Online Abuse, Death Threats For Nigerian Players After AFCON Exit | Soccer News
Yaounde, Cameroon – Nigeria’s elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in the round of 16 at the hands of Tunisia was a deep disappointment for the team’s supporters.
The Super Eagles were not only the favorites to win the tie, but also to go all the way to the final, where the prospect of an all-time grudge match against hosts Cameroon was in sight.
The basis of this confidence was a flawless group stage campaign – Augustine Eguavoen’s side had taken the maximum possible nine points and averaged two goals per game.
But Nigeria’s 1-0 defeat at 10 marked the team’s first failure to reach the last eight of the AFCON since 1984.
As expected, the reaction was heated. In particular, two people have been singled out for significant abuse, much of it hateful.
After appearing to be cheated by Round of 16 winner Youssef Msakni low, goalkeeper Maduka Okoye has been harassed by Nigerian fans on social media with comments ranging from trolling over his appearance to death wishes on him and his relatives.
A comment said he would die in a plane crash within a month; another issued a veiled threat if Okoye ever returned to Nigeria.
A user called for divine retribution against the goalkeeper’s family and accused him of match-fixing.
Okoye had no choice but to disable comments on Instagram posts.
Second-half substitute Alex Iwobi was shown a red card within five minutes of being introduced for an inadvertent stamp. It also faced a lot of criticism online. In response, he archived all of his Instagram posts.
The response to the hatred and abuse from within the Nigerian camp has been swift and disapproving.
“People need to act responsibly and not turn their disappointments into hate speech and threats against certain players,” coach Eguavoen told Al Jazeera.
“These players have given their all and there is no way to blame them. Playing for Nigeria comes with a lot of pressure, but you cannot intimidate, threaten or abuse someone for defending the honor of the countries because you have access to social media. This is wrong and irresponsible.”
Nantes winger Moses Simon, who was the target of uncharitable comments ahead of his outstanding AFCON performances, pointed to an often forgotten aspect of the speech: players read these comments and it affects their temperament and emotional well-being.
“Players are humans too,” Simon said. “When you insult or threaten someone, it demoralizes them and leaves a negative impact. I was also the target of vile insults and abuse. But as a player, you can only keep giving your best all the time.
I predicted that Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal would go the distance. As it stands, two of them will qualify for the final. Nigeria withdrew. #AFCON2021
-NOT A WORD. Omojuwa (@Omojuwa) January 30, 2022
At the heart of these emotions is the feeling that the players may not care as much and are not as invested in the success of the team.
That appeared to be the angle of the abuse directed at Okoye, who was born in Düsseldorf and only made his international debut at the end of 2019.
Reports from inside the locker room indicate just the opposite.
The day after the elimination, photographers spotted desperate right-back Ola Aina on his hotel balcony.
“He [Aina] was drained by the defeat and the abuse he received. But I told him ‘you had an amazing tournament,’” revealed defender Kenneth Omeruo, Okoye’s roommate during the tournament.
Deactivating their social media accounts as a way to get away from negative comments is the only recourse players seem to have.
“One thing I do after such tournaments is turn off my social media because you find people, some of them don’t even know football,” Omeruo added.
This aggressive reaction to Nigeria’s ousting was slightly surprising, especially as the level of expectation heading into the tournament was minimal.
A home loss to 124th-ranked Central African Republic in October was followed by a draw against Cape Verde a month later.
Former manager Gernot Rohr, who was in charge for more than five years, was dismissed in mid-December with the team’s public approval at an all-time low.
But when Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) technical director Eguavoen was put in charge of AFCON, fans braced themselves for the worst.
Instead, they got energetic and efficient football – at least in the group stages, with the Super Eagles making quick work of seven-time African champions Egypt, convincingly beating Sudan and toppling Guinea -Bissau with a second rope.
As performance improved, so too did hopes and expectations.
Nigeria got the best shot of this year #AFCON2021 the more we keep watching, the more we realize that this game against Tunisia that we lost is a big mess, the more pained I am. This team could have won. #TeamNigeria
— Xceptional Jhydefash ⛑ 🦅💡🦍 (@jhydefash78) January 30, 2022
The method of expressing disappointment painted a picture of Nigerian fan culture and society at large.
There are no strict rules protecting individuals from online abuse in Nigeria. Cyberstalking is criminalized by the Nigerian government with the law covering cyberbullying, blackmail/extortion and revenge porn.
Former Nigerian international Yakubu Aiyegbeni is the country’s third top international goalscorer.
His miss against South Korea at the 2010 World Cup tarnished his image in the eyes of Nigerian fans to the point that last year Aiyegbeni admitted he was still receiving hate messages about it, in person and in line.
“Sometimes when I’m in a restaurant, people talk about it,” Aiyegbeni said. “I have to tell them, ‘Please, let’s all eat and go home, we can’t talk about what happened 11 years ago.
“I received threats and sometimes also very strong threats. I’ve always done my best to help my country, but it’s weird.
In 2018, former Watford and Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo nearly quit international football after receiving death threats – aimed at himself and his family – online.
This followed Nigeria’s loss to Argentina at Russia 2018, where Ighalo missed a chance with the score at 1-1.
Eguavoen himself admitted in 2019 that fans still berate him for conceding an extra-time penalty against Italy in the 1994 World Cup which led to Nigeria’s elimination.
Following the loss to Tunisia earlier this month, Eguavoen attempted to calm the situation by taking some of the blame on the team selection and also questioning some of the refereeing decisions.
But he knows that such rationalizations are unlikely to influence public opinion.