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Cameroon: Genesis & Evolution of Professional Football

by Lesley Ngwa
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Football is considered as one of the most popular sports in most African countries in general and Cameroon in particular. It is by far the most widely followed sport in Cameroon judging from its viewership, the number of fans it has and the growing number of people who attend games in stadiums. Due to this importance, there has been a rising level of interest in the football business from across the sporting community particularly given the proposition that football performance directly interrelates with the way in which the clubs manage their stakeholders.

A football club, as a continuous project, entails the efficient management of resources (time, human and financial resources) to achieve specific results or outcomes, seen as their performance. While football clubs have usually been focused on the ‘on field’ performance, recently they have started to reflect on a more integrated vision, which takes into account also the ‘off field’ performance. This correlates with the assertion that the main objective of professional football clubs involves competitive results while that financial profit is the main factor responsible for their survival. However, it is very important to combine these two aspects for the evolution of professional football clubs.

Accordingly, football clubs have started to re-think their relationships with stakeholders (e.g. shareholders, players and management team, football federation, fans, local community, local public authorities, non-profit organizations, etc.).

Since 2007, FIFA had required all its affiliated members to have a professional league by 2013.

If they failed to do so, those members who do not comply with this requirement will have their FIFA Licence, which gives access to international competitions, withdrawn. For Cameroon, this recommendation will be recorded in the Douala Declaration of 2008, (three years before the existence of the League) and, that of 2011 following the creation of the Professional Football League of Cameroon. This league will see the light of day on July 25, 2011 at the joint initiative of the Cameroon Football Federation and the Ministry of Sports and Physical Education. Pierre Semengue was thus put in charge of the league for a two-year term, with the mission of effectively setting up the structure.

The creation of the LFPC (French acronym, Cameroon Professional Football League) had a triple political, economic and social challenge.

On the political level, it was accepted in our country that football is a vector of peace and social stability. It is a tool for peace, national unity and therefore national integrity. It is one of the rare elements that brings together in a particular harmony the cultural mosaic that underpins our specificity. For this reason, the public authorities gave a very important place to this sport, whose decline would constitute a threat to the peace and social cohesion of our country.

On the economic level, professionalism makes football not only a spectacle, but a real industrial and commercial activity.

In our country, the advent of professionalism meant:
– commercial companies with a sporting object to be set up;
– players and trainers to be professionalized, i.e. thousands of professionals;
– games centres to be built;
– Marketing, advertising and audio-visual rights to be prospected;

– The negotiation of solid partnerships inside and outside national borders;

– The purchase and sale of players in order to increase the competitiveness of the championship and the profitability of the investments made.

On the social level, professionalism through the quality of the spectacle will be a new attraction for fans of the game who will thus find a healthy weekly leisure activity. At the level of cities and decentralised territorial authorities, it is also a tool for youth development. Finally, for families, it is an impact on nearly 5,000,000 people who will live off the benefits of football. The fight against unemployment advocated by the government is thus at the heart of the challenges of professionalism.

What the Professional League was meant to do

The LFPC was to organize and develop professional football in Cameroon.

Statutorily, the Professional Football League of Cameroon during the transitional period 2011-2013 had to put in place the foundations of professionalism. This implies that its mission was to:

– Ensure, or even facilitate the transformation of existing clubs into sports associations, commercial companies with a sporting object in view of their current modest means.
– Work for the modernization of the methods of management of the clubs.

– Work for the improvement of the treatment of the players and trainers by raising them to international standards.

– Work for the construction of infrastructural works (modern sports centres, competition stadiums, head office…) of the clubs.
– work for the setting up of specialized centres of sports medicine.

– Search for sustainable sources of funding for professional football in Cameroon.

– Seek and negotiate solid and credible partnerships for the implementation of professionalism and the support of professional clubs.

– Set up a transparent and credible management control framework for club funds that will attract partners and potential investors.
The legal form of a league consists of its legal designation. Each state having its own legal system, various legal forms can be found. However, with respect to football leagues, these legal forms are often similar. Generally speaking, two categories may be distinguished: the association model and the separate entity model.
In the association model, leagues have the same legal form as the national federation to which they belong. In legal terms, an association is the grouping of persons or other entities (for example football clubs) with a common purpose.

With regard to football leagues or associations, associations regularly require membership, written rules and statutes, and the yearly organisation of a general assembly to which all entitled members may participate and vote.
Any association can also be affiliated to another association. In such a case, the affiliated association must follow the rules of the parent association. Furthermore, in football, most organisations are non-profit associations. This does not mean that they have no economic activity, but rather that they must reinvest their profits in the association as they cannot pay dividends to members.

The second category, the separate entity model, refers to leagues for which the legal form is that of a company with an independent ownership structure. The decision making power belongs to the shareholders. Consequently, in the separate entity model, the association is usually less involved in the running of the league. Most of the time, clubs are the main shareholders of the league. However, the association can also be one of them, if not the only one. The association can thus maintain strong influence in decision-making. Beyond the ownership structure, leagues and associations in the separate entity model still maintain close relationships with regard to some specific competences usually managed by the associations such as the appointment of referees, disciplinary processes and the rules of the game.

