In Gabon, the galley of private championship footballers

Normally, on Saturday, Alex Pambo should have practiced his profession as a professional footballer. But the striker of Lozo Sport, a club based in the town of Lastourville, in central Gabon, will once again have to pass his turn. In this small country in Central Africa, no one has walked the lawns of stadiums since the spring of 2020 and the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. An interruption that does not end when the championships have resumed in all the other African countries.

If he has the courage, 21-year-old Alex Pambo may go for a run in order to keep some semblance of form, before resuming, on Monday, his new job as a glazier. ” I was earning around 200 euros per month, but the clubs no longer pay the salaries. So I started training as a glazier. As I am only an apprentice, it earns me 100 or 150 euros, sometimes less. While waiting for the championship to resume, we have to live well …

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Like hundreds of Gabonese footballers, Pambo found himself deprived of a livelihood overnight. And plunged into a severe depression. ” Before, even if we struggled to get our salaries, at least we played. I am going through very difficult times. Yes, I am dejected. Sometimes I can’t get up in the morning to go for a jog. What for, anyway? We don’t know when we’re going to play again. And when, like me, we only eat once or twice a day, the physical efforts are difficult to bear, continues the international under 20. Why does the state refuse that we replay?

Look for another job

Franck Nguema, the sports minister, first puts forward health arguments. A ministerial decree in early November 2020 suspended the practice of team sports to prevent the spread of the virus. The repeal of this text, he explains, depends on the situation on the front of the epidemic which has officially killed 136 people since its start but has experienced a resurgence from January. ” We have observed a decline in recent days, but we must observe whether it is confirmed, to consider a gradual lifting of restrictive measures. », He indicates.

The National Association of Professional Footballers of Gabon (ANFPG), chaired by former international Rémy Ebanega, raises a question, however. ” Why not at least have tried to resume the championship with a strict sanitary protocol, as elsewhere in Africa? The selection played in March against the Democratic Republic of Congo in Franceville [est du Gabon] in qualifying for the CAN [Coupe d’Afrique des nations] 2021, and there was no problem.

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The union therefore advises players to seek, at least temporarily, another job. “Many are in an alarming financial and mental situation because they have families and responsibilities. Some are threatened with eviction by their donors », Continues Ebanega. The ANFPG distributes food kits and basic necessities, where it pays when it can the rent of a player about to end up on the street.

“For the elderly, early retirement”

The president of the Gabonese Football Federation (Fegafoot), Pierre-Alain Mounguengui, is considering a resumption of the championship ” in September or October “ only. This status quo is however not motivated only by health arguments but also financial ones. Because in Gabon, the State pays an annual subsidy to the clubs, in order to allow them to assume the major part of their expenses. With the interruption of the championship, this funding is suspended, allowing the country to make some welcome savings in these times of scarcity.

For its part, the government accuses clubs of misusing funds already disbursed, to the detriment of footballers at the end of the chain. ” Since 2012, the State has injected 54 million euros. Our concern relates to the management of this sum by the beneficiaries, emphasizes Franck Nguema. Arrangements will soon be made for athletes to live their profession with dignity, as part of a football reform.

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Is Gabon preparing a sacrificed generation of players? ” Yes it is, says Alex Pambo. You can’t make up a year and a half without playing. For older people, it is early retirement. For the youngest, it is a loss of chances to go abroad, since without competition, we cannot show ourselves. “Franck Nguema says he is convinced that” the sporting and social situation of athletes will improve very soon “And asks footballers to” to keep hope “.

In the meantime, the latter demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the Fegafoot Thursday, April 22. Their claim? That part of FIFA’s Covid grant – this € 1.2 billion aid plan made available to the football community in June 2020 – be used to pay their several-year-old salary arrears. years, and not to finance the opening of a shop intended to sell derivative products …