Congolese Football Over The Past Decade  Current Situation and Prospects

3,650 days, 520 months and 10 years later, the pseudo hope was nothing but a pipe dream for football in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This December 31, 2019 signals the end of a decade that has shaken the world of football and far beyond in DRC. Above all, it is the beginning of mourning for the Congolese sporting family who had clung beyond any reason to the idea of seeing Congolese football raise its bar par year after year.

Wasted effort! The resonance of this death knell is the result of dilettante behaviour displayed by decision-makers both upstream and downstream. It is time to report back to the people on their No 1sport by means of skills and achievements assessments, failing which the little confidence that the Congolese still display would unravel like a filament difficult to look at, and around which a thin thread, hardly visible, would be let in a spiral, which would pulsate painfully. It is the triumph of a pending universality principle of a ras-le-bol (Fed Up) which ends with “I love you, Me no More” expressed by the chauvinistic supporters and football lovers; people gathered in a jury, and who hold deliberating powers and decisions for proclamation.

The 2019-2020 League Season in Democratic Republic of Congo, is the twenty-fifth edition and the third under the name “Vodacom Ligue 1”, the National Football League (LINAFOOT). The competition brings together the best teams in the country. An underfunded and unattended national league, just like the appalling showing by African teams at the 2018 FIFA World Cup; RD Congolese football is failing to reach its vast potential. FECOFA (Federation Congolaise de Football Assosication-DRC FA) has the possibility of improving its administration system so that it adapts to new applicable trends and become largely harmonious, with allowances and other monthly indemnities allocated to LINAFOOT clubs, and with no logistical stumbling blocks which hamper its endeavours to ensure sustained marketable branding of its competitions.

During the past decade, DRC failed to qualify for the Russian FIFA World Cup at the Stade des Martyres. The approximate calculations in the game system both in Tunis (01/09/2017) and Kinshasa (05/09/2017), the unsuitability, non-freshness and inapplicability of Congolese internationals were among the thorns that will still twist in the flesh of millions of Congolese. It would have taken little to rediscover the joys of 1974, 44 years after Zaire – Scotland at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund (0-2) on Friday June 14, 1974; Yugoslavia – Zaire (9-0) at the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday June 18, 1974 and Brazil – Zaire (3-0) in the same stadium on Saturday June 22, 1974.

At club level, the decade has brought  a farfetched joy, namely the three (3) victories by TP Mazembe in the CAF Champions League (2009, 2010, 2015); CAF Confederation Cup (2016, 2017), CAF Super Cup (2010, 2011, 2016) and the FIFA Club World Cup (Finalist in 2010). Another club, AS V Club won the silver medal twice in the finals which they lost in the CAF Champions League in 2014 and the CAF Confederation Cup in 2017.

Overall, TP Mazembe wins the bet; with 8 victories in the finals of various CAF club competitions. These masterpieces bear, beside President Moise – DTS, the print of heroes in the shadows under the magnanimity of Mr Fréderic Kitengie whose management style weighed in the designation of Ravens as the Best African Club in 2015 during Glo CAF Awards. No other Congolese club has managed to tickle this behemoth of Congolese and African football, even in the most infinitesimal way possible. It’s mind-boggling to draw this negative observation given the number of talents that the DRC has in their unprocessed and raw form.

The arrival of Renaissance Football Club (it is worth mentioning as there is another club called Renaissance in Chad) marks another milestone of the past decade. The team emerged from Imana – DCMP infighting in 2014. It tasted the delights of an African club competition by bending their spines on their first try. Nyuki’s arrival in elite football ought to be mentioned; the team from the East of the country whose leaders braved many scarecrows and obstacles to qualify the team for Africa (winner of the DR Congo Cup) despite warring conditions which prevailed and which still prevail in the eastern part of the DRC. Notwithstanding the above, the president of the management committee of AS Nyuki in Butembo, Mumbere Salima, had served his resignation letter on Monday, July 29, 2019 to the president of the Butembo Urban Football Body with a copy for Fecofa . Mumbere Salima allegedly justified his departure because of an over controlling Congolese Association Football Federation (Fecofa) on the Congolese government grant envelope intended for AS Nyuki after they took part in the last CAF club competitions.

