Early on Wednesday morning, the social media was flooded with pictures of the Falconets sleeping on bare floor and chairs at the Istanbul Airport in Turkey.
The players, who boarded Turkish Airlines, were on transit in Istanbul, on their way from the U-20 World Cup in Costa Rica, after crashing out from the tournament, following a 2-0 defeat to The Netherlands on Sunday.
Following a flight delay in Colombia, the airline that was scheduled to fly them to Abuja, had left.
They were made to endure a frustrating 24-hour stay at the Istanbul Airport.
“We thought our flight was for Tuesday, not knowing that it was Wednesday,” a team official told The PUNCH.
“The first ticket we had in Costa Rica had August 23 on it but when we got to Colombia, there was a four-hour delay, which made them change the ticket. And we had to undergo 24 hours of hell at the airport.”
The Falconets ordeal drew the ire of several Nigerians online, with some respondents aiming digs at the government and the Nigeria Football Federation over the plight of the Falconets.
African football journalist Osau Obayiuwana 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 after being eliminated from the #U20WWC in #CostaRica, @thenff? WHY??”
Ernest Brown said, “No responsible government of a country can allow this happen to her citizens, talk more of her representatives. I’m ashamed to be a Nigerian.”
Orji Isaac added, “Too bad for this government, with ill-treatment they always give her heroes. They are only concerned about politics.”
“Why does the NFF lack planning? Why do we have to disgrace the nation all the time? Can’t provision be made for these girls in a hotel? What kind of country is this?” Remilekun Oluwaremedies asked.
Toyin Ibitoye, media aide to the Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, however, said the minister got in touch with the players.
The minister got in touch with them, spoke with them and made sure their stay was as comfortable as they could be before they flew down to the country,” he told The PUNCH.
A player told our correspondent they couldn’t have their bath or change their outfits, after they were told by airport officials that they had to pay $18 before they could have a shower.
“This is the worst experience I ever had in my life,” the young footballer stated.
“The airline officials told us they were taking us to a sleeping area, only to take us to a waiting area, where we had to pass the night.
“My legs are hurting; I had to pull off my sneakers for slippers and started walking round the airport. Those who have money paid $18 to have their bath, those who didn’t have couldn’t have their bath and change their clothes,” she added.
But the player, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the airline provided food for the contingent.
“We were given meal tickets for every five hours, but we could only eat chicken and chips.”
NFF General Secretary Dr Mohammed Sanusi, in a statement, said the federation had tried to lodge the team in a hotel in the Turkish capital, after they learnt the team would have stay an extra 24 hours in the city.
But a new policy denying Nigerians visa-on-arrival in Turkey scuttled their effort, Sanusi added.
“The NFF did not book the team’s tickets from Costa Rica; FIFA did. FIFA also did not envisage the hitches that saw the team delayed for more than three hours in Bogota, and another one hour in Panama. By the time the team got to Istanbul, the flight to Abuja had left,” Sanusi said.
“Our officials pleaded for compassionate transit visas so as to take the players and officials to a hotel inside the town, but this was not possible as they were informed that Nigeria had been removed from the list of countries whose citizens were issued visa-on-arrival in Turkey.
“The airline then took the team to a sleeping area at the airport and gave them tickets to have meals every five hours. This situation has nothing to do with NFF, who had made arrangements to receive the team in Abuja before the complications in travel arrangements.”
The Falconets eventually boarded the six-hour flight to Abuja at 6pm (4pm Nigerian time) on Wednesday and had not landed as at the time of filing this report.
Obayiuwana, however, wondered why the NFF didn’t know about Yotel, a hotel inside the airport, which they could have lodged the contingent.
He tweeted with a picture of Yotel, “Did @thenff not ‘know’ that there is such a facility at #Istanbul airport, where the #Falconets could have rested, rather than sleeping on the airport floor and chairs for 20 hours? C’mon…”
AJ Afolabi also added on Twitter, “There are lounges available with much better conditions similar to hotels in that airport. This does not look good at all for NFF. We do not treat our own with much at all when relating internationally. So sad. There is no excuse for not planning and budgeting for unforeseen circumstances at the very least. That says a lot about us.”
Yotel is located at the Istanbul Airport, one with access to the airside and another with access from the landside. It is located within the main terminal building, on The Departures Floor (2nd level) located in the Transit (Duty-Free) area.
Travelers only need an official boarding pass, and not visas, to access the facility.
The Falconets predicament in Turkey, exposed several other difficulties the young female players encountered pre-tournament and at the tournament proper.
It was learnt that prior to the tournament, that the players allegedly bought their sneakers themselves, after kits supplier Nike failed to deliver them.
A team source said, “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?
“Actually, they asked the players to send their sizes; everybody sent theirs, only for us to get to Abuja and was told Nike didn’t come with the shoes. We got other kits but the sneakers weren’t included.
“So, we all went into the market to buy the sneakers. It’s not hidden; people were taking the players pictures as they were buying the shoes. I had to chase the guy they were buying from away. I told him if he wanted to sell to the players, he should choose a secluded place. I bought two pairs.”
On if the team had been paid their allowances after exiting the tournament, our source said the players were given $500 for their efforts in Costa Rica, adding that were also given an extra N40, 000 transportation home from Abuja.
She stated, “They were promised bonuses if they reached the quarter-finals. That’s what they were banking on. They got normal camp allowances but it was for some few days.
“At the end of the day, what do they take home? $500. I don’t know if they will give them any other money. I learnt they were also given N40, 000 to transport themselves to their bases from Abuja by road. I just hope it doesn’t happen.
“These players are the most amazing set of footballers I’ve come across; they don’t talk, they are so humble, intelligent and focused on their football. But why will they play and not get paid?”