Few things capture the heart and imagination in sport like a well-played tournament of the beautiful game. However, the financial reward for those competing in AFCON 2013, as well as the murky dealings of CAF, can wipe out that romantic streak pretty fast. By ANT SIMS.
If there is one thing soccer can do, it’s bring out the sentimental in people around the globe. It is, after all, the beautiful game. It’s not always played in a beautiful way, but it does capture the hearts of billions when an underdog prevails.
One doesn’t have to look too far to find romance in the 2013 showpiece. Cape Vrede, a tiny island nation with a population of less than one million, made it through to the main draw of the competition by eliminating Cameroon sensationally. The defending champions, Zambia, won over the world when they won this year’s competition in a thrilling penalty shootout against the Ivory Coast.
The tournament, however, has not been without controversy – and it hasn't even kicked off yet. The qualifiers saw Senegal disqualified from the competition after crowd trouble resulted in their match against the Ivory Coast being abandoned. Violence erupted after Ivory Coast cruised ahead 2-0 to push their aggregate advantage to 6-2. Play was brought to a halt for 40 minutes while police tried to calm things down, but the match referee decided to abandon the game.
The stinginess of the $2-million prize money on offer has also been criticised frequently, considering that what it costs for teams to compete and qualify often far outweighs any financial gains. In fact, the loss for many teams is absolutely staggering.
“There is no question about it. The lack of financial reward in the Nations Cup is a very big problem for national federations in Africa,” says Ouattara Hegaud, the former general secretary of FIF, the Ivorian Football Federation.
“In 2006, when we reached the final of the tournament in Egypt, it took close to six months before we got the money that we earned for placing second in the tournament.”
“One would have thought the seriousness of this issue would engage the minds of Africa’s football leaders. But it is sad to observe that it has not.”
Another concern is the broadcasting of the competition. Sportfive, a French marketing company with international reach, is the agency exclusively appointed by CAF to commercialise the sports marketing rights of most of the African football events.
The bidding process for the rights, however, has never been transparent, and the rights holders demanded €600,000 from state and public broadcasters to air this year’s edition of the tournament. It’s expected that more disputes will emerge for the next edition.
Those with access to cable television, of course, won’t have an issue, as SuperSport has the cash to splash on the rights. Unfortunately for the rest, however, while the CAF rakes in the money from broadcasting deals, fans are neglected and many won’t be able to watch their beloved nations compete – a slap in the face for those who make up the heart of the game. But football is a business, of course, and businesses need to make money.
Still, where the money being made is actually going is anybody’s guess.
The financial reward for teams involved in the competition is a pittance, and while the glory and the romance will enrapture many, there are far bigger issues at hand. The tournament is hardly a drawcard for tourism, and the exclusion of one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations – Cape Town – was a controversy in itself. The city was excluded from hosting owing to not meeting certain criteria which included “demonstrated ability to fill stadiums – especially football games; structure of events; cost; legacy benefits; accessibility; linking 2013 and 2014; government strategic requirements and current infrastructure.”
Current organisers are, however, bullish about the tournament and its prospects, and with the final draw now done and dusted, kick-off is just a few months away. Those who run the competition will, of course, force-feed the romance of it and trumpet the glory that could be bestowed upon 2013’s African Champions.
It’ll serve them well to remember, though, that empty vessels make the most noise. DM
Photo: The AFCON trophy (sandalsforgoalposts.com)