This ten-year period went through preposterous scenes; the violence that punctuated the TP Mazembe vs AS V Club (at Stade Kibassa Maliba on September 26, 2010) and Renaissance vs Sanga Balende (September 02, 2019) games deserve to be among the highlights of the decade. At the end of game no. 13 between FC Renaissance vs SM Sanga Balende, the Management Committee of the National Football League (LINAFOOT) took a decision against the Kinshasa club to be liable for a fine of 25,000 USD, losing both  the game as well as takings thereof. It should be noted that FC Renaissance was previously expelled from the league and relegated to the immediately lower Division in 2017 before obtaining Grace from the Congolese FA (FECOFA). However, the club was committed at the time to avoid any irreverent behaviour during their games; here they are now. It is difficult to teach an old monkey to do new tricks. By neutralizing each other with a 1-1 score, TP Mazembe and AS V. Club indulged in violence after the game. At the final whistle by referee Didier Mvibudulu, a group of supporters invaded the turf.

Elsewhere, in 2012, when the team from YUMBI village in the sector of Baleka in the district of Punia met up with the team from MUSAFIRI village in the sector of Obokote in the district of Lubutu, the erupting violence left 2 dead including the Commander of the Yumbi police sub-station in Punia district. In Kananga, Kasai Occidental, the same year two people died at the Katoka Youth stadium at the end of the game paring the local club of US Tshinkunku and SM Sanga Balende from Mbuji-Mayi as part of the LINAFOOT 7th week. In Kinshasa on May 11, 2014, the game played at the Tata Raphaël stadium, between  AS V. Club and TP Mazembe, for the last day of LINAFOOT, ends in bloodbath following riots: 15 people died. The government accused supporters of being partly liable for the trouble. Which supporters? Six (6) months later, on November 23, 2014 in Lubumbashi, during the game for 6th week of LINAFOOT between Lupopo and Sanga Balende (0-1), both teams supporters threw objects,  the police intervened using teargas. Two fans are killed.

Such erratic behaviour would give birth to oscillations which mobilize as enemies of progress and development. Hooliganism, corruption, unprofessionalism are gangrenes, and as long as they are not dealt with through legal and police instruments, they will go from bad to worse until slowing down the economic aspect of footbiz (football business). Thus DRC will still wade through the peat and the country will be handicapped, because of tinnitus which will prevent it from singling out the whistle of the improvement train.

In terms of Congolese prowess over the past decade, Trésor Mputu Mabi of TP Mazembe was unmatched in the continental football planet with a Ballon d’Or for players based in Africa in 2009. Five (5) years later, in 2014, his compatriot Firmin Mubele of  AS V Club was elected Best African Player on the continent, during the Glo CAF Awards in January 2015. Despite the ending decade, it is worth pointing out that with twenty (20) goals during the Champions League and 4th edition of the Confederation Cup 2007, the Congolese Trésor Mputu topped the goal scorers’ chart 2007, according to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (ISFFHS). Mputu Mabi will always drag one of the worst black spots in his record with the attack on a referee at the Kagame Cup in Rwanda in 2010, which had earned him thirteen (13) months suspension by FIFA.

As for the Leopards, a 3rd place at the 2015 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea and two victories as winners of CHANs of 2009 in Côte d’Ivoire and 2016 in Rwanda highlight their decennial pedigree. It should be remembered that DRC remains the only African team to have been on the medal podium as 3rd in the competition by winning only one game (victory against Congo-Brazzaville 4-2 in AFCON ¼  in 2015), after three draws during the round robin stage; draw against Zambia (1-1), against Cape Verde (0-0) and Tunisia (1-1). In the losers’ final,  DRC won the 4-2 on penalty shootout against the host country, Equatorial Guinea, after a stalemate (0-0) at the end of the regulation time, to rise to the pantheon of medalist teams.

