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Football in Togo & Benin

March 7th, 2011 - Author: admin

As part of our ongoing research into the state of club football in Africa, Sandlanders recently travelled to Togo and Benin, two West African countries with a troubled recent football history. We would love to expand our network to francophone Africa and crossed the border from Ghana in early February hoping to find clubs surviving despite recent problems which have seen both countries threatened with suspension by FIFA.

Click here for photos.

Togo

2010 was an annus horribilis for Togo which began so tragically in Angola where a bus carrying the national side through the disputed province of Cabinda during the African Cup of Nations was attacked. Three lives were lost; the team pulled out of the tournament and was subsequently banned for two years by CAF for the withdrawal (an incredibly insensitive decision which was thankfully later reversed). Clearly disturbed by the incident and after long running issues with the local FA, star player Emmanuel Adebayor retired and before the year was out there was still time for a ‘fake’ national side to lose 3-0 in Bahrain and for the country to be threatened with expulsion by FIFA after Togo’s President tried to install his brother as head of the local FA.

Togo’s FA woes have caused the local league programme to be abandoned and we arrived in the capital Lomѐ intrigued to find out how football was coping in the absence of a formal league structure. Local leagues stop all too frequently in Africa (Togo’s has been dormant for over a year now) and when the leagues shut down the clubs are the biggest losers as they miss the revenue that can be raised from playing in games and frustrated players move elsewhere looking for regular football.

We first made our way to the local FA housed in a modern – FIFA Goal funded – building within shouting distance of the national stadium to arrange a meeting with the Vice President of the Federation. After finishing with the FA we headed straight for a series of playing fields next to the national stadium. The fields were packed with teams with around 6 different games going on at once. We were watching informally organized ‘academy’ leagues where Togolese and Nigerian coaches put players from Togo, Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere through their places. We were told that one academy had sent 60 players to Europe already but such claims are impossible to verify and it is well known that Africa’s academies vary greatly in quality from the admirable to the exploitative. If there is no formal league structure in place it is understandable that other groups will move in to try to fill the void in the programme. Players still want to play and it seems the ‘academies’ are providing that outlet at the moment.  

Our meeting with Mr. Tino Edoѐ Messan Adjete, the Vice President of the Togolese FA (who has particular responsibility for marketing the local league) offered insight into how the league trying to get back on its feet. The VP was off to Paris that evening on his way to a series of meetings looking for sponsorship for the local league. Seeking sponsorship for African leagues is still no easy task and it is difficult to turn up to a meeting on behalf of the Togolese FA and ask for money to run your local league when the league itself has stopped because the Federation is in dispute with FIFA. The VP was engaging however and clearly had good ideas as to what the local leagues needed to grow. The difficulty will always come through implementation. Sponsorship is often linked to governance as corporates need to be convinced they can trust the groups they are providing money to and sadly this has often been diffiult to establish in the African game. Mr. Adjete was confident that the league will resume again soon and we wish him well in his search for sponsorship. Every country needs a formal league structure with at least some degree of regulation and in its absence unchecked academies and other informal structures will take its place. The clubs (such as reigning champions Maranatha Fiokpo) are still there but training and playing friendly matches is not enough and the longer they lie dormant the more difficult it will become for them to hold onto players who will drift off elsewhere.

Benin

In common with its neighbour, Benin’s FA has clashed regularly with FIFA in recent months. While we were in the country a rival faction within the Benin Football Federation (BFF) elected a new President, an appointment which FIFA has subsequently refuse to recognize and they seem constantly on the verge of expulsion from football’s governing body. What is different here is that the troubles have not stopped the local league which we found to be thriving.  

To understand the local scene we met with Francois Mensah (Benin’s leading sports journalist), in the shadow of the national stadium in the capital Cotonou. In spite of the FA’s problems we were told that the Premier League is still functioning well and that a local businessman had recently donated $20,000 to not just one but eight different Premier League sides in an effort to stimulate the game. It is this level of private (and in some cases corporate support) that is helping the game to stay strong in Benin at the moment. There is a fluid movement of local players throughout West Africa and we are told that Benin is currently a favoured destination for a growing number of those players. Pay and conditions are reportedly better than those in other parts of the region including supposedly more established footballing nations such as Ghana. Pay and conditions of course relates to money and it seems that for whatever reason local people are supporting the local game more in Benin.

In both Togo and Benin we found that irrespective of the bad news and power struggles football life was continuing and there was optimism for the future. In Benin it was impressive to see a healthy league supported by individuals and companies, money was coming into the game. In Togo a local league is desperately needed and after a tough year getting the requisite corporate support will be harder than ever. People are trying however and as long as love for the game endures there will be individuals who keep fighting to make things better. We look forward to working in both countries soon and remain on the look-out for eligible partner clubs.

Stop Press

 

Since our return Mr. Adjete’s search for sponsorship goes on and Togo national team Coach Thierry Froger last week resigned from his position to take over as coach of French second division side Nimes.

 

In Benin, Tonnerre d Abomey lead the ongoing Championnat National after 16 games and the rival FA factions show no signs of settling their dispute.

 

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