VENTURES AFRICA – It was not so long ago that Ghana’s national team, the Black Stars, put the nation in the spotlight by refusing to train and possibly play a football game at the World Cup in Brazil unless the players were paid bonuses. Faced with the stark reality of being the first team in the world to have its players boycott a FIFA World Cup match in recent years, the Ghanaian government was forced to airlift $3 million to Brazil to pay the players only hours before their crucial group game against Portugal.
The incident brought to limelight the need to sort out payment of players’ bonuses, but it appears the rest of the continent is yet to learn lessons from Ghana’s case as recently.
Ivory Coast has been embarrassed by a similar issue. Following the triumph at the African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, the players were promised $1 million in bonuses but three months after the tournament wrapped up, the players have not been paid.
However, in Ivory Coast’s case, there is a depressing twist. The non-payment of players’ bonuses is a reality because it appears that the funds are ‘missing’. The scandal is forcing changes in government personnel as Ivory Coast’s president Alassane Ouattara has ordered an investigation into the case. One of the effects of the situation has been the resignation of Ivory Coast’s youth and sports minister, Alain Lobognon. Similarly, the Ivorian Football Federation’s treasury director was fired last week. However, Alan continues to maintain his innocence and insists his lawyers will unearth the truth about the funds in court. “I remain convinced that the truth about the embezzlement of athlete bonuses will, in the end, be known. My lawyers will take this to court.”
It all makes grim reading as this incident somewhat validates the extreme actions of African players when they choose to demand their bonuses be paid before or during tournaments. The possibility of funds being embezzled, as they likely have in Ivory Coast, means that these players simply do not have faith in the officials tasked with ensuring their welfare.
Ironically, a possible solution to the issue of player bonuses has come from Ghana where national team contracts have been proposed. This way, players sign short term contracts before national assignments specifying how much bonuses they will be paid. In a way, this formalizes the arrangement but ultimately, the long term solution has to be instituting accountability and transparency in sports federations and ministries on the continent. Where sports administration is tainted with corruption and a lack of accountability, it becomes less attractive for corporate sponsorship as seen in Kenya where Safaricom, the country’s biggest telecommunications operator, announced the withdrawal of its sponsorship deals valued at $1.5 million annually over cases of corruption in sports federations last March.
Once and for all, African sports federations and administrators must manage their sports effectively, stamp out corruption and avoid instances such as Ivory Coast’s that deals a blow to the progress made over the years in attaining credibility.