Club ownership structure
Ownership of African football clubs fall into three broad categories: community, government and private owned clubs. Whilst it is not clear which type of football will work best in Africa there are serious problems, which have been documented “with community owned teams. Community owned clubs tend to have huge followings with thousands of registered members e.g. Yanga and Simba in Tanzania – millions of supporters across the country and around 12-13,000 registered members. In Egypt, between 10,000-20,000 members vote in club elections. Zamalek’s current membership stands at around 54,000 and since membership is one per family.”[i] A report on club structures notes the two following failures with community clubs in Africa:
- Administration – despite their large fan bases and on-pitch success, the larger member-owned clubs face complicated and deep-rooted administrative difficulties. Such is the influence of the clubs amongst their supporters and the wider population that, if unprotected by robust regulation, the institutions are to over-politicization. In such cases, the principles of democracy, transparency and accountability may be compromised.
- Financial issues – in a number of cases, community-owned clubs have become over-dependent on state support and do not otherwise run as financially sustainable businesses. The lack of a stable financial base contributes further to over-politicization of the clubs. In Zimbabwe the two biggest clubs, Highlanders and Dynamos have varying forms of community ownership, which has led to continued fights over the control of the clubs. State owned clubs are no better given the intense control by governments in the day-to-day running of clubs. Corporate sponsors are in the main are not attracted to state owned teams because of government interference in the clubs. Private owned clubs fall into two types: individually owned clubs such as Sundowns of South Africa and TP Mazembe of DR Congo and clubs owned by companies such as Tusker in Kenya. Such clubs usually are better run with much financial support from the owners.
Corruption and lack of integrity
Rampant corruption, maladministration and lack of accountability have negatively impacted on the development of football in Africa.[ii] Corruption is synonymous with African football. The tale of the game on the continent is full of controversy and complex problems involving missing funds, election rigging, presidents who serve for decades, under paid players and poor infrastructure. This paper provide examples from across Africa that highlight how the under development of the game is intrinsically linked to the lack of transparency in how the game is being managed. The nature and level of corruption might be different from country to country but what is clear from literature is that most, if not, all African countries have serious administrative problems. Whilst there are many definitions of corruption, this paper views it as the abuse of public office for private gain. Within football this is when any official or person or persons use their position of trust in order to gain an undue advantage. Across the world football corruption is evident in many activities including vote buying, match fixing, bribing officials, player transfers, sponsorship deals and even team selections. Across Africa issues of nepotism, tribalism, regionalism and religion also play an important part in corrupt activities. Corruption determines access to space, resources and fair chance. Corruption is institutionalised within African systems and football structures are not different. Pannenborg[iii] shows that corruption in Africa has many names: ‘a little something’, a ‘gift’, a ‘motivation’, ‘an envelop’ or a ‘dash’. Most of them refer to eating – indeed; ‘to eat’ means people using public money for private purposes. Nigerians call it ‘sharing the national cake’ which tells you that the practice is to some extent ‘legitimized.’ 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. This is what Price terms the ‘Big Man Small Boy Syndrome’ in which The Big Man controls and gives orders; the Small Boy obeys and does not dare to speak his mind.[iv]
Most of the people employed in football in Africa are clients who are placed there in most cases without any proper qualifications or skills to perform the task. A report by the Forum of African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) labels football administrators as corrupt, greedy and inefficient administrators.[v] Khumalo[vi] concludes that while players (such as George Weah, Salif Keita, Didier Drogba and Kalusha Balwa) have sacrificed their personal fortunes to develop not just soccer but also their own communities, and have in some cases bailed out their national teams, the administration tasked with developing the game focus on personal gain. Football can be a lucrative livelihood for senior administrators with access to funds from FIFA, taxes from affiliates including premier soccer leagues and from national team games. Very little is ploughed back into structures that promote junior football or coaching structures. The FAIR report[vii] outlines instances of vote buying and corruption in elections for footballing positions. One example is in Zimbabwe where two football councilors admitted receiving US$2000 each for their votes in electing football president. Sugden and Tomlinson[viii] argue that the problem, which is most worrying in Africa, is the scale of corruption. Admos Adamu who was the head of Nigeria’s football association allegedly misappropriated US$800 000 grant from FIFA meant for infrastructural programmes.
