The elation of winning the Africa Cup of Nations, being at the top of the continental football summit, is what matters for the ordinary fan; National team triumph, and the accompanying two-year bragging rights, mean everything to them.
But as football federation officials from Nigeria, the newly crowned champions – or the 28 previous winners of the trophy – will bluntly tell you, that is all a nation gets.
The hard, unvarnished truth is that the winner’s cheque – which does not come immediately, mind you – does not come close to covering qualification expenses for reaching the tournament, let alone putting participating national federations in the black.
When, in early 2011, I bumped into Suketu Patel, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) vice-president and the chairman of its finance committee, in Khartoum, Sudan, I sought an answer to a nagging riddle that remained a mystery, to even experienced followers of the African game: How much do the winners of the tournament get?
“The winner earns $1.5 million,” Patel told me, and not very happily I must say, when I took him to task over the paltry sum of $100,000 that previous winners of the tournament had been earning, before the 2006 edition in Egypt.
And let’s not get started on what other teams in the finals earn. That would be walking where angels fear to tread.
While the current sum, for the winner, is a fifteen-fold improvement on the previous figure, the Cup of Nations remains a huge drain on the financial resources of national federations.
In reality, all of CAF’s competitions, including the Champions League and the Confederation Cup, pauperise the countries and clubs actively participating in them.
“For our participation in the Champions League (in 2012), I had a budget of $7 million,” Moise Katumbi Chapwe, president of TP Mazembe, the 2010 champions and finalist in the subsequent FIFA Club World Cup, told me.
The winning prize for Africa’s top club competition? A paltry $2 million.
Kenyan club Mathare United is acutely aware of the financial Armageddon that participation in continental competitions can precipitate.
“The first time Mathare United played in a CAF competition (the 1999 Mandela Cup), the first round took half of our total annual budget,” said club president Bob Munro.
“Our team beat Bata Bullets (Malawi) and qualified for the second round, which then ate all the rest of our annual budget.
“It was perversely fortunate we lost that round to AS Dragons (of DR Congo). By then, it was still only April, but the team had already spent its annual budget, so we really struggled for the rest of the year… In CAF national and club competitions, the more you win, the more you lose,” he said.
To qualify for the Cup of Nations, especially if a country has a large group of Europe-based players, as Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire normally do, qualification expenditure of US$5 million is not uncommon.
This makes the sums pretty simple – Qualification costs: $5m. Winning the Africa Cup of Nations (if you’re damn lucky): $1.5 million. Net loss: $3.5 million.
“There is no doubt about it, the money that is earned for winning the Cup of Nations is just not good enough and we have to do something about it,” says Kalusha Bwalya, president of the Football Association of Zambia, winners of the tournament in 2012.
“We must get better value for our properties… One of the ways to do that is to ensure that as soon as our current contracts run out, we use competitive bidding to get the best possible deals.”
As a member of CAF’s inner sanctum, the executive committee, Bwalya is in a position to advocate for the needed change in business attitudes.
The big question, that CAF’s mandarins are yet to satisfactorily answer, however, is why has this international best practice been conspicuously absent from its modus operandi?
That, my dear friends, is the $64,000 question, which I’ll answer on another bright sunny day…
Osasu Obayiuwana, the Associate Editor of NewAfrican Magazine and a reporter for the BBC World Service’s “World Football” programme, is an authority on African football. He also has his features and commentary site at footballisafrica.com. Follow Osasu on Twitter @osasuo or email email@example.com.