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Nigeria soccer star: Federation holding us back from being top-10 team

(Elsa/FIFA via Getty Images)

The Nigerian football federation is holding its women’s national team back, according to one of its stars.

Ifeoma Onumonu spoke on the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast about the potential of the Super Falcons — and how a lack of organization at the top is standing in their way.

Ahead of the 2023 World Cup, head coach Randy Waldrum criticized the federation, citing a failure to pay the players. It’s unclear whether or not Waldrum will continue as coach, with his contract set to expire this year.

“It’s no secret that there’s a lot of stuff swirling around with our coaching staff, we’re not really in the know with what’s going on there,” Onumonu said. “Our federation, we’ve had a lot of battles with them. I just want more organization for our federation, saying like, ‘Hey, if you put a little more into this team — like with what you’ve given them, look what they were able to accomplish.’

“If we get a little bit more organized, if we make sure that sleeping arrangements are good, training arrangements, fields are good at camp, just making sure you’re informing the players at a reasonable time about coming into camp.”

Despite entering the World Cup in the midst of a dispute over pay and resources, the team reached the Round of 16, where the Super Falcons were knocked out by eventual runners-up England in penalties.

Nigeria is one of a few countries to have made it to every single Women’s World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1991. The Super Falcons have made nine World Cup appearances, with their best-ever finish a quarterfinals appearance in 1999.

But Onumonu believes the team has what it takes to be a top-10 team.

“If all of those are solved, I feel like we can be just even better and push for even more,” she said. “But I think those little things are kind of hindering us from advancing into the top 10 teams in the world because I do think we are capable with the makeup of the team. … So I hope in the future, we can kind of get that act together and actually compete so that when we say, ‘Oh, we’re going to win this thing,’ they believe us.”

Nigerian players have enlisted the help of FIFPRO, the international players’ union, to help negotiate their bonuses for national team camps. But a “very misogynistic” culture in Nigeria holds players back from fully speaking out.

“There’s a way I would do it, but it’s not necessarily the appropriate way to do it in Nigeria,” said Onumonu, who was born in the United States and plays for the NWSL’s Gotham FC.

“And that’s the thing where I really lack the understanding is, what is the best way to do it in Nigeria? Because in reality, the same sort of systems that exist in the U.S. that we would probably go through to accomplish this, whether it be creating a CBA or a union, I don’t think that’s the same thing you can do in Nigeria, unfortunately.

“As a woman, it’s very hard to get anything for yourself because of just the way we’re treated and we’re seen in Nigerian societies.”