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Qatar 2022: Agony of a Nigerian sports journalist

By Gowon Akpodonor
26 November 2022   |   3:50 am
With two of our ‘generals’ going to cover the World Cup in Brazil, I am sure our readers won’t miss any gist from the Super Eagles camp. Please, tell our players to stay focused and close their eyes to those dangerous Samba girls.

Leon Balogun…couldn’t believe what happened to the Super Eagles in the match against the Black Stars in Abuja<br />(Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

‘With two of our ‘generals’ going to cover the World Cup in Brazil, I am sure our readers won’t miss any gist from the Super Eagles camp. Please, tell our players to stay focused and close their eyes to those dangerous Samba girls. Also, convey my message to coach Stephen Keshi that Nigerians back home want good results. I wish you the best of luck.’

Those were the farewell message by the former Editor of The Guardian, Mr. Joel Dafinone, as I stepped out of the newsroom to commence my journey to the South American country for the coverage of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup.

Then, Mr. Dafinone was one of the biggest supporters of the Super Eagles. His love for the team increased after Keshi and ‘the gang’ took Africa by storm in 2013, winning the AFCON title for the third time for Nigeria in South Africa.

It was my third experience covering the World Cup at the senior level, having covered two with the Super Falcons in China in 2007 and Germany in 2011.

Before my departure from Lagos, our Sports Editor, Christian Okpara, and dozens of Sports Editors from other newspapers, radio and television stations had already landed in Sao Paulo waiting for the kickoff of the World Cup.

Then, media houses were always awash with adverts and other promotions from different corporate organisations in the countdown to the Mundial. The corporate bodies dangled various sums of money to foot the bills of journalists to the World Cup in return for media mileage through adverts and other deliverables.

On the other hand, Keshi and some key players of the Super Eagles had their hands full, getting endorsements from different corporate organisations. Everybody wanted to associate with the team.

Brazil is massive in the landscape. From Sao Paulo to Cuiba, Curitiba and Brasilia, the ‘two generals’ from the Rutam House made Brazil 2014 World Cup a memorable tournament for the readers back home.

Super Eagles’ journey ended in the city of Brasilia, where they lost to France, but as a journalist, I had to continue with my coverage of the World Cup in honour of the agreement we had with our sponsor.

The tradition continued at Canada 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, which I covered through corporate sponsorship.

At Russia 2018, The Guardian had the ‘two generals’ at the forefront to bring exciting stories from the Super Eagles camp to our readers. That was also made possible through sponsorship packages from various corporate organisations.

That was when the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), led then by Amaju Pinnick, had not allowed pride and personal ambition to overshadow all daily operations.

That was when Pinnick still consulted experts far and wide before taking final decisions on some crucial issues affecting the nation’s football.

That was when the Super Eagles still had solid wings to fly, haven picked the World Cup ticket with three matches still left in the African qualifying series.

That was when members of the Supporters Club still operated as one big family, providing motivational songs for the players.

Even when the Super Eagles crashed out in the early stage of Russia’s 2018 World Cup, following the defeat to Argentina in St Petersburg, Nigerians had pity for Pinnick and handed him a second-term ticket to lead the country’s football.

After then, the results on and off the pitch became nightmarish for Nigerians.

From the last AFCON tournament in Cameroun, where the Super Eagles crashed out in the round of 16, the first in the history of Nigerian football, to the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers, in which the ‘plane’ that was taking Nigeria to the Mundial crash-landed on the tarmac of the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, on March 29, many Nigerian football fans had suffered heartbreak in the hand of Pinnick and his journeymen in the NFF.

The World Cup party began in Qatar on Sunday, but virtually all sports writers in Nigeria have become ‘spectators’ doing their coverage in their newsrooms.

This is because corporate organisations are not interested in sponsoring journalists or investing their money in the World Cup in Qatar since the Austin Eguavoen-led Super Eagles failed to qualify. There is no long list of travellers through government patronage. It marked the beginning of a long, torturous and painful wait for another four years to be at the World Cup.

And on the streets of Lagos, the usual razzmatazz associated with the Super Eagles’ participation at the FIFA World Cup is completely missing. Smaller business entities like jersey and other memento manufacturers are nowhere to be found.

However, while many Nigerian media, soccer fans, businessmen, politicians and tourists are reeling from Super Eagles’ inability to make the cut to Qatar, Pinnick and some officials in the current NFF board are in Doha fraternising with FIFA and CAF officials.

Since the Super Eagles dazzled the World at USA ‘94, this is the second time Nigeria is missing out on the World Cup, the first being Germany in 2006.

Just as playing at the World Cup is a big boost to any country’s economy, it is always a delight for a journalist to be part of the coverage.

Covering the Qatar 2022 World Cup from the newsroom is an unpleasant experience.

This is the most unpleasant time for many Nigerian journalists because the Eagle’s absence from the World Cup cost them opportunities associated with the competition.

Journalists are not alone in this, as supporters club members have been denied the opportunity to mingle with their counterparts from other countries and also the chance to see their stars in close quarters in the team’s camp.