South Africans were justifiably angry and upset last week — national broadcaster SABC failed to secure the rights for the match between Bafana Bafana and Niger in Niamey. Had it been cricket or rugby, some argued, the match would have been broadcast, even if it had been at an ungodly hour of the morning.
But, the truth be told, their abuse was aimed at the wrong target. Consider, the situation was much the same in Nigeria where supporters of the Super Eagles wanted to see their team in action against Madagascar in Antananarivo but the Nigerian Broadcasting Authority failed to secure the rights. And a month ago Zambians found themselves in a similar situation — the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation couldn’t beam live coverage of Chipolopolo’s match against Mozambique in Maputo.
But there is very little football supporters can do, as their own federations have awarded the broadcasting rights to the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
A former employee of the South African Football Association (Safa), whether under duress or not, signed over the organisation’s rights to the CAF despite the fact that it waived Safa’s right to negotiate deals with television stations and generate much-needed funds to run their affairs.
The CAF, in turn, awarded the rights to a French-based marketing company, Sportfive, which does not seem to care whether African supporters are deprived of the opportunity to watch their national teams in action. Its demands are simple — pay up or face a blackout.
There is another twist to the whole sorry saga. The vice-president of Sportfive is Ibrahim Hayatou, the son of Issa Hayatou, the president of the CAF. Even if young Hayatou was employed by Sportfive on merit, the deal smacks of nepotism.
The entire CAF executive committee took the decision to award Sportfive the broadcasting rights to all their events until 2016, which raises another question: Why was a foreign marketing company chosen and not an African one?
It also raises the question of prize money in CAF competitions. For instance, Barcelona and Manchester United received a combined figure of €100-million as prize money in last year’s Uefa Champions League. The money accrued from the sale of broadcasting rights.
If you compare that figure with the $1.5-million that has been awarded annually to the African Champions League winners for the past eight years, it boggles the mind. How has awarding the broadcasting rights to a foreign company benefited African football, particularly if the prize money from the sale of the rights is so pitiful?