Bad advert for African football as officials devour opportunities from TV rights deals

Saturday November 28 2020
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Author, Robert Madoi is a sports journalist and analyst. PHOTO/NMG

By ROBERT MADOI

After being reproached for falling at the hands of South Sudan, a piecemeal response of Uganda Cranes minders dedicated itself to making a bad situation worse.

As the scope of the incipient disaster dawned on them, the minders attempted to disassemble the ill-fitting parts of a shock outcome in an absurd and unnecessary manner. A grainy video of Emmanuel Okwi’s disallowed goal was shared on Twitter with a clear agenda of agitating tongues.

It did just that, but perhaps not in the manner the minders had anticipated.
Rather than buy into some conspiratorial vision, most of the people who offered the odd comment about the grainy video were repelled by its quality. The unwillingness to go along with any conspiracy forced the hand of the minders. 

A video takedown was always likely to be the end result. And so it proved to be the case. But it was not just Uganda Cranes’ minders that left with egg on face in this sorry episode.

The failure of South Sudan’s FA to work out a way to have the Afcon qualifier relayed on TV came not as a shock but as a troubling inevitability. It nonetheless left the South Sudanese officials in a hot blush of embarrassment.

Days earlier, Uganda’s TV production in the reverse fixture was shown to have been dangerously lax. Viewers in Uganda and indeed across the globe were terrified by the sense of inadequacy particularly when it came to the delivery of the commentary. 

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With hindsight, they should not have been! Media and marketing has been one of the sticking points in African football. It was therefore unsurprising that when Ahmad Ahmad fell on his sword this past week, the word television was more than just a footnote in the grand scheme of things.

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) president was banned for five years by Fifa for breaching various codes of ethics. While the decision to have Puma supplanted by Tactical Steel and the ‘Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca’ have filled many column inches, the aftermath of cancelling a television contract with Lagardère Sports has been a heartbeat away. 

One of Issa Hayatou’s parting ‘gifts’ for Caf (the Cameroonian superintended over the African football governing body for nearly three decades!) was a TV deal with French marketing company. Valued at nearly $1 billion, the deal was supposed to run its course in 2028.

The past tense is because the deal ended up being dead in the water. From the get-go, it was tantalisingly obvious that the sheer length of the contract was a put-off for many. 

Not least Ahmad who after pulling off an upset victory over Hayatou in 2017 made it clear that Caf was going to divest itself of Lagardère Sports.

The divestment did see the light of day, but Fifa believes Ahmad put his hands in the cookie jar while extricating Caf from Lagardère Sports. The television contract was reportedly revised in a way that appeared to benefit a commercial partner of Ahmad’s over Caf.

Ahmad hotly disputes the allegations. He indicated his willingness to file an appeal Wednesday, arguing that the decision of Fifa ethics committee’s adjudicatory chamber “was not rendered in a fair and impartial manner.” But if a botched TV deal does turn out to be a character flaw, surprise should not be one of the sobering responses. A great deal of opacity and shenanigans is often tethered to sports broadcasting contracts in Africa.

Consequently, instead of television being used to add a layer of popularity to football, most African football chiefs have used TV rights deals as a vehicle to enrich themselves. 

That, I am afraid, is how we end up with grainy videos, depressingly dull commentary, and long-term contracts that cannot be adjusted to incorporate opportunities the New Media Age keeps spewing out incessantly.

Email: rmadoi@ntv.ug
Twitter: @robertmadoi

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