The Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, has promised to ensure the welfare gap between the national men and women football teams is removed.
Nneka Ikem-Anibeze, Dalung’s Special Assistant on Media, in a statement on Sunday in Abuja quoted Dalung as making the promise when he visited the national under-20 women team, the Falconets.
The minister had visited the team in Tirol, Austria after their 4-0 trouncing of FC Wacker Innsbruck, an Austrian Women League top-flight team, on Saturday in their final pre-tournament friendly.
He said: “I learnt that the Falconets after playing six qualifying World Cup matches, which they won, were yet to receive their match bonuses and camp allowances.
“I am against this treatment being meted to female players. It is unfair.
“My passion for women’s football is high and I don’t like the idea of treating people differently. I don’t like injustice and it doesn’t look fair for them to be in camp without their entitlements.
“These are young players and if you don’t give them the moral support they need now, when will you do that?’’
The minister then promised to ensure that the players get all their entitlements when he gets back to Nigeria.
Dalung said: “I am against this idea of unparallel development of football. We must develop and invest in women’s football the same way we develop and invest in men’s football. That gap must be bridged.
“I want to assure you that we will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that your welfare and that of the coaching crew is taken care of, because I want to see all these goals scored again in France.
“We will go back and work out your entitlements to ensure that the girls are comfortable in France.’’
Dalung congratulated the team for their victory and praised the coaching crew for their hardwork.
He said: “I want to congratulate the team and their coaching crew.
“It was quite an interesting game and I am proud of you girls. Having watched you today, I’m convinced that a lot of talents are at display.
“If we are able to manage these talents for the future, we will enjoy them for a long time.
“Women’s football is growing very fast in Nigeria and looking at your determination and selflessness during your match today, I believe that in the future we will have a very strong team that will even compete like the men.’’
Dalung later gave the players a personal gift of 5,000 dollars and 2,000 dollars to the coaching crew.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the Falconets will depart from their final training camp in Tirol on Thursday for the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in France.
They should leave with a high level of confidence after scoring seven goals and conceding none in two friendly games.
The 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup silver medallists, while hammering FC Wacker Innsbruck, scored with a brace from Rasheedat Ajibade and one each from Adebisi Saheed and Chinyere Igboamalu.
A few days earlier, the Nigerian girls had spanked another Austrian top flight side, FC Bergheim 3-0.
Ajibade, who plays for FC Robo Queens of Lagos and also featured at the last tournament in Papua New Guinea, was top scorer for Nigeria in the African qualifying campaign.
Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala was the top scorer and best player at the 2014 finals in Canada, where the Falconets finished as runners-up behind Germany.
The Under-20 girls remain Nigeria’s most successful women’s team at global level, winning silver at the FIFA World Cup twice (Germany 2010 and Canada 2014) and bronze once (Japan 2012).
They reached the quarter-finals in Thailand (2004), Russia (2006) and Chile (2008).
NAN reports that Nigeria will battle Haiti, China and Germany in Group D of the 16-nation finals which begins on August 5 and ends on August 24.
Africa’s other flagbearers Ghana must negotiate a tough Group A against hosts France, New Zealand and The Netherlands.
Group B has North Korea, England, Mexico and Brazil, while the U.S., Japan, Paraguay and Spain fight it out in Group D.
The Falconets’ opening match is against perennial foes Germany (who beat Nigeria in the 2010 and 2014 Final matches) at the Stade de Marville in Saint-Malo on August 6.
They then clash with Haiti at the same venue on August 9 and against China in Dinan/Léhon’s Stade de Clos Gastel on August 13.
To qualify for the finals, the Falconets had dismissed their Tanzanian counterparts 9-0 aggregate, brushed aside Morocco 6-2 on aggregate and whipped South Africa 8-0 over two legs in January.
NIGERIA’S 21-PLAYER SQUAD FOR FRANCE 2018
Goalkeepers: Onyinyechukwu Okeke, Rita Akarekor, Chiamaka Nnadozie.
Defenders: Glory Ogbonna, Opeyemi Sunday, Mary Ologbosere, Joy Duru, Blessing Ezekiel, Oluwakemi Famuditi.
Midfielders: Christy Ucheibe, Bashirat Amoo, Peace Efih, Adebisi Saheed, Mary Saiki, Taibat Odueke, Grace Igboamalu.
Forwards: Rasheedat Ajibade, Anam Imo, Chidinma Okeke, Aishat Bello, Gift Monday.