Are African soccer teams worth money invested?

Image: 123RF/ alphaspirit

Each World Cup year, African football teams arrive with renewed hopes of making remarkable progress and breaking the vice grip that Europe and South America have had on this quadrennial tournament for nearly 100 years. Each time, that hope invariably implodes.

That surely has to leave African teams with some critical questions.

The biggest is whether African teams at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia - Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal - were getting the best bang for the bucks they invest in their teams and coaches attending the competition. Some football fans may see football as recreational, while some politicians use it as a tool for national building. But, football is, without question, a business: the players are professionals, the coaches are paid a king's ransom, and governments and umbrella body, Fifa, dole out huge sums to support federations and their teams.

Taking part in the World Cup involves spending money as well as earning money. Teams spend millions of dollars preparing for the month-long tournament. The funds go to paying coaches, many of whom are the highest-paid professionals in the countries they serve. For example, a top government official in Egypt earns an estimated annual salary of $28294 (R390000) while Egypt's current football manager Hector Cuper gets a reported $1.7-million (R23.4-million) annually. Egypt didn't make it past the group stage in Russia.

Players also earn well while they're camped in five-star hotels, and their programme is supported by huge budgets.

In the case of Nigeria, the annual budget is $16.2-million. This is not a candy budget by any means.

On top of this, Fifa pays countries that qualify handsomely. And the longer they stay in the tournament, the more they get.

But is this money being managed wisely? Are the funds being invested in African teams worth it? And are there wiser ways to manage the loot that comes from the game?

There is seriously good money in the World Cup - and we're not even talking rights and sponsorships.

Fifa pays each team at the World Cup $9.5-million, which is $8-million for taking part in the group stage and $1.5-million for tournament costs.

Fifa distributes the funds based on how far each of the 32 teams is able to go in the tournament. Thus, by going further a team returns with more money. Just by progressing to the last-16 brings in an additional $4-million from Fifa.

Getting into the quarterfinals brings a further $4-million to each team, the third placed team gets $24-million while the fourth team receives $22- million.

The winner of the 2018 World Cup final will get $38-million, with the runners-up paid $28-million.

On top of this, teams can land lucrative sponsorships.

One of the ways in which teams can make better use of the money that gets invested in national teams is by spending less. An easy way to cut costs would be for countries to hire local managers and coaches since they cost less than expatriates.

But there's also a case to be made in investing big, particularly if a country decides that it wants to make it past the first round of the tournament.

Governments and football associations should go back to their spreadsheets and do some serious recalculating in preparation for the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

The recent spate of early exits might just signal that the best time to re-evaluate the investment model is now.

*Onwumechili is professor of communications at Howard University. This article was published in The Conversation.

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