Nigerian unreadiness rains on FIFA parade

BERNE, Switzerland - FIFA may have to abandon plans to stage the under-17 World Cup in Nigeria due to a serious lack of preparation, a spokesman for world soccer's governing body said on Monday.

FIFA was hoping to host all three of its major tournaments for 2009 in Africa, as part of the warm-up to next year's World Cup in South Africa, but a lack of suitable stadiums in Nigeria could now force a rethink.

"FIFA's executive committee will have to decide next month if it wishes to carry on with Nigeria or move the tournament elsewhere," spokesman Emmanuel Marades told Reuters by telephone during a week-long inspection of the country by FIFA officials.

"Of the five sites we have visited so far, we have seen only one that is ready and one that is halfway-ready.

"Abuja, the capital, would be ready to host the competition tomorrow and the pitch is ready at the stadium in Ijebu-Ode, but the rest is a big disappointment."

Marades said that the FIFA delegation was expected to prepare a report to help the executive committee select six cities -- out of nine proposals -- to host matches at the October 24-November 15 tournament.

"Various governors have assured us that the necessary work will begin once FIFA has chosen the six venues so that leaves us with a deadline of the end of March more or less for that to happen," Marades added.

"Knowing how things work here I would say that is not impossible -- but it would be something of a miracle.

"We are running out of time for sure and if nothing is done on the ground to prove that Nigeria wants this tournament then I think FIFA will not allow the future of the tournament to be jeopardised."

FIFA is planning to kick off what it has described as an "extremely exciting" year for African football in June when South Africa is due to stage the Confederations Cup in preparation for the World Cup itself a year later.

Egypt is scheduled to hold the under-20 World Cup from September 25-October 16 with Nigeria supposed to take up the baton a few days later.