Football: Nigeria to keep lights shining

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The Independent Online
NIGERIANS OFFICIALS were working feverishly at final preparations for the World Youth Cup yesterday to prove wrong critics who foresaw disaster if the tournament was held in Africa's most populous nation.

Prostitutes and down-and-outs have been cleared from the streets, police have stepped up night patrols to beat armed robbers and the National Stadium in Lagos has been given a fresh lick of paint ahead of the opening ceremony today.

"Everything will be ready before Saturday," said Alim Musa, one of the organisers in Lagos, where Nigeria kick off against Costa Rica to start the 24-nation competition which ends on 24 April.

Organisers are confident seven other venues will also be ready on time. But despite assurances from Fifa, the game's world governing body, fears still abound among some foreign players about a country with a reputation for political instability, violent crime, fuel and power shortages, tropical disease and transport accidents.

The South Korean team arrived last weekend with enough bottled water to last throughout the tournament.

Nigeria was stopped from hosting the tournament in 1995 because of security and health concerns. This time, authorities have had to ensure that ambulances and helicopters are on stand-by to evacuate players who are severely ill, and thus not have to take their chances in local hospitals.

"Fifa and the teams are concerned about our health facilities and we're ready to prove them wrong," Abdulsalami Nasidi, the head of the medical team for the event, said.

Following democratic elections in February, General Abdulsalami Abubakar's military government has made a successful Nigeria 99 its top priority before stepping down on 29 May in what will be an end to 15 years of army rule.

However, Nigerians worry that visitors will still find themselves plunged into darkness by power cuts and unable to get around because of fuel shortages due to the failure of refineries in Africa's biggest oil producer.

"We have been told to ensure there is power for all the venues so lights don't go out during the game, as well as places like hotels where a lot of people are gathered to watch," a senior official with the state power company, Nepa, confirmed. "We don't want to provoke a riot."

With few foreign supporters expected to attend the event, most tickets are likely to go to Nigerians at a minimum of 250 Naira (pounds 1.70) a seat - a high price in a country where most civil servants earn less than pounds 1 a day.

But as workers hammer the last nails into the village of wooden kiosks and stalls being built for vendors, fans are complaining that the tickets have still not gone on sale.

Local journalists are bitter over a chaotic process to accredit them for games. Even more unhappy are prostitutes, who have threatened nude protests at matches and in the streets after local organisers stopped them from soliciting in hotels where players and spectators are lodged.

"Don't worry, the prostitutes have not gone. They have to behave more decently during the tournament," said Emmanuel Abudu, a car park attendant at Bar Beach, a notorious pick-up spot where dozens of beer parlours were bulldozed ahead of the tournament.

Poland's sports minister, Jacek Dembski, said yesterday he would resign if the country's football authorities failed to elect new leaders within the next four months.

Dembski, who has repeatedly tried to force out the old guard from the Polish football association, the PZPN, over alleged financial mismanagement and incompetence, said he would leave his post if new leaders were not elected by 8 August.

Fifa has given the PZPN until 8 April to comply with its regulations or risk the Polish national side being thrown out of the European Championship.

Poland, who are in England's qualifying group, lost 1-0 at home to Sweden on Wednesday, four days after losing to England at Wembley.