When the decision to professionalize Cameroon’s club football came to fruition in July 2011, there was an overflow of joy within the country’s football ecosystem.
In fact, the country wasn’t just aligning to the FIFA requirement for its affiliated members to own a professional football league by 2013, stakeholders were hopeful that the poor management of many clubs at the time just like the domestic championship, would be a thing of the past.
The general belief was that Cameroonian club football would become much more attractive, with a competitive championship void of corruption, with a good salary bargain for the players and staff and above all, a pride of the people. Concretely speaking, the setting up of a professional league meant the commercialisation of our local clubs, the prospect of marketing and audiovisual rights, the negotiation of profitable partnerships in and out of the country, and above all, the purchase and sale of players in a bid to guarantee the competitiveness of our championship that will in return bring profit and more investment in the sport.
From a social and leisure perfective, professionaliztion meant improving the quality of football on the pitch that will be an attraction for the fans who would not hesitate to grace the stadiums for a leisure activity on a weekly basis.
But twelve years down the line, very little or nothing seems to have changed as the word professionalism still exists on paper while key actors of the sport continue with the merry-go-round.
Corruption and match-fixing scandals continue to headline club football in the country as those charged with the task of professionalizing the league now seem to have found solace in court cases here and there, as propaganda, and the philosophy of an an-eye for an-eye has now become the new powerful tool to push their agendum.
For twelve years, the paradigm shift in our so-called professional football league has left much to be desired as players and other key actors are clearly the scapegoats.
Players and coaches are hired and fired with impunity, no respect for contractual agreements and worst still, the federation and its titular ministry can only act with cosmetic solutions that do nothing to nib the problem in the board.
For the past 12 years, there has been enough in-house fighting to launch a thousand newspaper headlines in a domestic championship where players and coaches still live in a very precarious and critical financial state and disrespect. In 2021 for example, the Cameroon footballers trade union, SYNAFOC, in a comprehensive survey revealed that only 40% of players in the elite one championship possess a copy of their contract, 13% of the players in the elite two and only 5% for players in the women’s professional football league.
SYNAFOC also established that the most glaring abuse is the nonpayment of players salaries by a majority of the clubs. While very little is now being heard about players’ strikes, many observers may be tempted to conclude that the situation is under control. But kick442.com bets you, a majority of players in our domestic championship still live in acute financial bondage, as some can’t even afford a square meal nor transportation to go for training.
In 2022 alone the national football trade union registered over 101 complaints from Cameroonian footballers related to salary claims as the union estimated the financial damage inflicted on players by clubs in that year at nearly 60 million FCFA.
Worst still, there are complaints of many players having signed contracts and not having a copy, complaints about the non-payment of their signing bonus as well as the refusal of clubs to release players. The story is told of a young player in the elite one whose contract was illegally terminated and the young man asked to pay five hundred thousand FRS for his liberation papers.
But today, nothing has been done to that club president, he moves freely, and breathes an air of “we own the championship”. This is just one in a very long queue of abuses by some of our “super club presidents” who are also trigger-happy to pull the eject button on coaches whenever they feel like doing so.
This has been a normal thing for the past 12 years and yet we are in the dispensation of a professional football league. Nevertheless, players and coaches also share part of the blame as the SYNAFOC study indicates that most Cameroonian footballers have not acquired formal education and have no real knowledge of the legal framework governing their profession.
And so when Samuel Eto’o climbed at the helm of the country’s FA, many had the Utopic dream that a messiah had come to save our domestic footballers overnight.
But if there is anything that is certain, it is the fact that Eto’o is not omnipresent nor does he sleep in the same bed with club presidents to do a meticulous monitoring of whether or not players are receiving their salaries.
Our team has heard many Cameroonians on the social media say- with the coming of Eto’o, our elite footballers no longer complain, and that they now enjoy while club presidents are now the ones complaining.
Beat out the Stockholm syndrome and spare these footballers the propagandist agendas of those in the corridors of our football and club management, Cameroonian footballers are simply down-and-out and are in dire need of the much heralded professional football league.
A majority of the elite one players I have talked to earn less than a hundred thousand FRS and some are simply given 50 thousand FRS per month with the pretext that they are still young and have a bright future ahead of them. When the professional football league took off in 2011, the state regularly subsidized the competition with 960 million FRS annually as 560 million FRS was meant for the payment of players salaries.
But incessant legal and ideological battles between the federation and the league over who controls the organisation of the championship forced the state to backtrack. And so, with fecafoot taking full charge of the organisation of the championship, the federation decided to subsidize each elite one club with 48 million FRS, scaling the minimum salary at 200,000 FRS.
Club presidents have however criticised the amount arguing that the minimum budget to run a club for an entire season is over 150 million FRS. While that is an argument for another day, the commitment of football stakeholders in Cameroon has been questionable for the past 12 years. It is high time those charged with the assignment of professionalising our domestic league, went back to the drawing board and salvaged the wreckage of our chronic professional league.
By Rene Katche, Editorialist kick442.com
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