Players and officials from Nigeria are seething after enduring a “horrible experience” returning to Abuja from the Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
While travelling back from Costa Rica, the squad were stuck at Istanbul Airport for 24 hours, forcing members of the team to sleep on the floor of the terminal or on chairs.
Knocked out of the tournament by the Netherlands on Sunday, the Falconets faced connecting flight delays in Panama and Colombia before landing in Turkey on Tuesday, after their onward flight had already departed for Abuja.
Images of the team “sleeping rough” were circulated widely on social media, prompting the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to release a statement exonerating itself from blame for the chaotic journey.
“Who booked the flights is irrelevant because our horrible experience in Turkey was avoidable,” one of the U20 players, who wished to remain anonymous, told BBC Sport Africa.
“They wouldn’t let us leave the airport because we had no transit visas and the airline said they could not be responsible for passengers who missed their flights.
“Someone was communicating with different people, and for some reasons they wouldn’t put us up in accommodation in one of the airport hotels. We were sleeping rough on the terminal floor and some on the chairs because the next flight to Abuja was scheduled for Wednesday.”
The NFF claimed that world governing body Fifa had booked flight tickets back from Costa Rica, and visa issues meant the players could not leave the terminal in Istanbul to travel to a hotel.
A Fifa spokesperson said the organisation helps arrange travel in co-ordination with teams which exit its competitions prior to departure, but connection and visa issues are outside its control.
The under-fire NFF said it also tried unsuccessfully to arrange visas to travel through Germany to and from the U20 Women’s World Cup in Central America, and that Fifa was not able to intervene.
It is not the first time the NFF has been in the news for transport issues involving the country’s women’s sides.
Back in February, the senior squad suffered extensive airport delays on their return to the capital city after securing a spot at the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
On that occasion, issues with Covid-19 tests arose and the NFF said it had “no control over how things would be approached” by airport officials.
More money problems for Nigeria’s women
The U20 women’s team was met at the airport by the NFF general secretary Mohammed Sanusi and Toyin Ibitoye, a representative of the country’s sports minister.
“Nigerians appreciated all your effort at the tournament in Costa Rica, but we are saddened by the fact that on your way back you had to sleep at the airport,” Sanusi said.
“This was beyond our control. The arrangement was done by Fifa, and you knew what happened better than us.”
An apologetic Sanusi also promised the players that their outstanding bonuses will be paid when the senior side receive theirs.
The Super Falcons boycotted training before their third-place play-off against Zambia at the Women’s Nations Cup last month over the non-payment of allowances and bonuses.
Each member of the squad is still owed over $10,000 relating to their time at the tournament in Morocco and other training camps.
“The money approved for the Super Falcons is at the (Sports) Ministry being processed and we’re going to pay you from there,” Sanusi said.
“We want to assure you that the same time the Super Falcons are going to be paid, you are also going to be paid your [qualification] bonuses.”
Despite receiving a cash gift from the ministry, another U20 player said the squad are unhappy about how they have been treated and are sceptical about whether they will be paid in full.
“After the horrible travelling experience, some of the players complained of body pains on the flight from Istanbul,” she added.
“Now that we need our unpaid bonuses, it’s another promise that we will be paid later. When that payment is coming, the players don’t know.
“Someone even said we should try to collect our money now before the NFF board leave office, or it will end up as another empty promise.”