Covid-19 has forced African footballers to become shoemakers or electricians

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Joël Ndzana at his shoemaking workshop, in Yaoundé, in September 2020.

Street shoemaker, installed at a crossroads in Yaoundé. Under a parasol that he offered himself with the help of the federation, he nailed, glued and remade the soles… Ex-champion of Cameroon 2015 with the Cotonsport Garoua club, Joël Ndzana had no other choice that this reconversion. Since the end of competitions in March, the defender no longer received his 180 euros monthly salary. He then bought shoemaking equipment with the 90 euros in support he received from his federation in May. ” When I was a teenager, one of my uncles repaired leather bags and taught me how to sew. There, I put my pride aside and settled in a roundabout, to repair shoes. I have two children, an unemployed wife and no more income. ”

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Sometimes his twelve hours a day did not bring him more than 2 euros. Just enough to cook braised fish, next to its open-air shoe repair shop. “SI had to do it again, I would not hesitate », Explains Joël Ndzana. After these five difficult months, the footballer was able to return the key to his small rental in the heart of the Nsimeyong Olympique district, in Yaoundé, to find his Panthères du Ndé club (Ligue 1) and resume the season. He was even called up by the local national team, for the African Nations Championship that Cameroon will organize in January and February 2021.

Like him, “Between 3,000 and 5,000 have requested the International Federation of Professional Footballers Associations (FIFPRO) via players’ unions in Africa since March ”, observes Stéphane Burkhalter, his deputy secretary general. Legal or financial aid after having been the victim of an abusive termination of their contract or the non-payment of their wages, their requests differ but show the distress of an entire profession.

“Eating is my main concern”

Local unions have also taken initiatives as in Morocco, where the body paid more than thirty players the equivalent of a month’s salary. In Gabon, solidarity shops have been created to distribute basic necessities to those who need them most. The Cameroonian players’ union distributed food, and that of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) provided medical care for footballers and their families.

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Despite these rescue initiatives, the lives of the players have been turned upside down. In Gabon, FC 105 Libreville captain Kevin Bibang, 30, married with three children, has not been paid a salary since March. He moved to less expensive accommodation. He too has resumed a modest activity, returning to his first profession. He had trained as an electrician before becoming a professional footballer and returned to the construction sites.. “It’s important to have an activity. Working makes me feel good, explains Kevin Bibang. We don’t know when the season will resume. So I maintain myself physically, even if this situation is depressing and if we feel despised by those who run our football. “

The effects of the health crisis are even more brutal for players who play in an African country other than their own. International goalkeeper from neighboring DRC, Benjamin Pembelo, 26, is only starting to get his head out of the water thanks to the 270 euros per month contract he has just signed with AC Rangers (Ligue 1), a team from Kinshasa. For almost a year, since his departure from the prestigious DC Motema Pembe, Benjamin Pembelo had not played, contenting himself to participate in training with other unemployed players: “ In my old club, I had only received four months of salary at 950 euros per month over a season and the last payment dates back to May 2019.

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In order not to sleep outside, the player was hosted by a compatriot. ” My main concern was to eat. Often, I only ate two meals a day: rice, donuts, bread, vegetables … “But the young man has always refused to seek help from his family, believing that it was up to him to” to get by “.

Broken trust

If players in sub-Saharan Africa have been the most affected by the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, those in the Maghreb have not been spared either, believes Mohamed Harouane, secretary general of the Moroccan Footballers Union. professionals (UMFP).

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Used to receiving 500 euros a month and providing for his parents’ needs, Ali Fanidi, 28, the midfielder of WST Temara (Ligue 2), was deprived of income for five months. “I approached the union, which paid me the equivalent of a month’s salary and I was able to count on the help of a few friends », Explains the player, forced to contract debts until, at the end of confinement, his club pays him 1,000 euros which allowed him to repay the borrowed money.

Joël Ndzana resumed the season with his football club in October 2020, after six months of struggle.  He was even called up by the national selection for the African Nations Championship that Cameroon will organize in January and February 2021.

But for this player as surely for others, the damage is deeper than a temporary shortfall. It was all the trust that linked Ali Fanidi to his leaders that was broken. ” I felt abandoned and, psychologically, I went through difficult times. Today, I no longer have a club, little money in front of me and the galley continues ”, sums up the young man. Before concluding, sportsmanship requires: “At least that experience hardened me.


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