Former Cameroonian goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell once claimed that 90 out of 100 dollars in football disappears in private pockets.[ix] Corruption is bad because it, among other things, demoralizes the players (Pannenborg 2010). FAIR report cites the following cases of corruption from across Africa to highlight the wanton and brazen acts of corruption affecting African football:
- In Cameroon mobile phone company MTN pumped in US$600,000 of an US$800,000 project to renovate a number of stadiums. The other US$200,000 was to come from Fecafoot, the Cameroonian FA, but instead, US$146,000 ended up in the pockets of the then sports minister, Thierry Augustin Edzoa, so that he could “breathe easier”, he said after the payment. The work never happened. The $600,000 is unaccounted for.
- Under Adamu, Nigerian football has reached a position whereby only 10% of the US$7m received from the sponsor Globalcom reaches the clubs. Television rights for the Nigerian league are worth around US$5m, but since this deal was signed no Premier League club has received a share of the money.
- In Ivory Coast, FIF received $1.6m a year from the Ivorian Petrol Refinery Company, SIR, but local clubs never got any of the money. The fund’s existence only became public when SIR stopped the donations in 2007 on discovering the money was not being distributed.[x] There is a lot of money flowing into the African game from “companies whose core businesses are mining, agriculture, oil and gas, beverages and otherwise, but also by international sports companies such as Adidas and Puma and by television networks on the continent. There is also money coming in from other types of sponsorships and FIFA development projects. Much of the funds are earmarked for grassroots development but one only has to see the poor football facilities in Africa to notice that the money may be spend elsewhere.”[xi]
Lack of football infrastructural development
Across much of the continent, the game’s infrastructure is crumbling due to corruption, lack of investment and neglect.[xii] Stadiums of most clubs resemble junkyards with poor drainage systems, bumpy pitches, poor changing rooms, concrete sitting and no cover or shade for fans. Most stadiums have poor entrance and exit points, which makes it extremely difficult and dangerous to enter or leave some of the stadiums. Unlike in Western Europe where clubs own stadiums or lease stadiums from local councils, in Africa governments own, maintain and control stadiums. Clubs do not have the economic capacity to run and manage stadiums of their own. This has led to decaying stadiums, which are in many ways dangerous for both players and spectators.[xiii] In Ghana stadiums were built in the 1950s and have only seen periodic renovation. The National Sports Council (NSC) has playing fields scattered all over the country in the name of stadiums but most of them are in deplorable condition. Nkawkaw Park in the Eastern Region has been declared a security risk, forcing premier league campaigners, Okwahu United, to move away from the stadium and play their matches at the Accra Sports Stadium.[xiv]
African governments have more pressing socio-economic issues to deal with than to invest in stadiums except when they are hosting continental tournaments and in the case of South Africa, the FIFA World Cup. The stadiums and football infrastructure keeps fans away meaning less revenue for the clubs. The bumpy pitches also affects the type of football being played and in some cases some of the stadiums make it difficult for broadcasting networks to carry the matches on television. Only a few countries such as South Africa and Morocco boast of world-class stadia and facilities. Other countries such as Angola, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Mali have benefitted 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 poor state. This makes attending games across the continent a dangerous endeavor and yearly people lose their lives at stadiums. Stadium deaths are also due to “contempt for spectator safety on the part of the administrators and non-professional security personnel are the prime causes. Mismanagement worsens the situation (people are allowed in when the venue is already full). Sound management practices and well-trained personnel could do much to alleviate these problems.”[xv] There is no money going into improving security or increasing the comfort of fans within stadiums. This affects attendance, which in turn hurts local clubs most of whom depend on gate takings for survival.
