By Oluwashina Okeleji*
A benefactor has handed a reward of $390,000 to the Nigerian Olympic football team in Brazil after the West African country won bronze on Saturday.
Japanese plastic surgeon Katsuya Takasu had promised to reward the team after hearing about their financial difficulties before and during the tournament.
Takasu fulfilled his promise by presenting cheques of $200,000 and $190,000 to coach Samson Siasia and captain John Mikel Obi respectively on behalf of the team.
He met with them two hours after Nigeria defeated Honduras 3-2 in the bronze medal play-off.
“The $200,000 covers the bonuses and allowances as promised and the $190,000 is for the bronze medal,” Takasu told BBC Sport.
“I had travelled from Tokyo prepared to reward them anyway, and to watch them win the bronze inside the stadium was very fulfilling,” he added.
Before arriving in Rio, Nigeria’s ‘Dream Team VI’ were held up in Atlanta, USA, because of a problem with the payment for their flight, and they only landed in Brazil just hours before their opening 5-4 win over Japan.
Nigeria also had a troubled build-up to their quarter-final against Denmark after the players boycotted a training session in a dispute over pay.
“This team showed resilience and fought the hardest to achieve success, despite all their problems – some people would have given up but they didn’t,” said Takasu.
“In everything we must always let people understand that they are appreciated and not just in football but generally in life.”
Coach Siasia, who becomes the most decorated African football coach at the Olympics having won a silver medal in Beijing in 2008, thanked Takasu for his generosity and support.
“We can’t thank doctor Takasu enough because what he has done is amazing and unbelievable, we didn’t see this coming when we set out for the Olympics” Siasia told BBC Sport.
“It’s not just about the money. You can’t equate his gesture in figures or words, to find a big supporter far away in Japan travel down here to cheer and back us is unbelievable.
“I can only say a big thank you on behalf of my team and country, we pray God continue to bless him abundantly,” Siasia added.
Nigeria, the 1996 Olympic football champions, are now the most successful African country in Olympic men’s football, and the first African country to complete an Olympic medal sweep having won a sliver medal in Beijing in 2008.
Takasu’s swift financial reward is in sharp contrast to the unfulfilled promises back home.
Some members of Nigeria’s Super Eagles – led by Stephen Keshi,who passed away in June – are still waiting for the houses they were promised by the government for winning the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia.
Keshi is the fifth member of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of Nigerian footballers from 1994 to pass away, after Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Rashidi Yekini and Wilfred Agbonavbare.
Africa’s wealthiest businessman, Aliko Dangote, has failed to fulfil his promise to reward Nigeria’s team with $1m for winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
Nigerian economist and banker Tony Elumelu’s promise of $500,000 for the Super Eagles’ Nations Cup success in South Africa remains outstanding.
The country’s squad members who won the first Fifa Under-16 World championship in 1985 were only rewarded after a 30-year wait.
However, the rewards came too late for Kingsley Aikhionbare, who died in London in 1996. At the presentation to the players, a minute’s silence was held in his honour.