By Ezeh Jude. O
"Sports do not build character; they reveal it." - Heywood Broun.
The 1993/94 squad of the Super Eagles of Nigeria remains the most famous and illustrious in the anals of our national sports history. No set has surpassed their heroism so far. Not even the then golden boys of 1993 under-17 world cup, and the dream team that won gold at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta Georgia could compare with them.
Some of them still formed the backbone of that triumphant team at the Olympics. They fostered uncommon renaissance in the nation's soccer evolution. They went against the odds to win the African Cup of Nations in Tunis in 1994, and still qualified for our first world cup appearance, after beating Algeria 0-1 at the July 5 stadium in Algiers, in the qualifiers final game.
They gave our generation the mellifluous memory that our parents had in 1981 when Nigeria last shone at the mundial. It was euphoric. We memorized every details of each of the 23 players and the technical crew. That was during the dark days of junta regimes. Nigeria was gloomy socio-politically, and the citizenry hungered after some soul-lifting events no matter how transient, that would relieve them of the looming psychosocial depression, occasioned by mala-dministration. Then came that edition of the Nation's Cup. And Nigerian contingents were winning. So you can imagine the joy!
The excitement was so wild, even the Khaki boys in political leadership of the time had to join in according the players heros' welcome. At the reception, they promised each of them a house in any state of their choices. This promise lingered until last week when President Buhari through the Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashiola redeemed them. Motivated, they went ahead to make an impressive outing at the World Cup in US that same year.
That set gave us stars that hoisted our national colours in many foreign competitive leagues across Europe and Asia. From them came Stephen Keshi who rekindled the national pride of our flag when he coached the 2013 contingents who lifted the continental trophy 20 years after. He thus became the first player to lift the title both as a player and coach. Amazing troupe!
This is why it was shocking to see FIFA disciplinary committee indict and charge one of those paragons of excellence -- Samson Siasia, with 'attempted' bribery and corruption two years ago. Samson Siasia was a striker who combined well with the brutal midfield forces of Emmanuel Amunike and Daniel Amokachi to gift us honours those days. He would later became a coach himself of the under-23 and senior national teams that won medals for the country as well.
His mentorship legacy was personified in the emergence of Mikel Obi (easily the most decorated Nigerian player and second in Africa, only behind Samuel Etoó), and Taye Taiwo etc. In all his dealings, he was driven by quixotic passion for the advancement of the game more than mere craving for fame or mercantilism. He soared in his career with so much love for the round leather game.
This was the same man, that FIFA's Adjudicatory Chambers found guilty of complexities in an attempted match fixing scandal. He was slammed with life ban from football related activities (both national and international) with a fine of CHF50,000 (fifty thousand Swiss francs) in 2019. Knowing he was innocent of the charges and doesn't deserve such harsh judgement, Siasia appealed against it at the Court of Arbitration for sport (CAS).
The case tarried till a fortnight ago, when the court accepted that its judgement was inordinately faulty and reduced the sanction to five years, backdated to 2019 without fine. I had wanted to put up some commentaries in his defence but it would be misconstrued as prejudicial to the litigation process.
Now that the final pronouncement is made we can safely remind them that they can't dent or diminish his reputation in the beautiful game. His examplary conducts far outweigh the offence he is being accused of committing, albeit passively.
A similar scenario played out when Paraguayan court felt they could dim the the light of universal royalty which Brazilian international football ace, Gaucho Ronaldinho is enjoying in his retirement life, when they slammed a six-month jail term on him for alleged forgery. Millions of his fans the world over took to their social media platforms to pass vote of confidence on him and re-assert their unflinching support for him irrespective of whatever the law, in its willful 'blindness' choose to see in him.
Throughout those trying periods the two time world best footballer of the year award winner enjoyed massive followership of sports lovers, his conviction notwithstanding. Even his former club, Barcelona FC retained his Ambassadorial endorsement deal with them.
Our own Siasia needed a colossal support of such magnitude from us. Twice I saw him on national TV screens during the tough period of his trial, soliciting support from NFF, CAF, and other stakeholders of our national and continental football. He needed the warmth of those he made proud in his days.
He has three years more to serve out the sanctions and he is by this piece assured of our support. Let him keep faith for his heroism remains inviolable despite the sanctions. He will come out of it stronger for according to William Arthur Ward: "adversity causes some men to breakdown; while it causes others to break records."
He will bounce back. If there is anything sports revealed of Siasia all these years, according to Heywood Broun in our opening quote, is his spartan will of patience and tenacity, uncompromising integrity and selfless spirit to invest his energy in building future stars for the country and the world at large.
God bless our heroes past!
...Eze Jude O. is a laboratory scientist and public affairs analyst. NNL.