The leagues in the separate entity model can have different legal forms depending on their business activities, but also according to the legal system of the country in which they are located. Yet, most of the leagues organised as a business owned by shareholders are limited liability companies. These companies usually have nominative shareholders and only specific entities (for example clubs competing in the league) can own shares.

Cameroon’s Ligue de Football Professionnel was self-managed and had its own statutes and regulations. However, the league was financially dependent on the subsidies granted by the FECAFOOT (Cameroon Football Federation).

Consequently, the financial autonomy guaranteed in the league’s statutes rather meant that the association representing the league decided on the league budget. The league had the financial autonomy as mentioned in its statutes, but not financial independence.

The LFPC was finally dissolved on October 29, 2020 and various entities have succeeded it with the latest being the Transitional Professional Football Committee.

The failure of the current model

Professional players, both men and women, face similar problems throughout Cameroon. The appalling professional conditions under which they play include a litany of contractual failures on the part of their employing clubs: accumulation of salary arrears, almost non-existent social protection, meagre bonuses, ghost contracts, etc.

To the outside world, Cameroon is known as one of Africa’s greatest football powers, having won five continental championship titles and participated in the World Cup more than any other African nation (eight times). The polished image projected by its national team contrasts with the appalling conditions that local footballers face. The clubs employing them act with impunity while the state and the Cameroon Football Federation react with cosmetic solutions that do nothing to improve the situation.

The National Union of Cameroonian Footballers, an affiliate of the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPRO), the largest representative organisation defending the interests of footballers worldwide, published the results of a survey on the living and working conditions of Cameroonian footballers in 2021.
The most glaring abuse is clubs’ failure to pay salaries, which has repeatedly led players to go on strike. SYNAFOC recorded 101 complaints from Cameroonian footballers related to salary claims in 2022, 90 of whom played in the domestic league. The union estimates the financial damage inflicted on players by clubs in that year at nearly 60 million CFA francs.

Very few footballers benefit from social security through their clubs. In 2014, three years after the professionalization of Cameroonian football, Cameroon’s National Social Security Fund (CNPS) reported that only six professional teams had registered for its services and that no footballers, coaches or referees had been registered in the meantime. According to SYNAFOC’s 2021 survey, only 3 per cent of players in the first and second divisions are registered with the CNPS through their clubs, while barely 2 per cent of female footballers in the first division are registered.

Since 2011, the Cameroonian state has regularly injected 960 million CFA francs each season to subsidise professional football, 560 million CFA francs of which is given to the clubs in order to pay the salaries of players in the Elite One and Elite Two leagues.

The federation also grants subsidies to clubs to pay the salaries of players in its two flagship divisions. For the 2022-2023 season, it decided to subsidise each first division club to the tune of 48 million CFA francs and has required clubs to re-evaluate their salary scales, with a minimum salary of 200,000 CFA francs per footballer.

“The problem of players’ salaries has not yet been definitively resolved. It’s a problem that needs to be discussed between the clubs, the players, the federation, the SYNAFOC, and even the CNPS,” explains Jean-Jacques Mouandjo, head of the marketing and communication department at FECAFOOT.

“This implies that the clubs agree with the payment of 200,000 CFA francs, but this amount includes training bonuses for certain clubs and not for others. We are working to harmonise this and a discussion between the various professional bodies is currently taking place”.

Local companies are also chipping in to help female players. One brewing company is the main sponsor of the women’s top tier. Last season, it regularly disbursed 15 million CFA francs every month to pay 50 per cent of players’ salaries.

The other half was paid by the federation to ensure that players earn 100,000 CFA francs. But this season, the football body cancelled its contribution because of uncertainties about the profitability of its partnership with the brewing company, whose assets are currently being absorbed by another company, also a partner of FECAFOOT.

Of the 37 professional football clubs competing in Cameroon during the 2022-2023 season, only one, Coton Sport Garoua, can claim to be on the road to professionalism. Owned by the mutual insurance company of the SODECOTON (Société de Développement du Coton) agents, it is the best structured team in the country and its business model is based on financial contributions from its members as well as on player transfers.

The club AS Fortuna, a modest one-man operation owned by a private investor who is also the majority shareholder, derives 70 per cent of its financial resources from the transfer fees of former players trained at the club.

“Our budget is provisional. It does not include stadium revenues which are non-existent. The federation provides about 50 million CFA francs, but as of now [January 2023], we have only received 11.4 million CFA francs since the beginning of the season, while Fortuna’s wage bill alone amounts to 8.5 million per month,” says Roger Noah, president of AS Fortuna.

