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How a Spat Over Prize Money Nearly Kept Cameroon from Playing in the World Cup

Cameroonian national team captain Samuel Eto'o. Photo released under Creative Commons by  soccer.ru.

Cameroonian national team captain Samuel Eto'o. Photo released under Creative Commons by soccer.ru.

Cameroon's national football team, the Indomitable Lions, have finally arrived in Brazil some 24 hours later than scheduled after a last-minute bonus row, which threatened to scuttle the team’s participation in this year's World Cup, was resolved.

On Sunday June 8, the Indomitable Lions refused to leave their hotel unless they were paid their share of the World Cup prize money that FIFA gives to each participating country. FECAFOOT, Cameroon’s football federation, eventually yielded [fr] to the players’ demands, giving each player 5,800,000 CFA francs (about 12,000 US dollars) in addition to the 50 million CFA francs (104,000 US dollars) already promised by the Cameroon government.

The dispute over bonuses is an old one that has bedeviled Cameroon’s participation in practically every international tournament since the 1980s. As Patrick Suffo, a former Cameroon international who was part of the 2002 World Cup campaign that was also marred by disagreements over bonuses, tweeted:

The player revolt generated very passionate and divisive debates in and outside of Cameroon. Many argued that the players were selfish and unpatriotic. Self-described football fan Bouba Kaélé was unequivocal on that point:

Let’s agree that this is the fault of the government which tolerates blackmail by the players associated with permanent hostage taking

Another user, Peter Khoo, shared a similar view:

An article, which appeared in the online journal NdjanguiPress, accused [fr] the players of “high treason”, insisting that:

Un joueur qui va à la Coupe du Monde est un soldat au front. S'il sait qu'il n'a pas de munitions pour le combat, ou qu'il est mal nourri, qu'il se déclare forfait avant d'embarquer. Ne pas mouiller le maillot sur fond des revendications est une haute trahison qui mérite sanction !

A player who goes to the World Cup is a soldier on the front lines. If he knows that he doesn’t have ammunition or that he’s been poorly fed, then he should withdraw before heading to the battle. A player who does not give his best against the backdrop of [unreasonable] demands deserves to be punished!

Equally passionate were those who felt that the players’ demands and actions were justified. @ankiecool in Zimbabwe wrote:

The theme about greedy administrators was echoed by an article [fr] on the Cameroon-footbuzz website which argued that:

Dans la configuration actuelle, il nous apparaît plus juste que les footballeurs, principaux acteurs du football, bénéficient du fruit de leur labeur plutôt qu'il ne revienne aux médiocres qui gravitent autour de la sélection, vraisemblablement dans le but de s'engraisser…

Plutôt que de les vitupérer, ne devrait-on pas en être fiers ? Fiers de ces jeunes gens qui nous montrent la voie. Ces enfants qui, dans cette république particulière et répressive, n'ont pas manqué l'exceptionnelle opportunité de dire « STOP !!! »

In the current dispensation, it is only fair that the players who are the main actors in football benefit from the fruits of their labor instead of the mediocre individuals who gravitate around the national team with the aim of enriching themselves…

Shouldn’t we be proud of these players instead of punishing them? Proud of these young men who are showing us the way. These kids who, in this peculiar and repressive republic, did not miss the unique opportunity to say “Stop!!”.

In the same vein, blogger Ngimbis explained [fr] why in Cameroon the call for patriotism is always a one-way street:

Pourquoi lorsqu’on parle de patriotisme, on en demande toujours plus aux sportifs, aux musiciens et autres artistes et non au fonctionnaire lambda ou au dirigeant x ? C’est simple : leur aura et leur talent ne sert qu’à cautionner le vol de hautes personnalités cachées dans l’ombre et qui les utilisent comme des marionnettes pour servir de caution à leur cupidité, leur avidité, leur malhonnêteté. Créateurs de richesses qu’ils ne mangent pas, voilà leur « devoir ».

Why is it that when we talk of patriotism, we always ask more from athletes, musicians and other artists, than from regular civil servants or those in power? The reason is simple: the aura and talent of these athletes and artists provide cover for theft by high-ranking government officials in the shadows who use them as puppets to shore up their cupidity, greed, and dishonesty. The “duty” of the players and artists is be creators of wealth who do not share in that wealth.

National team captain Samuel Eto’o summed up the debate with a brief message which he posted [fr] on his Facebook page as the national team finally prepared to leave Cameroon:

Dommage pour ce beau pays qu'est le Cameroun, on a certains dirigeants amateurs quand même… mais malgré tout, nous gardons le sourire et surtout sommes fiers d'être Camerounais et de représenter notre pays dignement et valablement.

It is a pity that our beautiful country, Cameroon, has some very amateurish leaders… Despite everything, we keep smiling, and we are indeed very proud to be Cameroonian and representing our country in a dignified and genuine manner.

  • Pingback: Ban Cameroon From the Next World Cup! | This is MY Soapbox

  • AK

    Players should stand up for their rights every time they feel that government official are going to scam them.
    Expose the thieves. Patriotism feeds no one. If patriotism is reason enough to work for free, the why is everyone else being paid? Are they not patriotic too?

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