REVEALED: How Sunday Oliseh Stopped FIFA From Banning Nigeria From 1998 World Cup
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By Amaechi Agbo
But for the patriotic role played by former captain, Sunday Oliseh, Nigeria’s Super Eagles would have been banned by the world football governing body, FIFA from all football related activities especially from participating in the 1998 World Cup in France.
FIFA were expected to ban Nigeria following the nation’s withdrawal from the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON hosted by South Africa due to political logjam between the two nations.
Nigeria had played a decisive role in ending Apartheid in South Africa and the eventual release of Nelson Mandela. When the political crisis that gripped Nigeria involving the imprisonment of M.K.O Abiola by the then Nigerian Government led by Major General Abacha, Nelson Mandela intervened and tried to summon international support to overturn this decision.
Mandela condemned Nigeria’s government. This led to the president,Major General Sani abacha to withdrawing the Super Eagles of Nigeria from participating in the forthcoming AFCON set to be hosted for the very first time in South Africa in 1996.
This withdrawal automatically triggered a ban by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on Nigeria for the next three editions of the AFCON. 1998, 2000, and 2002,
An expected ratification of this was scheduled to follow by FIFA which banned Nigeria from all its organized competitions. FIFA’s constitution and charter forbids government intervention in football at all levels and thus a violation of this was to be met by an outright ban.
Former Super Eagles Captain, Sunday Oliseh who narrated how him and the NFF Secretary General then rallied to avoid FIFA’s ban said their move was never in the public domain
“The Secretary General of the Nigerian Football Federation, Mallam Sani Ahmed Toro informed me of an impending ban on Nigeria by FIFA for the 1998 World Cup scheduled to be played in France. Startled and worried, we brainstormed on how to avoid this in between calls from one another for hours.
“With a looming FIFA congregation to ratify CAF’s sanction, Sani Toro (NFF Secretary General) called me up to say that we had to do something. We jointly decided that I would write to FIFA a registered letter pleading leniency. Sani Toro gave me the FAX, postal address, and the FIFA section to address my letter to.
“In my letter to FIFA, I pleaded with them to be lenient and consider the plight of almost 180 million Nigerians who would be heavily punished for an offence they did not commit and had no power to influence. I asked them to consider the fact that we as players and a nation have already suffered hugely by the CAF sanctions which deprives us of defending our title in 1996.
“I enumerated the career damaging consequences that such an international ban would have not only on the Super Eagles players but also up and coming younger players from the local league and youth national team age groups. I almost immediately received a return mail from FIFA confirming reception and consideration.
“We were extremely afraid of the negative implications we could suffer from certain sections. For days that seemed like forever we awaited FIFA’s Reply,”Oliseh disclosed in his Autobiography, “Audacity to Refuse”
The former Borussia Dortmund of Germany star noted that following the withdrawal not the team from the 1996 AFCON, the Super Eagles could not defend the tittle they won in 1996.
“As Defending Champions of Africa, we were clear favorites to defend our title with most Super Eagles players having further progressed and matured to a higher playing level compared to how they were in 1994.
“Days later, I came back home from training at 1 in the morning. FC Koln and my wife gave me a registered letter from FIFA. FIFA had accepted my plea; NIGERIA WAS GOING TO BE BANNED!
“When I called Sani Toro to share the news, he told me he had already been notified by FIFA. We rejoiced as if there was no tomorrow, all the while keeping this away from the public for obvious reasons.”
Nigeria pulled out if 1996 AFCON tournament but played in the 1998 FIFA World Cup where they reached, again, the last 16 but we’re humiliated 4-1 by Denmark in the Round of 16