Nigerian football forward Gbolahan Salami was forced to swallow a bitter pill for a second time recently, when Finnish embassy officials in the Nigerian capital Abuja, turned down tourist visa applications for his wife and infant son.
Salami joined Kuopio Football Club KuPS at the start of the season last year from Nigerian football club Warri Wolves, after a deal with the UK club Aston Villa fell through. He has since gone on to score 14 goals with the outfit since his debut in April 2016, setting a new goal-scoring record for the eastern Finland club.
Salami wed his wife Lolade in the largest Nigerian city, Lagos, in December 2014, and they welcomed their son into the world one year later in December 2015.
Last season, his wife and son applied for a tourist visa to visit Salami in Finland at the Finnish Embassy in Abuja. However their applications were denied. Another attempt to secure visitor’s visas earlier this year was similarly turned down.
Finnish embassy: No guarantee applicants will leave the EU
According to tabloid Iltalehti, the official who handled the visa applications said that it was impossible to prove that the applicants would leave the EU after their visas expired. To back up the visa applications, the club had furnished the embassy with Salami’s player agreement, copies of his salary receipts and his apartment rental agreement. His wife Lolade has also handed over evidence of employment as well as a bank statement showing her financial position.
When the club’s efforts to help secure the tourist visas proved fruitless, Lasse Lehtinen, the chair of Finland’s premier football division Veikkausliiga, intervened and penned an open letter to Foreign Minister Timo Soini on the matter.
In his letter, Lehtinen said that the club felt that it had been the subject of discrimination and poor service from the embassy. He noted that the club’s president had provided Salami’s wife and son with a signed invitation letter, in which the organisation also pledged to provide meals, accommodation and transportation for them during their stay in Finland. The letter also included an assurance that the family members would leave the country before their visas expired.
Veikkausliiga head: Appeal language might as well be Klingon
Lehtinen said that the officials also insisted that any appeals to the decisions needed to be made in Finnish or Swedish, and he pointed out that the applicants could hardly be expected to comply. "Klingon might as well have been the language for an appeal because there are hardly likely to be many people speaking Finnish or Swedish in Nigeria," he noted.
Lehtinen added that the family has spent the equivalent of thousands of euros on flights from Lagos to Abuja for visa interviews and then to receive the visa denials. The Veikkausliiga head said that the family are not a security risk, noting that Salami paid taxes in Finland and discharged his duties conscientiously.
Soini told Yle Sports that he had responded to Lehtinen’s letter and that the league chief could publish it if he wanted to.
KuPS lawyer Matti Reinikainen said he was thrown by the repeat rejections. "Ubelievable. There's neither head nor tail to this decision," he said.
Reinikainen said he was so upset by the outcome that he sent a short, terse note to the embassy, "Happy anti-racism week."
Salami: Time to focus on football
For his part, Salami has said that he does not intend to further appeal the visa decisions, a move that would mean taking the matter to the Administrative Court.
"He is now focusing on football. Neither he nor his family can bear any further disappointments," said KuPS manager Jarmo Heiskanen. Heiskanen and head coach Jani Honkavaara said that the shock of the visa rejections was immediately evident in the player.
Speaking with Yle Sports, Salami said that he would now focus on nothing else but the current season.
"This is not easy because I can’t see my family and my son. But I have to focus. I have to be a man, a strong man," Salami declared.
"I don’t want to be thinking that my family isn’t here when I have a game. I have to be a tiger on the field, like a madman," he added.
If all goes well, Salami may have a chance to visit his family during a season break, when the Finnish national team faces off against Ukraine in a World Cup qualifying match in June. After that, he won’t have another opportunity to see them before November, when the season ends.
"Every day my family is unhappy about how things have gone, but they are trying for my sake. I believe we will try to see each other at some stage."
Salami has reportedly seen his son twice since Eeman just twice since he was born.