Globalisation of European football
In most contemporary African societies today, we have communities of highly committed European football fans. These communities seem to manifest most of the conventional characteristics of football fandom. Barring the fact that these fandoms are geographically set apart from the teams and players they support, the deep structure that informs their identifying with and support of European football teams seems to bear a significant sense of empathy with the teams they support, deep interest in the athletic performance of these teams and desire to acquire as much knowledge as possible about these teams. In this way, the practice of European football acquires an immediate and sustained following in the African society. Indeed, as it has been observed by Vokes[xvi] and Komakoma[xvii] the English Premier League in particular has become an important element in the mainstream of the socio-cultural reality of African societies. Vokes explores the social effect of this European football on a rural region of Uganda called Bugamba. He observes, “when moving around the various shops and bars that constitute the main hub of social activity in these parts, one today hears not only the more usual talk of crop yields, school fees and the like, but also conversations about the past week’s EPL results, movements in its transfer market, and its various teams chances over the months ahead.”[xviii] The growth of popularity of European football games and the rise of these fandoms means that local clubs have to compete with such teams for attendance on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The growth of satellite television broadcasts, sports bars and multiple football watching spaces across Africa has meant fans are more in tune with the happenings in the English or Spanish league than in their own local leagues. Fans are opting for television mediated fandoms and football they view as superior and of a better quality than local football. This electronic colonialism of sporting spaces has seriously affected local teams even in commercial terms where fans would rather be seen in a Barcelona or Manchester United shirt.
Poor marketing and selling of football
Most African teams are guilt of not engaging adequately with their fan base.[xix] There is a lot of secrecy involved and fans tend to have little or no idea about the clubs. The fans are disengaged except for hardcore ultras who seek out information on the team. There are no events or publicity ceremonies in most countries that bring fans nearer to their teams. The clubs do not produce match day publications or any form of publication to inform fans and attract new support bases. The majority of clubs do not have on line strategies to sell their brands, which has meant that European based clubs with such infrastructure dominate on line sports presence in Africa. Most clubs do not have websites, in fact there are leagues without websites. There is a lack of skill and capacity within the African football structures to exploit the emerging vehicles for marketing and advertising their brands such as social media. On platforms such as Facebook, football related topics and news are shared and debated through fans’ initiated pages. Websites and social media can be an advertising vehicle as well as a way to recruit more fans. It also provides channels to make and sell club branded products. Most African teams do not have shops or places to sell branded products such as replica shirts, cups, books, scarfs and many other products. Most clubs do not have any of these branded products yet across Africa millions of English and Spanish clubs are bought.
Lack of government support
Government support for football has to be understood within a context of competing needs especially in Africa. Investment in football is often left to the government, which cannot sustain support for the sport. Governments across Africa are finding it difficult to increasingly pour investment into football. My analysis shows two key reasons for this. Firstly, the governments simply do not have funds to invest in football. Most African economies are regressing and government expenditure in sport is slowly reducing. To better understand this: consider the following examples of 2008 sports-related revenues: Adidas and Nike reported revenues of $16.2 billion and $18.6 billion and the European football market had revenues of $23 billion. These astounding revenue numbers can be contrasted to the fact that in 2008, only 15 African states had a GDP higher that $15.6 billion.[xx] Secondly is the FIFA rule on non-interference which makes government skeptical about investing in a sport were they do not have much control. 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.[xxi] This rule was put in place to combat political and government interference in football matters especially in authoritarian regimes. Stories of imprisonment and torture of players and officials highlight the necessity of this rule necessary.[xxii] 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. This rule has often been cited as a bullying tactic by FIFA to circumvent global democratic processes. Any talk of good governance in football is often viewed as an intrusion by FIFA into its established prerogatives of power, privilege, purse and space.[xxiii] To ensure that there is no interference there is a strict policy, which leads to suspension of countries whose governments, interferes in football matters. Football authorities are thus untouchable as Bob Munro, vice-chairman of the Kenyan Professional League argues that:
In many cases, ‘government interference’ is because of gross mismanagement and/or corruption in the national football association. But who suffers most when FIFA impose a ban? Sadly, it is the innocent clubs, coaches, players and referees. What judicial or other regulatory process in the world punishes the innocent victims?[xxiv]
Kenya was in 2004 banned by FIFA because the government had interfered with footballing matters after the high court tried to remove football leaders for various cases of corruption and maladministration including failure to produce annual audited accounts for four years and allegations of misappropriation of funds. Football clubs in the country had tried without success to lobby FIFA to intervene as the corruption worsened yet when the judiciary intervened they were quick to act. Government of Kenya was forced by FIFA to ignore its high court and reinstate the officials, which is curious given the wide-ranging debates on national sovereignty.
