She Cranes have every reason to be aggrieved

Sunday July 14 2019

The She Cranes celebrate victory ag

The She Cranes celebrate victory against Malawi during the Gold Coast Games last year. PHOTO BY MARK NAMANYA 

By Robert Madoi

Unsolicited advice offered about money is relentless in both its advice and criticism about how hard cash arouses fears and fascination in the same way.

The Apostle Paul for instance offered remarkable insight into how he thought money is inseparably joined at the hip with evil.
ABBA on its part viewed money less as an unaccommodating obstacle in their chart topper Money, Money, Money. If anything, the Swedish pop group crooned with irrevocable certainty that the green buck’s intrinsic value has such an extraordinarily powerful calming effect.

My life, Anni-Frid Lyngstad sang, giving the not unreasonable impression of candour, will never be the same. She was obviously alluding to the harvest when favour and providence flow.

The tune was starkly different in the drought though. Lyngstad was joined by her group mates in recounting – with such an absence of emotion – how after working all day, all night “there never seems to be a single penny left for me.” Mamma [Faruku] Miya! Where are we going with all this? Hopefully somewhere. Miya and his Cranes teammates this past week returned from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations revered and reviled in almost equal measure.

After homing in on success during the group stages, a row over money saw Uganda’s preparations for a last-16 tie against Senegal characterised by confusion and shame. Although the match was far from being an unmitigated disaster, Uganda still lost by the odd goal. While Cranes players couldn’t be accused of lacking the energy for a fight, observers opined that a strike that had squeezed $6,000 (Shs22m) out of Fufa while losing a couple of training sessions had been of questionable utility. The wind had truly been taken out of the sails.
There is not sufficient evidence to do more than speculate about what – for all intent and purposes – feels like a roll of the dice.

Those that, however, thought the credibility of Cranes players had been vastly diminished if not demolished by the strike were in for a rude awakening. Within hours of touching down, the doors to State House, Entebbe were flung open for Cranes players. They would later walk out with a collective $1m (Shs3.7b), and assurances from President Museveni that a monumental heft of the princely sum will be wired to their accounts.


Money talks
If there was ever a piercingly apt example of favour and providence flowing then this was one. When push came to shove during the players’ strike in Egypt, Fufa – who have always been implacable in their claim that they owe no-one but their delegates anything remotely close to accountability – had a change of heart. The local football governing body described in astonishingly great detail how much it had forked out of its opaquely vast pockets. We learnt that up to $20,600 (Shs 77m) had been splashed out on each player.

This included $420 (Shs1.5m) for a 14-day camp in Uganda, $5,100 (Shs18m) across the 34 days spent in the furnace that was United Arab Emirates and $6,000 (Shs22m) for an undefeated start to the 2019 Afcon finals campaign.

So if that was the very embodiment of providence, what then is drought? Turns out it is what the She Cranes players were subjected to in the run-up to the 2019 Netball World Cup. The premier competition in international netball got underway on Friday in the English city of Liverpool. It’s safe to say that after following events in the Cranes camp and witnessing episodes that were glamorous without being ostentatious (no-one kissed a wad of greenbacks in John Boye-esque style),

She Cranes players bellowed ‘mamma mia!’ in agony as much as surprise. Here is why: our gallant netball players earned Shs10,000 apiece each day they were in camp. The residential camp straddled not more than a fortnight, so do the maths dear reader.

When the mental exercise of denial became harder and they threatened not to depart for Liverpool, National Council of Sports appeased them with Shs5m. Another Shs5m was given to the players this past week, with officials making it abundantly clear that no more money is going to be made available. Remember this is a team that is widely expected to push South Africa for fifth position during classification matches at the World Cup. The contrast between the take-home pay of the national football and netball players is stark. This doesn’t mean that the Miyas of this world should be lampooned. Any such criticism will be akin to visiting the crimes of the parents on the children. The She Cranes should, however, get what’s due to them. Which is certainly more than peanuts!

Sports journalists turning Fourth Estate into fan club

One of the more compelling images to come out of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations is not of Mo Salah betraying no outward bitterness after events have conspired against him.

In the assessment of your columnist, it is in fact that of a Moroccan photojournalist showing the true index of her feelings.

The photojournalist is caught in a still image teary-eyed after watching her native country hit an unexpected speed bump. She wasn’t of course the only one caught unawares after a dramatic day in the Egyptian capital.
Almost everyone expected the Atlas Lions to go for the kill after smelling blood in the water.

Strong headwinds
Benin was supposed to be pegged up against the ropes with no clear remedy to its predicament. And in a sense Michel Dussuyer’s side did face strong headwinds. Yet despite shining in patches, the Squirrels did enough to leave Moroccans numb with grief.

When the still image of the Moroccan photojournalist went viral, any awkwardness was put aside by her genuine grief. But when the tears dried, questions seeking to discover whether this display of fandom by a mainstream journalist was ethical persisted. The questions also persisted in their urging of some soul searching from sports journalists. It is thought that journalism is supposed to leave those that practise it with little appetite for such indulgences as biased, emotional allegiances.

Sports journalism, however, tends to occasionally make exceptions and they always turn out to be regrettable.
The exceptions owe their existence to the fact that sport is tightly interwoven with emotion. Sports journalists that ooze emotion in more ways than one tend to be popular.

Hero worship
This sequence of events has nonetheless turned the Fourth Estate into a fan club with sports journalists doing what fans ought to – place emphasis on hero worship and celebrityhood. This has ultimately translated into a subjective interpretation of events as seen in many a sports journalist rooting for teams as opposed to stories.

This fandom traceable in the tears of the Moroccan photojournalist perpetuates a dangerous and pervasive new normal. It makes journalists invest much energy and exuberance as would a spectator. This comes at a considerable cost, which is the journalists in question failing to provide a critical check to abuse of power. Critiquing eventually proves to be a towering hurdle, and for that tears have to be shed.

What we now know....

We know for sure that the semi-finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations kickoff today. With Senegal facing Tunisia in the first match and Nigeria dating Algeria’s Desert Foxes later, we know that the prospect of either an all-North African or All-West African final cannot be dismissed out of hand.

We also know that frankly speaking this has been an underwhelming tournament. Just the 91 goals have been scored at an average of 1.98 per match. The likes of Adam Ounas, Odion Ighalo and Sadio Mané, who all have three goals, remain in the hunt for the golden boot.