After defeating Honduras in the third place match at the Olympics soccer event on Saturday (Aug. 20), Nigeria’s players ended up with bronze medals on their necks and thousands of dollars in their pockets—thanks to Katsuya Takasu, a Japanese plastic surgeon.
The grinning Takasu flew into Rio to rewarded the team with $390,000 for their bronze medal win at the Rio Games after being impressed by the team’s resilience despite the haphazard planning and poor conditions before and during the Games.
After the Nigerian team was left stranded in Atlanta, USA, ahead of the Games because their flights had not been paid for, their plight made headlines. Eventually, the team landed in Rio just seven hours ahead of their first game, against Japan. But despite the less than ideal circumstances, the team served up an impressive performance to beat the Japan and eventually finished top of their group. But the money troubles didn’t end there. Hours before the quarterfinal match against Denmark, Nigeria’s players threatened to boycott the game in protest over unpaid allowances. After reading the team’s financial struggles, Takasu said he “felt the need to make a big contribution.”
Takasu donated $200,000 to the team to “cover bonuses and allowances” and also donated $10,000 to all members of the 18-man team as well as the team manager for winning bronze. Takasu flew to Rio to personally deliver cheques to the team.
“I had traveled from Tokyo prepared to reward them anyway, and to watch them win the bronze inside the stadium was very fulfilling,” he told BBC.
“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,” Takasu is reported to have said.
Takasu’s donation was briefly the subject of corruption allegations as officials of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) were forced to deny reports that they planned to make Takasu give the money to the federation rather than to the players. “To say NFF has ‘hijacked’ the money is outright mischief,” Amaju Pinnick, NFF president, said. “Nigeria is a sovereign nation and such a donation must go through a process. If we get a go-ahead, it will go directly to the team.” Reports had suggested the NFF planned to use the donation to offset salaries of members of the coaching staff who have not been paid for the last five months.
Takasu’s gesture was a positive turn in an otherwise poor Olympics outing for Nigeria. Despite lofty targets set by the country’s sports minister, the bronze medal won by the soccer team was the only medal recorded by the entire Olympics contingent.