Thanks to Delta and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Nigerian men’s soccer team has arrived in Brazil in time for their opening match tonight in the 2016 Olympic Games. Kickoff is at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time against Japan in Manaus.
Team Nigeria has arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport as they'll depart for Rio! pic.twitter.com/pD8ZxXzfrE— CBS46 (@cbs46) August 4, 2016
After news broke yesterday of the team being stranded in Atlanta, then heading to the airport only to find a plane that was too small for their group, it was in question whether the team would be the first in Olympic soccer history to suffer a forfeit.
Delta Charters General Manager Mike Lowry said:
“Yesterday afternoon, I got a phone call around 5:00 p.m. asking if logistically, could we make a charter happen to take the Nigerian national team to Brazil.
It worked out that the NBA had already booked a plane to fly the U.S. men’s basketball team back to the States after the end of the Olympics. It would be heading to Brazil soon anyway, so it was brought to Atlanta to pick up the team.
Questions are still swirling around the travel controversy that nearly left the Nigerian team stranded in Atlanta. It is unclear where the responsibilities begin and end between the Nigerian Sports Ministry, the Nigerian Football Federation, or anyone else involved in the U.S. training camp. It is unclear who was responsible for the arrangements with Delta, who said that “the team” called Delta Charters asking for help. Reports have also stated that Delta paid for accommodations for the team last night.
Nnika Ikem is a media aide to the Nigerian Sports Minister Solomon Dalung, she posted a series of statements on Twitter about the situation. Here are a few highlights:
@kayagboola First of all, the trip to USA for training was not approved by the ministry cos the budget was yet to be implemented.— nneka ikem (@nnekaikem1) August 4, 2016
@kayagboola The NFF only came to ask for money for this plane on Monday. The ministry paid N80m equivalent of $174,000 to an NFF agent's acc— nneka ikem (@nnekaikem1) August 4, 2016
Flight arrangements were made by NFF's agent and yet agent said the flight won't move until their hotel bills had been fully settled.— nneka ikem (@nnekaikem1) August 4, 2016
@CalvinEmeka That 'mysterious agent' is where all these problems lie! The ministry doesn't event know him. We only have his account number!— nneka ikem (@nnekaikem1) August 4, 2016
United Soccer Africa, in partnership with the Sports DeKalb office of Discover DeKalb, promoted events with the Nigerian team while they were in Atlanta. This included the exhibition match with the Charleston Battery at Atlanta Silverbacks Park on July 17.
Requests for comment from both United Soccer Africa and Sports DeKalb went unanswered.
Bunmi Jinadu, founder of United Soccer Africa, told the Associated Press’ Josh Hoffner that the problem that stranded the team here revolved around poor planning and coordination. He said that the team planned to buy plane tickets to Rio at the last minute and could not.
Other reports claim that a chartered flight was booked for departure as far back as last Friday, but payment was not received. A chartered flight was ready to go yesterday, but Jinadu told the AP that it was too small for the team and staff. Team media officer Timi Ebikagboro reiterated this to the BBC, saying that “the players were uncomfortable with the size of the plane.”
With the travel issues now behind them, it is now up to the team to try to repeat what happened twenty years ago during the Atlanta Olympics. Nwankwo Kanu led Nigeria to the gold medal in Athens’ Sanford Stadium, becoming the first African country to win the gold in Olympic soccer. The quest for this Nigerian team begins tonight on jet-lagged legs in the Brazilian jungle.