Saturday July 5 2014

What’s with African soccer and bonuses?

Ghana defender John Boye (R) brings down

Ghana defender John Boye (R) brings down Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo during their Group G on June 26. Ghana were tipped to beat Portugal and qualify for the second round but lost focus while grumbling over bonuses. The players demanded their money be airlifted to Brazil. Portugal eventually got the better of Ghana 2-1 and both sides were eliminated at the group stage. Photo by AFP 

By Mark Namanya

The World Cup takes place once every four years. To put it in context, that is just one month in 6400 days.
Once Brazil 2014 concludes, it will take approximately 6400 days to pass before Russia 2018.Sadly, the history of African teams at the World Cup tells of a continent whose best sides see the month-long tournament as a windfall.

In the 31 days where players representing their countries have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sell their talents while hoisting their national flag, African sides are thinking of making an extra buck. Otherwise how else can you explain the recurrent bonus rows that become an issue only when there is a World Cup? The word bonus should probably be rephrased in the dictionary to mean ‘the demands of African countries at the World Cup’.

African football has not stagnated. Far from it, African football has unequivocally regressed. The qualification of Nigeria and Algeria from the groups does not mask the problems the continental game is experiencing.

At Brazil 2014, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon made unwanted headlines after their squads were said to be embroiled in bonus rows with their federations. The Presidents of Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria had to directly intervene to avert a crisis.
It was unprecedented – that number of leaders stepping in at the eleventh hour to save teams from the same continent.

Where teams elsewhere engaged in specialized training sessions in the months leading to or during the World Cup, the news emanating from camps of African sides involved money disputes. How for instance did the Black Stars expect to beat Portugal when their attention had been strayed by the excitement of dollar bills?
The less said about how the money was transported to Brasilia the better.

“It was an embarrassment of epic proportions,” reflected legendary commentator Jon Champion. Pele’s prediction of an African team winning the World Cup before 2010 won’t happen anytime soon.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Since 1994, African teams have bickered over money prior or during the tournament.

Four years ago during the South Africa tournament, Danny Jordaan, the chairman of the 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee and current South African Football head, argued that Africa’s World Cup representatives continuously got their priorities wrong.

“There is a lack of focus and direction from our (African) sides. When the (2010) draws were made, countries like Holland and Germany embarked on a search for their World Cup bases the following day.
“African sides waited and waited. You are not going to compete favourably at the World Cup without addressing such issues and basics.”
By basics, Jordaan was referring to the predictability of bonus wrangling. Four years later it has grown twofold.

The questions are numerous. Why did the Cameroon FA wait this long to pay their players’ bonuses? Who advised Cameroon players to refuse to board the plane to Brazil initially? Why did Ghana wait so long to deliver their players’ packages?
There are two schools of thought from observers; one is that money owed to the players is often released but remains in the hands of unscrupulous federation officials hoping to get a cut and the other is players are a greedy bunch.

Nonetheless the recurrence of bonus-induced disputes is evidence that the World Cup is viewed as an opportunity for African players and corrupt federation officials to make money.
Until the issue is summarily addressed, sides from the continent will remain a laughing stock at the world’s biggest soccer event.

Hardly has there been a team that shone at the World Cup ill-prepared. Shambolic preparations are no recipe for successful representation.
The next World Cup is four years away yet the odds are short on African teams being at loggerheads with their federations over bonuses in 2018.