On administration front, leaders have not flown their flags at half-mast, the decade has been a darling one for DRC. In 2018, FIFA appointed the new FIFA Development Director for Africa and the Caribbean, the Congolese Veron Mosengo-Omba, to oversee the crisis that has affected the governance of football in Ghana and elsewhere. On the continent, Mr Constant Omari Selemani was elevated to the position of 1st  vice-president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf), during the ordinary general assembly which was held on July 18 in Cairo (Egypt). President of Fecofa since 2003, Constant Omari was CAF 2nd vice-president after the vote on March 16, 2017 which had crowned Ahmad Ahmad, president of CAF, seeing off the Cameroonian Issa Hayatou in the final sprint.

In saving the best for last, the Golden Palm goes to Chairman Moise Katumbi Chapwe. FIFA, the governing body of world football, appointed in November 2019, the president of TP Mazembe, Moise Katumbi Chapwe (DTS – The Brand), vice-president of the WFCA (World Football Club Association which will host its first tournament for the FIFA Club World Cup in China in 2021.

With Constant, Veron, Moise-DTS, DRC has renowned ambassadors; the most influential people who play a leading role in decision-making within the bodies they represent in the world, and whose impact goes to earth ends and proclaim that the country has valiant sons and daughters, despite all the sores DRC is accused of by default. Their say weighs up a diamond that sells dearly as of Dr. Mukwege, the first Congolese Nobel Prize winner. It would be horrifying if the Congolese did not go through these men for lobbying the DRC in many ways.

Vodacom contract in its capacity as Sponsor of the LINAFOOT since March 2018 is another kettle of fish. The South African cell phone giant has a very large subscriber base in South Africa, estimated at 43 million compared to Democratic Republic of Congo, where the South African company accounts for 13 million subscribers. Here the South African company sponsors the Congolese championship to the tune of U$ 500, 000. 00, it should be recalled that in South Africa, the same company has signed a five (5) year  deal with the two big clubs of Soweto, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs; for a total amount of ZAR 1,000,000,000.00 (one billion South African Rand). Converted into US dollars, this amount is around 71,419,563.21USD over a five years period for both teams. The logic according to an algebraic computation would be that this amount shall be divided by two in order to know the jackpot of this five-year sponsorship deal for either team. It turns out that 35, 709,781.61USD is the amount that each team would receive over five years. Spread over the same period length of 5 years, 7, 141,956.32 USD is the annual amount of sponsorship for each team, this results in 595, 163.07 USD as a monthly allowance for this sponsorship. This is far superior to 500, 00.00 USD overall prize money of sponsorship for the whole LINAFOOT yearly campaign and the quota of 100, 000.00USD payable to LINAFOOT Winner. Despite the number of subscribers, DRC  subscribers base seems to be Vodacom’s dairy cow; the mobile telephony company would record a profit margin gain in Congo than in South Africa. The convertibility of one American Dollar to the South African Rand equates ZAR 14.00; the Rand being the currency of the Rainbow Nation. In all likelihood Congolese subscriber pays his consumption in Dollar, therefore 14 times more than a South African one. It is absurd to draw a bitter observation that the Linafoot champion only earns 100,000.00USD at the end of the season. What does this amount represent compared to the above figures paid in South Africa? It is no longer an open secret that the responsibility lies with President Constant Omari to sculpt and rethink the terms of the contract when he is revisited for a possible extension, if necessary, in order to put an end to deception.

Future Prospects – An overall Approach

The focus is on a long-term marketing plan with outrageous digitalization for marketable and monetary merchandising. For a long time football has ceased to be an entertainment industry to become footbiz. Not in the DRC, save for TP Mazembe thanks to the magnificence of Moise Katumbi Chapwe – DTS (Special Drawing Rights). This football becomes a science and not a spectacle or both. Football business (footbiz) requires strategic reseeding and holistic questioning. It is up to FECOFA and President Contant Omari Selemani to give the pulse of it, by proceeding in identification of stumbling blocks to drafting of a master plan manifesto, specifications and a roadmap adequate for their implementation. These stages require the appointment of shrewd professionals, able of perceiving the economic impact in the medium and long term, and who have an economic and marketing background, and whose moral integrity does not suffer any delay likely to hinder the progress of the process.  This way, the country will be endowed with facilities for professional football for the upcoming youthful generations. Special mention to Vidye Tshimanga and General Amisi – Tango Fort, who work hard, within DCMP and  AS V Club, to follow in the footsteps of the Ravens of Lubumbashi.

