African sport hit hard

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A supporter records with his phone one of the last authorized football matches in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 5, 2020.
A supporter records with his phone one of the last authorized football matches in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 5, 2020. Afolabi Sotunde / REUTERS

The list of measures taken in Africa to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic is probably far from over. Among the most spectacular, there is that decided by the African Football Confederation (CAF) to postpone the African Championship of Nations (CHAN), scheduled for Cameroon in April, as well as the matches of the third and fourth qualifying days for the African Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021, scheduled between March 25 and 31.

The body also adjourned all the qualifying matches for the Women's World Cup for under-20s, for the Women's CAN and for the Women's World Cup for Under-20s, which were to take place respectively from March 20 to 29 and April 8-14.

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Several federations have also decided to suspend their professional football championships for several weeks (Algeria, DRC, Libya, Morocco, South Africa, Ghana, Gabon, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Botswana, Rwanda, Tunisia , Kenya, Equatorial Guinea). In most of these countries, other sporting activities have been discontinued. And these essential measures to fight the spread of the Covid-19 force the clubs to adapt, without really knowing when the competitions will resume.

Financial consequences

In Algeria, where the last day was disputed behind closed doors, Taoufik Kourouachi, the general manager of Chabab Riadhi de Belouizdad, leader of the championship, is considering all the hypotheses. "Including that of a final stop of the season. We will comply with state directives. In the meantime, we are adapting. The first priority is the health of the players. So we suspended training until further notice. The players must respect a personalized athletic work to maintain themselves. The suspension was declared until April 5, but it seems unlikely that we will replay on that date, " he explains.

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The Algerian club will also have to suffer the financial consequences of this health crisis, even if its main shareholder, Madar Holding (tobacco industries and factories), guarantees it a certain financial comfort. "If the championship resumes behind closed doors, we will lose money. Tickets are sold for 3 euros. We don't lose a lot, but what we fear, in the event of a permanent end to the season, is that our sponsors will give less money ", continues Mr. Kourouachi. All clubs will have to respect the contracts of players and technical staff, but the crisis, if it were to stretch over time, could prompt them to seek state aid.

In Morocco, professional clubs are also affected by the suspension of competitions. Fath Union Sport of Rabat has taken various measures, as explained by Hamza El Hajoui, its president: "The training is obviously suspended, the players must do daily exercises, monitor their diet, but over several weeks, it will be difficult to manage. And we were forced to close our training center, which has around seventy young people. "

A health necessity

The suspension of the Moroccan championship will obviously have more impact on the clubs which are used to playing in front of a massive public, like the Raja of Casablanca or the Wydad Athletic Club also of Casablanca, capable of attracting 35,000 and 40,000 spectators. on average. “For them, the shortfall in box office receipts will necessarily be higher than for those who play in front of fewer people. But it is obvious that if the situation persists and the crisis jeopardizes the financial health of the clubs, it is conceivable that we ask for State aid ", admits Hamza El Hajoui.

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In the sub-Saharan part of the continent, stopping sports competitions, experienced as a health necessity, will also have sporting and economic repercussions, as confirmed by Youssou Dial, vice-president of Diaraf de Dakar, the most successful club in Senegal ( twelve times champion). "The economic context of Senegalese football is not comparable to that of Europe. There is very little sponsorship. To this day, our main partner, NSIA Banque, continues to support us. Our monthly payroll, for players and technical staff, and 20,000 euros, our budget is 300,000 euros per season. If the suspension of the championship lasts several weeks, we will lose money and we will probably have to ask for state aid. ", he warns.

An almost generalized stop

The capital of Senegal, deprived of football, like the other cities of the country, also learned the postponement of the Basket African League. Dakar was to host, like Lagos, Luanda, Monastir, Salé and Cairo, matches in this competition bringing together twelve clubs, with the final round scheduled for Kigali. "This is not a cancellation, but a postponement, at a date to be defined. Economically, it is not penalizing, just offbeat. The Dakar Arena (inaugurated in 2018 and which can hold up to 15,000 spectators), who had been chosen for the opening match on March 13, was in theory to fill up ", explains a relative of the case.

For the moment, no new date has been set for the tournament. "When it's only postponed, it's not too much of a problem. Sport generates revenue (transport, ticket office, hotel rooms, catering, derivative products). It is when the events are definitively canceled that the financial cost is high ", specifies Hamza El Hajoui.

This almost general cessation of sports activities also changes the habits of those affected. JS Kabylie striker Rezki Hamroune did not expect Algerian football officials to play the final day behind closed doors before the health-related suspension imposed. "Like other players, I didn't really want to play. On the ground, in a locker room, there are contacts, and the virus can be transmitted. I think of the health of people, of my loved ones. Fortunately, the championship was stopped. In Algeria, people go out much less, while the government has only given recommendations. Personally, I leave home as little as possible. It's not easy, because I live in an apartment, but I will take all the precautions, explains the player, who wonders how he will spend his days. As we no longer train, we will have to settle for an individual interview, the days will be long, because we footballers spend a lot of time preparing, playing, traveling and recovering. For several weeks, our lives will change. I'm going to read, watch TV, rest. The bottom line is that we can overcome this epidemic … "


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