Dearth in talent in African leagues: Migration of African footballers
Cornelissen and Solberg[xxv] argue that ‘West European leagues, where processes of commercialisation have been most robust in recent years, constitute the epicenter of international football migration, with these leagues attracting most of the world’s athletic talent. Africa is a primary source for football flows to Western Europe, an aspect which is mostly viewed as exploitative and an extension of neo imperialist relations between the continent and its former colonial powers.’ Talented players tend to move towards football spaces that offer premium payment. Most poorly funded African leagues cannot compete with the type of financial rewards in rich leagues. Zimbabwe and Southern Africa in general have also suffered talent drain to the increasingly commercialized South African league.
They are over 30 Zimbabweans plying their trade in the various league structures in South Africa.[xxvi] All the best emerging talent from the country will at one time find themselves in South Africa. This negatively affects the nature of the competition in many Africa leagues. Devoid of their best talents, leagues such as in Zimbabwe are increasingly dependent on old players with very little talent emerging. There are few exceptions in countries such as Egypt and South Africa which can afford to pay high salaries thus retain local talent. Football labor thus flows from poor countries to the economically powerful leagues that provide attractive and huge salaries.[xxvii] The rather scary issue to emerge from commercialization and migration of football players is how very young boys are being taken from their countries to academies in parts of Europe where they are lure by dreams of millions and glamour yet most never make it in football. Studies[xxviii] have noted how this migration has accentuated an element of neo colonial exploitation. Jonathan Wilson writing for the Guardian in 2012 argued that: “Talk of a new slave trade is unhelpfully emotive, but there is an unpleasant traffic in vulnerable and often naive young players, and it seems hard to deny that the demands of the European market have shaped the tactical development of African football.”[xxix]
Lack of sponsorship and commercial endorsements
Football across the world has proved to be a highly sponsored arena with many corporations seeking to be associated with the game. European clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester United have become global brands with massive support bases across the world. This growth in popularity and exposure has triggered high interest amongst sponsors as they seek international brand awareness for example in 2014 when Manchester United signed its seven-year, US$559 million contract with Chevrolet.[xxx] Sponsorship in football now runs into billions of dollars yet African clubs remain excluded from this exponential rise in sponsorship. In 2013, the Nigerian league had no title sponsor, which leaves the team in a precarious situation. Except for a few notable exceptions such as Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in South Africa, the vast majority of clubs on the continent do not have huge sponsorship deals. Some of these clubs have huge followings, which usually are the main attraction for corporate sponsors but lack of transparency; maladministration and general corrupt tendencies in most African football spaces have meant little sponsorship. Sponsors have also tended to have vulteristic tendencies where they have provided little money to desperate teams and leagues that have little choice but to accept what is being offered. Most leagues do not have proper professional structures thus do not have any idea on the worth of their brands. In Europe sponsorship has grown from kits, shirts and now to naming rights of stadiums and training complexes. African clubs do not have stadiums to sell name rights; very few have kit sponsors and the shirt sponsorship deals remain very low in terms of value.
[i] “Soccerex Report” accessed 4 October 2016 Chttp://www.supporters-direct.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Sandlanders-Soccerex-Report.pdf
[ii] Charles Rukuni and Evelyn Groenink, Killing Soccer in Africa. FAIR Transnational Investigation (2010), accessed 26 August 2016, https://fairreporters.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/fair_2010_soccer_proof7.pdf
[iii] Arnold Pannenborg. Football in Africa: Observations about Political, Financial, Cultural and Religious Influences (NCDO Publication Series Sport and Development, no 7, 2010)
[iv] Robert Price. “Politics and Culture in Contemporary Ghana: The Big-Man Small-Boy Syndrome.” Journal of African Studies, 1 no 2 (1974): 173
[v] Arnold Pannenborg. Football in Africa: Observations about Political, Financial, Cultural and Religious Influences (NCDO Publication Series Sport and Development, no 7, 2010)
