2016.

To repair relationships, the federation hired former Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby, and then proceeded to lodge the women at the serene Jubilee Resorts at Epe, with the support of the Lagos State government, before sending them off to Sol Beni for the final phase of their training camp.

However, most of the goodwill earned by such efforts appear to have been undone by the kit situation, with many protesting that the men's team would never be left without the proper gear at camp.

But NFF president Amaju Pinnick told KweséESPN that he has high regard for the women footballers: "If we did not have regard for them, we would not have hired such a respected coach.

"And we would not be doing the things we are trying to do. Nobody wants to see them suffer. But we are constrained by the situation we find ourselves in.

"But whatever the case, we will continue to do our best for them and the other teams."

The Super Falcons begin their AWCON campaign against South Africa on 18 November, and the top three sides at the tournament will qualify for the Women's World Cup in France next year.