Corruption aligns well with African football. The tale of the beautiful game on the continent is full of controversies and intricacies – involving embezzlement of funds, election rigging, bribery, unpaid or under-paid players and poor infrastructure.
Even though it could be justly said that corruption in sports is a global issue, the evidence of the recent weeks, however, strengthens the widely held view that African football is home to more of these devils that bedevil the beautiful game compared to any other part of the world.
Just last week, FIFA took a final step on Former Ghana Football Association (GFA) president Kwesi Nyantakyi after being filmed by an undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas in a sting operation discussing how to divert part of sponsorship money meant for the GFA – and of course, lifetime ban from all football-related activities at both national and international levels, it was from the world football governing body to the Ghanaian.
It was this same previous week that the Namibian Football Association (NFA) impeached their president Frans Mbidi over various allegations of misconduct, including bribery accusations. Mbidi was actually accused of receiving illegal payments in the Morocco 2026 Fifa World Cup bid. Meanwhile, Nigeria was not exempted as well in this free-flow of ugly deeds as U-23 chief coach Salisu Yusuf was also caught on camera accepting cash from undercover journalists posing as football agents who wanted him to select two players for the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN). Also, have I mentioned that a certain Adel Range Marwa, a Kenyan World Cup-bound referee was also filmed accepting a cash gift to effect a match result- and of course, was at the drop of a hat, removed by FIFA from its list of officials for Russia 2018? With all these episodes, what can possibly convince you that corruption is not an endemic part of football administration on the continent?
The simple truth is, corruption is institutionalised within African systems and football structures are not different. In fact, corruption in Africa has many names – you hear some people say; a ‘little something’, a ‘gift’, a ‘motivation’, or an ‘envelop’ – all referring to using public money for private purposes. Our people in Nigeria even go as far as calling it ‘sharing the national cake’ – which tells you that the practice is to some extent ‘legitimised.’ African football, as with its politics, has developed a system of patronage in which rich and powerful individuals use their positions within football to amass wealth, power and continued political influence.
The intersection of politics and sports – or Africa’s underhanded brothers
In Africa, sport is intrinsically linked to politics as such most people in administrative positions are not there on merit but through patronage. This poses many problems especially given the many administrative challenges facing football associations.
There are many cases in which national governments have come in to rescue national teams after administrators failed to drop money for travel or bonuses. Politicians know the importance of ensuring control over this political resource. National teams are important symbols – capturing patriotism and pride. This leads to football positions having a somewhat increasing political significance. Most football administrators are thus chosen through nefarious means which have little to do with competence and this earmark the basic problem why grassroots football is effectively compromised.
When the administrators are incompetent and only after getting a ‘little something’, are you surprised footballing infrastructure across Africa is in a bad state? Only a few countries such as South Africa, Morocco boast of world class stadia and facilities. Other countries such as Angola, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Mali have only benefited from hosting the Africa Cup of Nations which has led to building and renovation of some stadia. On the whole, however, football infrastructure in Africa is in a lamentable state. This makes attending games across the continent a dangerous endeavour and yearly people lose their lives at stadiums. To be terse, there is no money going into improving looks of stadiums, security or increasing the comfort of fans within stadiums.
FIFA’s non-Interference clause – or ruing the absence of a watchdog
FIFA have a standing policy of non-interference by government or other external parties into football matters. The FIFA statutes state that ‘each member shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties.’ This rule was put in place to combat political and government interference in football matters especially in authoritarian regimes.
In Africa, where football is followed passionately, political interference is part of the game but covertly as the FIFA statutes forces government not to take over control of football matters.
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The most common case of political interference is when a government perceives that the Executive Committee of the national association is not performing well enough and decides to take action. Often, because the national team is losing too many games, they decide that changes must be made and want to put someone else in charge. Other than that, it can be a lot of different things.
However, considering greediness and dishonesty being the order of the day on the continent, the long-term absence of global enforcement has further allowed corrupt practices to prevail in African football. And the results are what we see in porous league structures, questionable infrastructural facilities and high desperation of African footballers to look elsewhere in search of better footballing careers around the world.
Forging ahead – or what does the future hold for African football?Football will remain popular and part of the social fabric in Africa. However the growth of the game will remain stunted and never will it be realised if the current organisational shambles continues. I mean Africa can forget being crown a world champion at senior level of a global football tournament and infrastructural development will not improve in the foreseeable future because of institutionalised corruption. While commercialisation and globalisation of football seems to have left Africa behind, it should be loud and clear that mega deals with TV stations and company sponsorship will never surface if corruption is not eradicated.
Rather, for a better tomorrow, local football needs sound management, serious youth development for young potentials should be in place, effective coaches’ training, and infrastructural improvements at the grassroots. Simply put, money should flow to the grassroots and not into pockets of officials.