The Concussion protocol was football authorities response to the apparent danger footballers faced in the line of their work, the long term damages that head traumas cause are well documented in professional sports.
The precautions, only in recent years taking effect in football, will no doubt save lives, but perhaps it could have also helped Nigeria avoid defeat to Senegal in a feisty semi-final match at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations.
Former Super Eagles goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu revealed he was forced back three days after suffering a concussion, to play in a high profile and competitive game.
While the stipulated period for concussion medicare, observation and rest is six days according to FIFA regulations, Shorunmu’s safety was risked by the Super Eagles Coaches, who themselves were pressured by Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials and Politicians to field the goalie against Senegal.
Shorunmu was concussed, forced back to action by interests in the FA while the Coaches gave a damning assessment of his back-up goalkeepers.
The insensitivity of the Minister prompted captain, Sunday Oliseh’s swipe and surely marked the end of national team football for several senior players in the team.
Only 11 players from the AFCON in Mali would eventually make the 2002 FIFA World Cup squad.
19 years after the heartbreak in Bamako, Shorunmu relived his close shave with death and even more, how his condition cost the team a spot in the final.
Then at 34 years and without a club side, he was in his twilight, but also the most trusted hand of the three Nigerian goalkeepers at the competition.
‘Due to the pressure from the Coaches, who didn’t trust our reserve goalkeepers (Murphy Akanji and Ndubuisi Ego), I was included in the team,’ Shorunmu revealed on Brila FM’s ‘No Holds Barred with Ifeanyi Udeze on Thursday.
Against his better judgement, but only in hindsight, Ike Shorunmu would have sat out the Super Eagles vs Teranga Lions game.
Just days before, team captain, Sunday Oliseh had stood up against a government Minister; an incident that may have had future implications including the outright disbandment of the Eagles by the Nigeria FA three months before the World Cup.
‘Then, in Mali we had a lot of senior players and something happened, firstly, I was injured in our match against Ghana and I was rushed to the hospital. The Minister (Sports) then – who is late now – didn’t come to see me at the hospital.
‘Two days after I resumed training, but a day before the semi-final against Senegal, he (Minister) came to the practice ground and spoke to me, expressing support after the injury, but our captain Sunday Oliseh, confronted him.
‘The captain asked the Minister, “Oga, if he was your Son would it have taken this long for you to come see him?”, The response left the Minister’s entourage stunned,’ Shorunmu recalls.
The goalkeeper was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance after a collusion that left the goalie dazed. He was detained for close observation, but the officials ensured he returned swift.
Three days later with the score line poised at 1-1 with five minutes of regular time left to play, a goalkeeping blunder gifted Senegal the winning goal.
‘At the time Finidi (George), who was my roommate, and Austin Okocha after our last training session came to me and advised me not to play the semi-final. They noticed my performance was below par and they said “You look petrified”. I told them I was okay but only had a slight headache.”
‘But the Coaches were also under a lot of pressure from some top officials, who were insisting on me playing, unfortunately we lost.
‘When you look at the tape again and especially at the second goal we conceded, it was my fault. The shot was feeble and I assumed the ball was going over, but really it was the fear in me that I could get hurt again which made me stall.
‘We lost that game, but went into the third place game and we won that, however after that tournament; proceeding to the World Cup, the NFF announced they had disbanded the team.’