Noah considers the federation’s financial support to be insignificant and calls for the state of Cameroon to take complete control of football in the country. “We can’t do anything without the moral and financial guarantee of the state. If it wants professional football, it must establish a policy of support and make significant resources available, as is the case everywhere else”.

The way forward

Creating compatibility between a football club, the local community and other stakeholders’ priorities produces a good fit between the club and its environment, increasing, thus, the probability of the club’s success. Stakeholder management is critical to the success of every professional football club. Stakeholders are defined as any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives. In the football sector, these stakeholders are usually numerous, and can vary significantly in the degree of influence on the performance of the clubs. The process of efficiently managing football clubs fundamentally requires the identification of the various stakeholders and the best means of interacting with them to optimise the management of material, human and financial resources. The clear identification of stakeholders and their respective individual roles needs to be well defined by club decision makers so as to maximise the interventions and responsibilities assumed by individual stakeholders that then in turn demand greater efficiency of the club.
Managing stakeholders represent a major challenge to many football clubs. A vital part of stakeholder management is managing their competing expectations which have a tendency to change from time to time; for instance, the aim of shareholders maybe to make more profit via sales of top players while that of fans is to enjoy good spectacle in the field and victory for the club. The advantage of stakeholder management includes eliminating conflicting interests among stakeholders, reducing the pressure of management to produce short-term results, reducing the cost associated with a high turn-over among stakeholders and providing football clubs with committed stakeholders in an environment characterized by increasing competition.

Furthermore, the success or failure of a professional football in a championship is influenced very strongly by the expectations and perceptions of the stakeholders involved and failure to balance or address the concerns of the stakeholders often results to poor performance.

The major causes of poor performance in football clubs is due the following; poor definition of the objectives, an inadequate project schedule, too much uncontrolled change, insufficient control, a lack of resources, ineffective communication among stakeholders, an unclear role of the participants, a lack of top management support, too many teams focusing on technical solutions and neglecting the needs of the people.

Professional football clubs are very specific and it is, therefore, very demanding for managers to maintain and develop within them individual relationships with stakeholders.

Professional football clubs in Cameroon face a lot of challenges which affect their on-field performance; amongst which include inadequate finances to run the club, poor or insufficient sporting infrastructures, poor management of clubs and stakeholders, etc. All these challenges cause most football clubs to perform poorly in most championship within the country (organised by Fecafoot and the Cameroon professional football league-LPFC) or at the continental scene (African Champions’ League or the African Club Confederations Cup).

Different stakeholders in the football sector participate at different levels and forms in the running of football clubs which has a great effect on the performance of the clubs; for instance, shareholders provide the equity to run the club, coaches and players provide skills to achieve the clubs’ objectives, fans provide support, and sponsors provide financial and materials aid.

In contrast to European clubs, the attachment to a system of values, those of kinship, ethnicity, social networks, tradition or modernity, directly influences the organizational model adopted by club leaders. Indeed, the club rarely has as its sole purpose the organization of sports competitions. In most cases, sport is embedded in a system of networks, relational support and dysfunctions that lead to a certain opacity in the daily management of clubs. Material, logistical or budgetary efficiency, rational and transparent organization of clubs are not often the case in most clubs.

The systems of compensation, contracts, and bonuses are sufficiently complex to be considered salaries or a special benefit that players receive from clubs. These remunerations are irregular and players and coaches complain about this.

Even the use of more substantial budgets is not enough to promote the efficiency of the internal logistics of the clubs. Many football clubs operate on an ad-hoc basis. In order to participate in the championships that allow them to reach the elite division, second division clubs usually travel by train or bus, obtain money for accommodation and food for their players, and occupy communal premises or schools due to lack of funds.

Of all the public issues on the agenda of Cameroonian authorities, sports appear to be one of the state’s major concerns because of the difficulties inherent in financing it. Indeed, the mobilization of resources to cover the expenses of the State (security, diplomacy, currency) is nowadays, more and more put in competition with the respect of its commitments under its vocation (social charges, education, health). Within the framework of social life, the government, although confronted with the phenomenon of the scarcity of financial resources, is called to lead the public policy of the sport through the construction of infrastructures, the promotion of elite level sports (elite championships, participation of the national teams in international competitions) and the development of sports in the districts as within the schools. In Cameroon, the private sector, which is still in its infancy, and households without significant purchasing power do not yet have sufficient resources to make a significant contribution to the financing of sport. Therefore, what instruments should be used to bring Cameroonian sport through a massive contribution of capital and the establishment of a sustainable system for financing sports infrastructures?

Is it a question of increased fiscal interventionism, of renouncing the collection of taxes for specific objectives, of developing the sports movement, or rather, within the framework of a budgetary policy, of actively activating the lever of public expenditure?

Nowadays, the state must consolidate its achievements and turn towards the future challenges which are:
– Financial autonomy of clubs,
– Good governance of the clubs,
– The managerial control of sports organizations,
– The implementation of a sports policy in line with the aspirations of Cameroon to become a great sporting nation.

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