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Nigerian Women Forced to Choose Between Club and Country; Career or World Cup Dream

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I do not tend to write about small news in women’s football given how fast social media reaches people with it, but a story involving Nigerian women’s footballers in the Sweden caught my eye today and I felt I had to write about it. This news seemed to slip under the radar too with all that nonsense between the England and Nigerian men’s teams and a mythical agreement on a friendly this year dominating football reporting from and involving the African nation. The story I am referring to reads that Nigerian women’s players in Sweden will not be released by their clubs to play for their country in their qualifiers for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil, because Nigeria have not organised the games on FIFA reserved dates. The Super Falcons have two games in the next ten days, playing Mali in a two-legged tie on the 9th and the 16th of May. Whilst the missing personnel should not affect the result giving the quality of the team in comparison to Mali anyway, it is the repercussions of not playing in these fixtures that is the problem, as the Nigerian FA has stated that players who do not play in these two games will not be picked for the summer’s World Cup squad. Let’s stop for a second and imagine that this occurred in the men’s game. I do not like to play ‘the sexism card’ to challenge everything and anything bad that happens in women’s football, but can you honestly imagine a highly ranked football nation having this problem? Nigeria’s men’s team are ranked twelve places lower than the women’s in their respective FIFA rankings, yet could you ever see this happening to them? I could not see this happening to any men’s team in truth, whether they are the best nation in the world or not even in the top one-hundred. Furthermore, what makes the women having to choose between club and country even more outrageous is that if they were to choose Nigeria, choose to represent their country to strive for a place in next year’s Olympics, and to keep themselves in the picture for the World Cup, as big a dream as anyone’s, then their club will terminate their contract. Let’s remember that women’s footballers are not all able to just spend time away from the sport without any financial problems. Football is only just becoming a good enough job for women, with wages slowly getting them by, although sometimes on the side of other part-time work. If they have their contracts terminated, they have no job, they do not have millions to fall back on, they are unemployed. A combination of FIFA, the Nigerian FA and the clubs in the Damallsvenskan have got this horribly wrong. FIFA say players do not have to be called up on non-FIFA dates, the Nigerian FA organised the games on non-FIFA dates and say that they must leave or not play in the World Cup, and the Damallsvenskan clubs say they will be released if they put them second. It has been wrong for almost ten years now too as, in 2006, one of the players currently entangled in the same mess, Faith Ikidi, was forced to choose between her club and country in a similar situation, and saw her contract terminated when she chose Nigeria. Alongside the Pitea IF defender in the situation this year are Orebro striker Sarah Michael and Umea IK’s attack-minded midfielder, Rita Chikwelu, all of whom featured in the last World Cup in 2011.

Faith Ikidi will be missed by Nigeria this summer as they come up against some of the world's best attackers.

According to reports in Sweden, Ikidi has since changed her mind and decided that her career now takes priority, suggesting that she is happy to remain with her club and, despite being disappointed about the situation, accepts that this means she is likely not to play in the World Cup, although she remains optimistic. Her experience of two World Cups will surely be missed though, both in the following rounds of Olympic qualification and in the summer’s big tournament. Michael’s prolific goal-scoring is also a big loss, with the striker having scored twenty-six in fifty-nine games for her club, whilst Chikwelu has an impressive record for her country that almost reads one goal every two games. Nigeria may have expected the problems to occur having remembered what happened last time and this could explain why they called up Portsmouth Ladies’ striker Iniabasi Umotong in March, who plays in the third tier of English women’s football. Umotong is having a great season with her club, the 20-year-old having scored nearly thirty goals this campaign as her side top the Southern Premier League, but if Nigeria are having to call up players at this standard for the summer’s big competition, how are they going to fare in the group of death alongside the USA, Australia and Sweden? It is an unfortunate situation for the players and the country, as well as fans hoping to see an exciting Super Falcons side this summer. However, it is also an outrageous one that needs to be publicised in order for all involved to be criticised for their errors and forced to change the way they do things. Again, it would not happen in the men’s game. Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.

Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai

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