It feels like a case of one step forward, two steps back for African football.
No sooner had Algeria bowed out after a gallant, at times dazzling effort against Germany in their first-ever World Cup knockout match, than the headlines had taken their lustre away.
The latest news continues a trend. Almost all of Africa's notable achievements this summer have been overshadowed by controversy and anguish. Asamoah Gyan breaks Roger Milla's long-standing record as Africa's top scorer in the World Cup, days later Ghana implode. Nigeria return to the World Cup knockout stages for the first time in 16 years, soon after the Super Eagles refuse to train following a bonus row.
As reported by the BBC, Cameroon officials are set to investigate claims made that seven of their squad were involved in match-fixing at the World Cup.
The accusations have been made in Der Spiegel by a convicted match-fixer from Singapore, Wilson Raj Perumal.
Perumal is reported to have “correctly forecast the result with Croatia and that a player would be sent off.”
Responding to allegations, a statement from Cameroon’s FA read:
Recent allegations of fraud around Cameroon's 2014 FIFA World Cup three preliminary games, especially Cameroon versus Croatia, as well of the 'existence of seven bad apples [in our national team]' do not reflect the values and principles promoted by our administration, in line with FIFA's code of conduct and the ethics of our nation.
We are strongly committed to employ all means necessary to resolve this disruptive matter in the shortest delays.
While it is important to note that the allegations have only just been made, and are yet to be proved true or otherwise, the incident threatens to be the greatest shame to have hit the African game.
There have been a few.
Cameroon themselves are only just coming off the back of a dreadful World Cup campaign. The Indomitable Lions imploded in Brazil and their campaign, which was marred by seemingly bizarre decision-making from several parties, reflected badly on players, management and officials.
Their tournament build-up was affected by another dispute over bonuses, as the Cameroonian players refused to board their plane to Brazil until the disagreement had been solved.
Following the wretched preparations, Cameroon’s on-field performance failed to get off the ground. They were eliminated after just two games, suffered three defeats and conceded nine goals. Their dismal defensive record made a mockery of pre-tournament suggestions that they had some of the most resolute stoppers in the tournament.
The nadir was the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia. Not only were Cameroon hammered in a match that could have put their campaign back on track, but they lost any semblance of discipline; Alex Song was red-carded for inexplicably throwing an elbow at the back of Mario Mandzukic’s head while Benoit Assou-Ekotto later head-butted his own team-mate, forward Benjamin Moukandjo.
Perumal’s revelations shed a much more sinister light on the near-farcical events in Manaus.
Even with Cameroon sent packing, Africa’s World Cup shame didn’t end.
Ghana were next to implode.
In the space of a tumultuous few days, the Black Stars threatened to boycott their final group match with Portugal should they not receive their bonuses, while two squad members, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng were sent away from the camp.
Ghana eventually played. A conversation between Asamoah Gyan and national president John Dramani Mahama, confirmed by Ed Aarons of the Guardian, led to a chartered plane being flown to Brazil, complete with the team’s $3 million.
It was not enough to save face.
Muntari and Boateng destroyed the last vestiges of Ghanaian credibility with a series of controversial off-field events. The former was sent home for “an unprovoked physical attack” while the latter joined him after making “vulgar verbal insults” towards Black Stars coach Kwesi Appiah [via The Guardian].
John Boye provided, perhaps, regrettably, unknowingly the definitive image of Africa’s 2014 World Cup campaign when he was pictured pushing a fistful of dollars, his summer bonus, to his lips in a pseudo-righteous kiss.
Hours later, Boye completed a hapless evening by slicing the ball into his own net to give Portugal the lead in Ghana’s final group stage game.
At that point, Nigeria had risen above the misdemeanours of their regional counterparts. Mercifully, there had been no rerun of the 2013 Confederations Cup build-up, when Nigeria threatened to boycott the tournament after a row over bonuses.
It didn’t last.
Ahead of their last 16 match with France, the Super Eagles were again involved in a bonus row. The players boycotted their Thursday training, prompting Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, to personally guarantee that the players would receive the monies due.
It is important to clarify a few important things before passing judgement on the incidents that have affected African teams this summer.
First of all, this is nothing new. Teams have faced issues of bonuses and of payment in the past, but largely, certainly in the case of Ghana, they have been kept in-house and not exploded in such a public fashion.
One exception, of course, was Togo, ahead of the 2006 World Cup. On the eve of the Sparrow Hawks’ first-ever appearance at the high table, the national team refused to play unless they received considerable bonuses.
Rock Gnassingbe, the president of the Togolese FA, revealed that the players demanded £100,000 to compete in the tournament. "These amounts are too high for the country's financial standing,” revealed Gnassingbe, as reported by the BBC.
Eventually, the West Africans did compete, but disagreements flared once again after the tournament as the federation, responding to the team’s winless, pointless performance refused to meet the players’ demands.
Animosity between the team and the federation has lingered ever since.
Secondly, match-fixing is not a purely African problem. It is an issue that wraps its insidious tentacles across the world and manifests as far afield as Australia, and in major footballing heartlands such as England and Italy.
Finally, before trotting out the “greedy African players” line that many might turn to, it is important to acknowledge the context, the corruption, the history of logistical complications and the political influences that riddle so many of the continent’s football associations.
Largely, these considerations have meant that fans have sided with the players, or at least had sympathy with their dissatisfactions.
There will be little sympathy, however, should the “bad apples” in the Cameroonian camp be exposed for cheating and lining their pockets on the grandest stage of all.
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