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U-17 World Cup Must Be Moved from Nigeria
by Paul Gardner, June 15th, 2009 10:54PM

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By Paul Gardner

What on earth is FIFA waiting for? The reports out of Nigeria make it alarmingly clear that to stage the Under-17 World Cup there Oct. 24-Nov. 15, as currently scheduled, would be exposing the young players to considerable risk.

When a high-powered FIFA delegation visited Nigeria last month to assess how the preparations for the tournament were coming along, the party did not even visit one of the proposed venues. To quote from FIFA's official website Of May 21: "The venue of Warri could not be inspected over the past days due to security concerns in the vicinity of the city and the Delta State region in general."

Frankly, that ought to have been enough for FIFA to pull the plug right then. It did not do so. Instead of showing concern about the perils of guerilla warfare, the FIFA committee was more concerned that the Nigerians weren't looking good in getting their stadiums ready.

So the Nigerians were warned that they had to shape up and get those stadiums ready, or they might lose the tournament. Another FIFA delegation -- like the first one, led by Concacaf's Jack Warner -- will return within a week to see whether things are looking any better.

One is left gaping at the lack of concern here for the safety of the boys destined to play in this tournament. The security situation has gotten seriously worse. Yesterday came a statement from MEND -- the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta -- threatening to widen its fight (it is seeking to gain local control of the region's substantial oil reserves) and it issued a direct threat to the soccer tournament. According to an AFP news report, MEND "took this opportunity to advise FIFA to have a rethink about Nigeria hosting the U-17 World Cup tournament at this time, as the safety of international players and visitors cannot be guaranteed due to the current unrest."

I cannot see how there can be any justification for prolonging the idea that the competition can be staged by Nigeria. The issue is no longer whether the stadiums are ready or not -- it is now a matter of lives being put at risk.

Of particular interest to the Americans, whose team is among the qualifiers, is that, according to MEND, its latest target for sabotage attacks were facilities owned by the American oil company Chevron.

Whether the games can then be moved elsewhere in time for the October/November dates, who knows. Such things have been done before. In 1991 this same tournament was switched from Peru, where there was fear of a cholera outbreak, to Italy. While in 1995, Nigeria was again a problem and the under-20 World Cup had to be moved to Qatar "at little more than a moment's notice" as then FIFA president Joao Havelange put it. While Concacaf, earlier this year, canceled the second half of its under-17 championship in Mexico because of fears of swine flu.

What threatens in Nigeria seems to me worse than any of those crises. Yet FIFA dawdles. It is possible that individual countries might feel compelled to withdraw their teams -- though as things stand at the moment, with Nigeria still the official site of the tournament, that would presumably bring down a heavy punishment from FIFA.

Beyond that are the families of the individual players, who should be fully apprised of the risks involved, and who can then decide for themselves whether they wish their sons to travel to Nigeria.

But for FIFA to allow things to reach that point would be unconscionable. This is a situation where FIFA needs to take the lead -- indeed, should already have done so -- by shifting the tournament.

 

 



0 comments
  1. Stephen Papineau
    commented on: June 16, 2009 at 1:33 a.m.
    Gardener, i agree that the boys should not play there due to considerable risk on their part. but be careful not to take a political stance or to misunderstand the fight waged by MEND. I don't defend their actions, but don't mistake them for run of the mill terrorists. They have been terrorized by corruption and oil companies and they have take considerable effort not to harm people outside of the oil wars...

  1. John Stalzer
    commented on: June 16, 2009 at 1:57 a.m.
    This is not about politics, social issues, or civil causes. This is about safety for a Tournament- it's players & fans, plain and simple... Pull the plug- move on to Plan B!

  1. Joseph Breault
    commented on: June 16, 2009 at 11:13 a.m.
    FIFA's obsession with developing African football borders on insanity and although laudible it it ignores facts.


  1. commented on: June 16, 2009 at 11:26 a.m.
    With the history of corruption in FIFA and CONCACAF, it seems this decision should not be left in Jack Warner's hands. The USA should demand relocation or withdraw.

  1. Mike Prosser
    commented on: June 16, 2009 at 12:07 p.m.
    I agree that the games need/MUST be switched for the safety of LIVES! The US Soccer Federation along with US Youth Soccer need to get together (what a concept) & express their (diplomatic) feelings, not only for the safety of the players but also for the games themselves.

  1. Doug Kieffer
    commented on: June 16, 2009 at 12:51 p.m.
    I'd guess that FIFA has no power to compel individual players to participate. What if any player simply refuses to go? At age 17, I would guess that US law requires permission for a parent or guardian. What if that is withheld? Would the individual players face some sort of sanction for refusing to put their lives in jeopardy? Although this is a slam dunk case, it would be a shame if future tournaments could be shut down by any group that wanted to make a political statement but had little wherewithal to actually pull anything off


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