Nigeria says men's soccer team not going on 'strike'

Story highlights

  • The team has been beset by financial problems
  • An unpaid charter flight bill nearly made the team miss its first Olympics 2016 match

(CNN)Reports of strike action by Nigeria's Olympic football team ahead of its quarterfinal game Saturday at Rio 2016 have been dismissed by a leading government official.

"This is speculation," Nigeria Sports and Youth minister Solomon Dalung told CNN after the country's Olympic team reportedly skipped training and threatened to boycott Saturday's match.
    "I have not received any report of any strike from the team," Dalung added. "There is no indication that they are going on strike."
    Reports surfaced in local media Friday that the Nigerian Under-23 football side -- dubbed "the Dream Team" -- were unhappy about non-payment of allowances and were threatening to boycott their quarterfinal against Denmark in the Olympic soccer tournament Saturday.
    All Olympic soccer squads are composed of Under-23 players, barring three exceptions.

    Payment issues

    Dalung said he had paid players' allowances for 11 days but admitted that the team's head coach Samson Siasa had voiced his unhappiness after not receiving his salary for five months.
    The minister said he had spoken to the president of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), who confirmed to him that the coach had not been paid for months and that he was unhappy about the situation.
    But Dalung said the coach has picked the wrong time to voice his frustrations.
    "Raising it now is not appropriate," said Dalung.
    "He could have refused to travel with the team. There was no need for him to travel with the team, play the first two matches and qualify, collect his allowances and then suddenly bring the issue of the salary now. He's not the only person that is owed."
    The Nigerian team poses for photos before a match of the men's Olympic football tournament between Colombia and Nigeria in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday, August 10, 2016.
    NFF president Amaju Pinnick told the organization's website that he had spoken to Siasia to reassure him that he would be paid.
    "I just finished a long telephone discussion with Siasia and I explained to him the situation the NFF is in and why he has not received his salary," said Pinnick.
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    "As I explained last week, we received some money from the Confederation of African Football and I directed that the money be used to offset the salaries of the Under-23 team coaches and also for the women's Super Falcons' coaches.
    "The money has come into the NFF account but it has to first go into our TSA (Treasury Single Account) before we can access it and then use it," added Pinnick. "The vouchers for the payment have already been done."
    Dalung added that the non-payment of salaries by the NFF was also out of his jurisdiction.
    "He is not an employee of the ministry ... non-payment of salary is wrong but there's nothing I can do. This is an in-house problem within the football family."

    Crowdfunding campaign

    The Nigerian Olympic team has been beset with numerous issues off the field including athletes resorting to crowd-funding via social media ahead of the games, though the minister said all athletes were fully funded by the Nigerian government.
    The football team also nearly missed their first game at the Olympics over an unpaid charter flight bill, which kept the team grounded in Atlanta, for about a month, and only arrived in Brazil hours before their first match.
    The bill for the charter flight was picked up by Delta airlines, which was to be paid back by Nigeria, according to CNN Atlanta affiliate CBS 46.
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    Sports commentators in the country have called for Dalung's resignation as they believe that he and his ministry should take responsibility for the series of embarrassing incidents that have overshadowed the team's progress in Brazil.
    Columnist Adekunle Salami wrote in the New Nigerian Telegraph: "The minister of sport Solomon Dalung is good enough for a role in the Nigerian movies industry Nollywood.
    "This minister no doubt is bad news to Nigerian sports. He seems not to have studied the books on his table."
    Dalung dismissed the calls for his resignation, saying: "Resign for what! It's all politics. Can you give me one single reason why I should resign? When you ask someone to resign, you must give them a reason."