FOOTBALL; Facilities in Nigeria attacked by Fifa

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THE NIGERIAN government promised immediate action yesterday after Fifa, football's world governing body, sent an inspection team to review facilities for next year's World Youth Cup and were fiercely critical.

"All the inadequacies which your team has identified in the course of your inspection will be addressed and tackled immediately because we believe your observations are a guide to our preparations," Rear Admiral Mike Akhigbe, a Nigerian government official, told the delegation responsible for producing the report.

Issa Hayatou, a member of the Fifa inspection team, said: "We are not impressed at all with the state of facilities in centres like Bauchi, Calabar, Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Lagos.

"Much needs to be done in these areas before our next visit. Extra efforts must be made to put these facilities in shape," added Hayatou who is also the president of the Confederation of African Football.

In 1995, as Nigeria suffered turmoil in the wake of annulled 1993 elections and protests against military rule, Fifa took away Nigeria's right to the same tournament citing health and security reasons.

Although a $27m (pounds 17m) contract has been awarded to revamp stadiums, critics complain that hotels in most of the venues do not meet standards of basic cleanliness let alone comfort, that pitches are in a woeful state and that there are no plans for effective broadcast coverage.

The dates for the tournament - 3 to 24 April - are also uncomfortably close to that of the handover to civilian rule by the military ruler General Abdulsalam Abubakar scheduled at the end of May.

Despite Fifa's criticism, Hayatou said he still believed Nigeria could stage the event. "We are very optimistic that Nigeria is capable of putting in place all the necessary facilities as required by Fifa standards and hope that by our next visit we won't be disappointed." Hayatou said.

n Major League Soccer, the world's first league to decide tied matches with shoot-outs and where tough new rules on tackling were tried out before the World Cup, have launched another first for a major professional league - female referees.

The new referees are Sandra Hunt and Nancy Lay, who were among five women who have been running the lines at MLS games this season.

Hunt, who has officiated nearly 1,000 games in an 11-year career ranging from youth to women's internationals, will be in charge of the Kansas City Wizards-Chicago Fire match on 29 August.

Lay, who has been a registered referee since 1985, will be in Dallas, where the Burn face the New York-New Jersey MetroStars on the same day.