While a tiny handful of players, families and academies will hit the jackpot, the reality for most is domestic ufabet football or a return to the insecurity and poverty of the informal economy. Sometimes it must be hard to tell the difference. The working conditions of most African football players are perilous.
In 2016, 40 per cent were playing without a written contract of any kind, a figure that rose to over 60 per cent in Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon and almost 90 per cent in Congo. Rates of pay outside of South Africa’s premier league and a few well-resourced clubs are meagre. More than half of all players in Africa are consistently paid late.
In Ghana, 100 per cent of players reported that they were paid less than $1,000 a month, if they were paid at all. Paid holidays, insurance and medical care are very thin on the ground; so too is camaraderie. Ghanaian players reported a rate of attacks, verbal and physical, ยูฟ่าเบท by club seniors ten times the global average.
More African players (7.6 per cent) are forced to train alone as punishment than anywhere else. If they survive their team mates and coaches, there is the public and the crowd to contend with. While hardly wealthy by comparison to their own elites, local footballers are visible, liquid and vulnerable.
In 2014, the funeral of Senzo Meyiwa, goalkeeper for Orlando Pirates and South Africa, was held in Soccer City and attended by tens of thousands of fans, who mourned his passing and protested the epidemic of homicide and armed robberies in the country. Meyiwa had been shot dead in the course of a burglary of his apartment. Nigerian footballers seem at particular risk when travelling. On the first day of the same season, five Kano Pillars players were wounded by gunfire during an attack on the team bus travelling to Owerri.
In 2016, Enyimba’s bus was stopped by armed robbers in Kogi. The following season, lower-league Osun United had the misfortune to break down on their return from a game in Calabar, only to have the team bus stormed by an armed gang, who left machete cuts on most of the squad before departing with wallets, money and phones.
The stadium itself offers little respite. One in four Congolese players has been attacked by fans on the pitch during their career. On the same weekend in Nigeria in April 2017, Kano Pillars fans attacked the players of Akwa United who had just beaten them 1-0, forcing them under police protection to barricade their dressing room, and Enyimba’s players were pelted with stones and physically assaulted in Katsina by a crowd enraged by the away team’s goalkeeper, who had, they thought, roughly handled a ball boy.
Match officials are perhaps even more vulnerable than players. Ghana’s lower leagues seem particularly hazardous. Referee Kwame Kyei Andoh died from the beatings he received from fans of Dolphin Gold Stars, who objected to an offside call in their game against Najoo Royals. Repeated volleys of police gunshots above the crowd were required to save the beleaguered officials in a game between Tamale Utrecht and Berlin FC.
Fans of SC Villa of Kampala, Uganda’s biggest club, have repeatedly stoned match officials and journalists.