Early on Wednesday, images of the Falconets dozing off on seats on the airport floor in Istanbul, Turkey, hit social media.
The players left the U-20 World Cup in Costa Rica after losing to The Netherlands 2-0 on Sunday, and they were in transit in Istanbul before boarding Turkish Airlines to return home.
The airline that was supposed to transport them to Abuja had already taken off after experiencing a flight delay in Colombia.
They were forced to spend a miserable day in the airport in Istanbul.
A team representative told The PUNCH, “We assumed our flight was for Tuesday, not realizing that it was Wednesday.
“Our original ticket from Costa Rica stated August 23 as the date of travel, but when we arrived in Colombia, there was a four-hour delay, so they had to amend the ticket.
Additionally, we had to endure 24 hours in the airport’s misery.
Several Nigerians expressed their outrage about the Falconets’ condition online. Some of the comments poked fun at the government and the Nigeria Football Federation.
After the #Nigerian #Falconets were eliminated from the #U20WWC in Costa Rica, Osau Obayiuwana, an African football journalist, tweeted, “Why should a #Nigerian national football team, the #Falconets, sleep like tramps at #Istanbul Airport in #Turkey for almost 24 hours to catch a connecting flight back to #Nigeria? WHY??”
No legitimate government of a nation can permit this to happen to its inhabitants, to further speak of her representatives, stated Ernest Brown.
I’m embarrassed to be from Nigeria.
Orji Isaac continued, “Too terrible for this government, they always treat her heroes badly.
Their only interest is in politics.
“Why is there no planning at the NFF?
Why must we continually bring shame upon the country?
Why can’t these girls be accommodated at a hotel?
What sort of nation is this?
Asking was Remilekun Oluwaremedies.
However, the minister got in touch with the players, according to Toyin Ibitoye, the minister’s media assistant, Sunday Dare.
Before they flew to the country, “the minister got in touch with them, communicated with them, and made sure their stay was as comfortable as it could be,” he told The PUNCH.
A player told our correspondent that after being informed by airport staff that they had to pay $18 before using the showers, they were unable to take a bath or change their clothes.
The young football player said, “This is the worst experience I’ve ever had in my life.
The airline staff claimed to be transferring us to a sleeping place, but instead they took us to a waiting room where we had to spend the night.
“My legs hurt so bad that I had to take off my sneakers and put on my slippers before starting to walk around the airport.
People with money paid $18 to take a bath, but those without it couldn’t take a bath or change their clothing, she continued.
However, the player—who spoke on the condition of anonymity—added that the airline fed the group.
Every five hours, we were issued meal tickets, but we were only allowed to eat chicken and chips.
After learning that the squad would need to stay a further 24 hours in the city, the NFF General Secretary Dr. Mohammed Sanusi announced in a statement that the federation had attempted to book the team into a hotel in the Turkish capital.
But a recent Turkish law prohibiting Nigerians from receiving visas upon arrival thwarted their efforts, Sanusi noted.
“FIFA purchased the team’s tickets from Costa Rica, not the NFF.
The problems that caused the team to be delayed for more than three hours in Bogota and another hour in Panama were also not anticipated by FIFA.
The team arrived in Istanbul after the flight to Abuja had already taken off, according to Sanusi.
“Our representatives requested compassionate transit permits so they could transport the players and officials to a hotel inside the town, but they were informed that Nigeria had been deleted from the list of nations whose nationals were granted visas on arrival in Turkey, making this impossible.
“The airline then drove the group to an airport sleeping area and provided them with tickets for five-hourly meals.
NFF had already made plans to welcome the squad in Abuja before the difficulties with the travel arrangements, thus this scenario is unrelated to them.
The Falconets eventually took off for the six-hour flight to Abuja on Wednesday at 6 p.m. (4 p.m. Nigerian time), but they hadn’t touched down as of the time this report was being written.
Obayiuwana, on the other hand, questioned why the NFF was unaware of Yotel, an airport hotel where they might have booked the contingent.
“Did @thenff not ‘know’ that there is such a facility at #Istanbul airport, where the #Falconets might have slept, instead of sleeping on the airport floor and chairs for 20 hours,” he tweeted alongside a photo of Yotel.
Additionally, AJ Afolabi tweeted, “There are lounges available in that airport with much superior conditions comparable to hotels.
For NFF, this does not seem good at all.
When we interact with people from other countries, we seldom ever show them any respect. So sad.
There is no justification for not at least making plans and budgets for unforeseen events.
That tells a lot about who we are.
At the Istanbul Airport, there are two Yotels—one with access from the airside and the other from the landside.
It is situated on the Departures Floor (2nd floor), which is part of the Transit (Duty-Free) section, inside the main terminal building.
To enter the facility, visitors simply need an approved boarding permit; no visas are required.
The Falconets’ plight in Turkey brought to light a number of other issues that the young female competitors faced both before and during the competition.
Prior to the competition, it was discovered that the players allegedly purchased their own sneakers because the kits’ supplier Nike failed to supply them.
A team insider stated, “The players bought their sneakers themselves, I bought mine too. Everybody bought theirs. How much is Nike sneakers that you can’t buy for the players?
The players were actually asked to send their sizes, and everyone did so. However, when we arrived in Abuja, we learned that Nike had not supplied the shoes.
The footwear were not included in the other kits we received.
“So, in order to purchase the sneakers, we all headed to the market.
People were photographing the players as they were purchasing the sneakers, so it is not a secret.
The vendor they were buying from had to be chased away by me.
I advised him to pick a remote area if he intended to sell to players.
I purchased two sets.
Our source confirmed that the squad received $500 for their work in Costa Rica and an additional N40,000 for transportation from Abuja when asked if they had received their allowances after the competition.
They had been promised bonuses if they made it to the quarterfinals, she said.
They had their money on that.
Although it was only for a few days, they received regular camp allowances.
“What do they bring home at the end of the day?
I’m not sure if they’ll give them any further funds.
I discovered that they were also given N40,000 to pay for their own road transportation from Abuja to their bases.
Just please don’t let it happen.
“These players are the most incredible group of footballers I’ve ever met; they don’t talk, they’re so modest, smart, and dedicated to their game.
But why would they play for free?