The South African sponsorship model could, at first glance, serve as a benchmark. Launched in 1996, the PSL (Premier Soccer League) ostentatiously rose through the ranks. Today each PSL team receives a monthly allowance of ZAR 2,000,000.00 (U $ 142,548.40). The winner of the Nedbank Cup (National Cup of South Africa, named after his sponsor) receives a prize money of ZAR 7,000,000.00 (U$ 498. 896, 13). The first eight (8) teams on completion of the championship compete in the MTN8. The winner pockets ZAR 8,000,000.00 (U$ 570,167.00). The PSL champion club wins ZAR 10,000,000.00 (U$712,708,75). Following a tattered start, all sixteen (16) PSL clubs have stadiums and training grounds, with at least two sponsors (Financial and Equipment) and youth teams. These are initiatives taken by the league, not the FA. The PSL has become the popular destination for footballers south of the Sahara in search of Silicon Valley football in addition to an El Dorado.

The development of football academies shall be a significant investment. Football academies have proven around the world that they are the “Zion” of aspiring players. From this it must be deduced that it is necessary to assume their progression and promotion from the categories of U12, U15, U17, U20, U23 until they graduate to become members of the senior national team. Thus the country will have a set of players ready to wet the jersey and not those who don the national tunic according to moods. Some do so because they have no choice after being fooled by the European national teams in which they aspired to belong. In the very recent past, it was noted that the two bronze medals won by the DRC at AFCONs were made possible by the local structures. During the 1998 Burkina Faso AFCON, it was SODIGRAF players who formed the backbone of the Simbas. In 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, the backbone of TP Mazembe confused opponents.

The amendment of the Sport Law in the DRC – commonly known as the Kabongo Law, turns out to be a necessity. Technological progress and the globalization of sport development favour a rapid emergence of an international sports market which meets the expectations of an increasingly diverse public. Whatever the personal or professional motivations, these expectations are manifested in any place, at any time, at any age and can only be satisfied by highly individualized sports training offers. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one of the most effective ways for a company to take an active part in improving sports infrastructure and athletes training facilities. The current system of sport development model in DRC is outdated, ineffective, obsolete and lacks international notoriety as a whole to enable it meeting the challenge of competition from private or foreign initiatives.

During his time, the late Minister of Youth, Sports, Culture and Arts, Baudouin Banza Mukala Nsungu was involved in modifying the sports law to open up sport to private sponsorship. He had vehemently underlined that funding remains the real problem of sport in DRC, the State will not be able to cope with multiple expenses because of the small size and the insufficiency of its financial means, which rightly justifies the opening of football to sponsorship. By sponsoring, privately owned companies shall be rewarded with benefits and tax breaks in order to promote football. It therefore turns out to be crucial to modify, amend and revisit the sports law to include incentive measures for the benefit of the private sector within the framework of CSR. This applies mutatis mutandis to women’s football, but with more weight and depth, without crippling effects.

Embarking on a mission, one goes fast, but running together they go further. At the edge of a new decade, new approaches are to be implemented. DRC is endowed with an abundance of talented and athletic young footballers. This potential must be exploited. With improved facilities, competitive coaches and leagues, a hurdle could be erected to curb brain drain initiatives. European national teams are full of talents of Congolese descent. If Nzonzi, Kimpembe, Ikone, Kabasele, Benteke, and Lukaku had chosen to play for their country of origin, DRC, what wonders these players would have produced? Sports and state authorities shall clean up their actions. Nepotism, influence peddling, patronage and financial mismanagement must be eliminated. The future can be bright, but only if the right choices have been made, on and off the pitch.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2020

Jeff M. Katala

December 29, 2019

Johannesburg

News Reporter

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