Today: February 29, 2024

AFCON 2023: Why are player bonuses so contentious?

Gambia's football team took off for Ivory Coast ahead of AFCON after boycotting their last training session over a qualification bonus disputeImage: Gambia Football Federation/AP Photo/picture alliance

African footballers at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament play for prestige but also for financial reward. Players use tournaments as bargaining chips to secure bonuses that often spark controversies.

When international footballers wear the colors of their nations to represent them at continental or global tournaments, they are usually driven by pride and honor — but players’ desire to succeed runs a lot deeper in Africa

Football tournaments, such as the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), provide opportunities for players to reap the rewards of the hard work they put in to reach the top of their game. 

Financial rewards in the form of bonuses paid to football players are considered compensation for past struggles and private investments made into players’ futures, some analysts have told DW.

However, the payment of bonuses has become a thorny issue in Africa.

“Bonuses to footballers on the African continent are a big deal because most of the African countries… do not develop the footballers and do not give them opportunities to [reach their potential],” Philip Otuo, an African sports analyst, told DW.

“The footballers have to go through difficult times to get to the top, so when they get to the top and they are representing the country at a competition, they think that the country must pay them before they partake.”

Bonuses are often paid to players for qualifying and competing at tournaments, but not without reports of rows over the player payments in some participating countries.

The Africa Cup of Nations, the continent’s most prestigious football event, is no exception.

Qualification bonus disputes

Equatorial Guinea players this week reportedly had a row with the country’s government officials over bonuses, demanding increased compensation for qualifying for AFCON.

The players sought a qualification bonus of €16,000 ($17,574) per player, plus an additional €6,000 per match — irrespective of the outcome. They had initially requested €3,000 per match before making the latest demand.

Gambian football players had threatened to boycott AFCON because of unpaid bonuses. They even boycotted their final training session before leaving for Ivory Coast, the AFCON host nation.

“If something is promised to you, I think you are entitled to receive it not to bring confusion,” Omar Colley, the captain of the Gambian national team, told DW. 

“So, I’d like to clear everything out, the thing is that we had an agreement with the GFF that this qualifying bonus will be paid.”

Presidential intervention

But the President of Gambia Football Federation, Lamin Kabba Bajo, told DW that the team made series of demands and after an agreement was reached, they made a U-turn. 

“Within that demand is a qualification bonus of €15,000 per player when we qualify to AFCON 2023 and that’s the least they could have, because the request was far ahead, it was about €25,000,” Bajo said.

“They had their consultations, came back and forth. And then all of a sudden, I was called into a meeting and the ultimatum was, they we are not going to train, and we are not going to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, if this amount is not paid.”

It took the intervention of Gambian President Adama Barrow to resolve the impasse between the players and the federation.

“I told him [President Barrow] to give us diplomatic passports, not to take money from his own pocket because we are going to represent the country and this is an important tournament for everyone,” Colley revealed about the conversation between the president and the players.

Gambia are scheduled to play their first match on Monday against neighbouring Senegal, the reigning AFCON champions.

Can the demand for bonuses be justified?

Otuo said such spectacles and drama over bonuses would linger on for years until countries in Africa invest well to develop and support footballers.

“The footballers have to pay their way through agents and go through difficult times before they even get to the top… that is why on the African continent, most of the countries [deal with] footballers demanding money before they play,” he said.

Otuo also said sometimes the rows are justified because often football authorities and governments fail to honor promises made to players in previous tournaments.

“There have been precedents where they have been told, ‘Don’t worry, after the tournament, you would be [cared] for’ and it doesn’t come after the tournament,” Otuo said. “So they always demand the money before they get onto the field to play.”

Nigeria this time around didn’t want player bonuses to overshadow the team’s participation so the country’s president, Bola Tinubu, released funds for payment of all outstanding bonuses due the players, coaches and other staff.

Public disclosure over bonuses

Nigeria has made public what their players would be due as bonuses.

Each member of the Super Eagles will receive $35,000 as bonuses should the Nigerian team win the title.

They will also pocket a bonus of $5,000 for every match won at AFCON. The bonus would be halved for every draw.  

The Mozambique Football Federation (FMF) has also set out details of the bonuses the players are due as qualification bonus for the African Cup of Nations.

Each player will receive $2,000 — plus an extra $6,000 if they progress to the knockout stage of AFCON.

Zambia offered the players $5,000 as bonuses for qualifying for AFCON 2023.

Ghana drew global attention at the FIFA 2014 World Cup when players in its national football team, the Black Stars, refused to train ahead of a group match against Portugal due to a row over appearance fees.

The West African nation hasn’t made public details about how much each player will receive at AFCON to avoid a possible public backlash.

More prize funds in AFCON’s coffers

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has announced a 40% increase in the prize money for the winners of the 2023 AFCON.

The winners are due to receive $7 million, with the runners-up getting $4 million. Each of the two semifinalists are to receive $2.5 million and the four quarterfinalists take $1.3 million each.

“I am convinced that part of the prize money will contribute to the development of soccer and will also benefit all soccer stakeholders, while helping our member associations with their administrative tasks,” Patrice Motsepe, president of CAF said.

South Africa has said it doesn’t want this latest announcement by CAF to become a point of distractions.

The South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan told reporters that Bafana Bafana, the national team, will receive the full prize money of $7 million if they win AFCON — but will get nothing if they fall short.

“We have to get the team to focus. We have to clear everything — and if they win, they get $7 million, and if they lose, they get nothing. We want the team to focus and to perform,” Jordaan said, according to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

Otuo said footballers also have bills to pay, and until countries in Africa invest in their players, rows over bonuses will continue tournament after tournament.

“I think CAF must come and help address all these issues so that monies would be channeled to the right places for the development of the footballers so that they don’t boycott competitions in the future,” he said.

Sankulleh Janko in Gambia and Glogy Mushinge in Zambia contributed to this article.

Edited by: Keith Walker