[vi] Thabani Khumalo, “Football’s Rotten Core must be Excised.” City Press (South Africa) April 7 2013, Sports Section
[vii] Charles Rukuni and Evelyn Groenink, Killing Soccer in Africa. FAIR Transnational Investigation (2010), accessed 26 August 2016, https://fairreporters.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/fair_2010_soccer_proof7.pdf
[viii] John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson. Badfellas: FIFA Family at War. Edinburgh. (London: Mainstream Publishing, 2003)
[ix] Brian Oliver. “Making a Killing out of African Football.” The Guardian October 24 2010, Online version, accessed 8 November 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/football/2010/oct/24/corruption-african-football-fifa
[xi] Arnold Pannenborg. Football in Africa: Observations about Political, Financial, Cultural and Religious Influences (NCDO Publication Series Sport and Development, no 7, 2010): 14
[xii]“The Challenges facing African Football,” accessed 23 October 2016 http://www.theafricareport.com/News-Analysis/the-challenges-facing-african-football.html
[xiii]“Stadiums call for Attention” accessed 4 November 2016 http://www.thepatriot.co.zw/old_posts/stadiums-call-for-attention/
[xiv] “Ghana’s Struggle for Soccer Honours” accessed 4 November 2016 http://www.panapress.com/Poor-stadiums-handicap-Ghana-s-struggle-for-soccer-honours–13-458547-18-lang4-index.html
[xv] Arnold Pannenborg. Football in Africa: Observations about Political, Financial, Cultural and Religious Influences (NCDO Publication Series Sport and Development, no 7, 2010): 19
[xvi] Richard Vokes. “Arsenal in Bugamba: The rise of English Premier League football in Uganda.” Anthropology Today 26 no. 3 (2010): 12
[xvii] Leah Komakoma. An Investigation into Fan Identity among Supporters of the English Soccer Premier League in Lusaka, Zambia, Masters Thesis Presented at School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University, 2005.
[xviii] Richard Vokes. “Arsenal in Bugamba: The rise of English Premier League football in Uganda.” Anthropology Today 26 no. 3 (2010): 10
[xix]“Reasons for Poor Stadium Attendance” accessed 13 August 2016 http://www.soccerladuma.co.za/news/articles/categories/get-published/reasons-for-poor-stadiumattendance/194423
[xx] Eugene Augustus Cooper, Jr. “The African Football Development Model.” Impumelelo: The Interdisciplinary Electronic Journal of African Sports 7 (2011), accessed 3 November 2016 https://www.ohio.edu/sportsafrica/journal/volume7/cooper.html
[xxi] Callum Farell. 2013. “FIFA’s Non-interference Rule is Holding Back Serious Investigations.” HITC Sport January 22 2012, Online version, accessed 13 October 2016 http://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2013/05/24/fifas-non-interference-rule-is-holding-back-serious-investigatio/
[xxii] For instance in countries such as Iraq (under Sadam Hussein) where the president’s son was once the football association president athletes were tortured and beaten for poor performance like the Olympic team in 2000
[xxiii] Thabani Khumalo, “Football’s Rotten Core must be Excised.” City Press (South Africa) April 7 2013, Sports Section
[xxiv] Brian Oliver. “Making a Killing out of African Football.” The Guardian October 24 2010, Online version, accessed 8 November 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/football/2010/oct/24/corruption-african-football-fifa
[xxv] Scarlett Cornelissen and Eirik Solberg. “Sport Mobility and Circuits of Power: The Dynamics of Football Migration in Africa and the 2010 World Cup.” Politikon 34, no. 3 (2007): 295
[xxvi] “Talent Drain Stunts Soccer Development” accessed 28 August 2016 http://www.thepatriot.co.zw/old_posts/talent-drain-stunts-soccer-development/
[xxvii] Joseph Maguire and Robert Pearton. “Global Sport and the Migration Patterns of France ‘98 World Cup Finals Players: Some Preliminary Observations.” Soccer and Society 1, no. 1 (2000): 179
[xxviii] See: Bale John. “Three Geographies of African Footballer Migration: Patterns, Problems and Postcoloniality.” In Football in Africa: Conflict, Conciliation and Community, ed. Garry Armstrong and Richard Giulianotti, (New York: Palgrave, 2004); Paul Darby, Gerard Akindes and Matthew Kirwin. “African Football Labour Migration to Europe and the Role of Football Academies.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 31, no 2 (2007): 143–161.
[xxix] Jonathan Wilson. 2012. The Question: Is African Football Progressing, Sports Section, Online version, accessed 4 November 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2012/jan/17/the-question-is-african-football-progressing
[xxx]“Most valuable deals in soccer,” accessed 23 November 2016 http://www.forbes.com/sites/chrissmith/2016/05/11/the-most-valuable-sponsorship-deals-insoccer/#12b04a60705f