Beyond their ethnic, political and regional divides, people unite together around their national football team. We saw the First Lady of Gabon dancing like an excited schoolgirl every time one of the eleven players of the ‘Azingo Nationale’ scored a goal and became “the Panthers” for their country.
The people of Equatorial Guinea were ecstatic with the qualification of their national team, languishing in the midst of one of the most ferocious dictatorships. According to Human Rights Watch, journalists who have visited the country to report on the human rights situation have been detained, interrogated, censored and deported.
In the fervour surrounding the 2012 African Cup of Nations, there are two key points that attract attention. The first is the absence of some of the higher achieving teams in African football.
Michael Dodje's blog explains [fr] the unusual goings-on in this year's Cup of Nations:
Imagine a Euro competition without Germany, Spain, Holland and England. Impossible you say, even though Ukraine or Poland would not have to participate in the qualifying rounds as host nations. And yet, this is what happened in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Indeed, for the first time in ages we will not see Egypt, Cameroon, Algeria, Nigeria or even South Africa in this championship. How did this happen?
Remembering that the five teams mentioned above have won 15 out of 27 previous Cup of Nations tournaments. Nicholas Mc Anally on le229.com responded [fr]:
…If these teams do not qualify then there will be others to replace them. It's a breath of fresh air seeing teams like Botswana, Niger and Equatorial Guinea making their debuts in the Cup of Nations.
Another novelty in this year's Cup is the way that the thorny issue of bonuses has been resolved. A post on the blog plat du pied explained [fr] what happened on the 15 November, 2011:
After the cancellations of the matches against China, Gabon, Salvador and Mexico, Cameroon has again cancelled a friendly match at the last minute for the fifth time since the start of the season. The players went on strike, once again, in protest against the federation over their bonuses for the match.
On the same blog, a statement issued by the Cameroon players, known as the ‘Indomitable Lions', said:
Due to the absence of attendance bonuses, the players have decided not to travel to Algiers and to not play any part in the match against Algeria scheduled for the 15 November.
Different solutions to the problem have been found by building on past negative experiences. A post [fr] on the blog marocfootball.info, concerning the Moroccan national team, the ‘Atlas Lions’ stated that:
The President of the highest court in Moroccan football announced that a deal has been made with the Atlas Lions in that they accept that they will not receive any form of attendance bonus if they fail to reach the quarter finals of the 2012 African Cup of Nations.
Côte d'Ivoire, not long out of a prolonged and disastrous civil war, will pay their national team the ‘Elephants’ a bonus of 5 billion CFA francs (1 million US dollars) if they win the final. The blog afrik11.com states [fr]:
The 23 players in the side receive 5 million CFA francs (10,000 USD) in attendance bonuses. This amount will be paid if the team is eliminated in the first round. In the quarterfinals, the bonus of each player will rise to 8 million, rising further to 10 million in the semifinals and then to 20 million in the final (40,000 USD). The coach, Zahoui François will also enjoy his share of the pie, receiving double the bonuses of his players.
afrik11.com also comments [fr] on the bonuses paid to the Mali national team, the ‘Eagles of Mali’ at the beginning of January:
Earlier this week the Malian football team received their bonuses for qualifying for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. Two hundred million CFA francs (40,000 USD) were given in cash to the players and coaching staff before the national team left Lomé (Togo) for the final stage in their preparations for the competition.
Equatorial Guinea, co-hosts of the event, is a country unable to build a stadium capable of hosting a match due to the frequent rains. Yet abidjan.net posted a blog surrounding their first victory [fr] in the competition:
Teodorin Obiang, the Minister for Agriculture presented a cheque for 500 million CFA francs (760,000 euros) to Francisco Pascual Eyegue Obama Asué, the Minister for Sport, in the absence of the national team in Mbini (mainland Mali). He added a cheque for 20 million CFA francs (30,400 euros), 10 million that had been promised for each goal scored ; the team only won the match 1-0 but he explained that the goal disallowed by the referee deserved to be credited with a bonus.
This blog points out that the actions of Teodorin, tipped to succeed his father as president, are under scrutiny by the Americans.
The generosity of petrodollars being used for the bonuses for the Equatorial Guinea football team makes the Republic of Guinea look like a poor relation. In Conakry, the first problem was in trying to find the money to pay for the bonuses. As reported by lejourguinee.com, the country set up a National Committee for Support, led by General Mathurin Bangoura, Minister for Housing and Urban Development with the aim of raising funds for the bonuses. Notably, the first contributions came from the Indian community settled in the country.
The least well-spent money during the tournament, without doubt, has to be the bonuses awarded to the ‘Teranga Lions', the Senegalese national team, who had entered the competition as strong favourites and fell at the first hurdle. Yet, at the beginning of the competition the blog can.starafrica.com stated [fr] that:
There are some concerns surrounding the bonuses given to the Senegalese side. On Wednesday the Sports Ministry gave the squad bonuses amounting to 140, 650,000 francs in full for their qualification for the 2012 African Cup of Nations.