Nigeria’s Olympic soccer team got stranded in Atlanta and is due in Rio only hours before its first match

Nigeria’s Olympics soccer team captain, Mikel John Obi.
Nigeria’s Olympics soccer team captain, Mikel John Obi.
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
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While most other athletes participating in the Rio 2016 Olympics arrived days ahead of the event, Nigeria’s Olympics  soccer team is yet to land in Brazil on the day of its first match. The team got stuck in Atlanta, where it held a training camp ahead of the Games.

The team has endured poor preparations in the buildup to the Olympics, as the sports ministry has failed to figure out travel plans to land the team in Brazil. Initially set to leave on Aug. 2 via a chartered flight, the team realized just hours before takeoff that the sports ministry had not made payments to the plane company. The public outrage was predictable for a country where soccer is sacred. To save face, the sports ministry reportedly arranged another flight yesterday (Aug. 3), but those plans were cancelled after the plane was deemed to be too small.

Now the team is scheduled to fly to Brazil via a Delta Airlines flight and—barring any further complications—the athletes are scheduled to land in Brazil by 2pm local time, only seven hours before their first game against Japan.

Nigerians have largely blamed Solomon Dalung, appointed last October as the country’s sports minister, for the poor preparations, which go beyond the soccer team’s woes. The country’s athletes were asked to pay for their own flight tickets to Rio, for instance, but the decision was quickly reversed as it drew sharp criticism.

In 1996, Nigeria became the first African nation to win gold in the Olympic soccer event, beating Brazil and Argentina in its march to the final to deliver one of the country’s most celebrated victories. Given the logistical challenges the current Olympic team has faced, few Nigerians expect them to relive the victory of 20 years ago. Most are simply hoping they get to Brazil on time.