Support for players in bonus dispute
Cameroon sealed their World Cup preparations on Saturday afternoon with an unexciting 1-0 win over Moldova in Yaounde. The original opposition for the game was Guatemala, but after they pulled out due to security concerns -- with no elaboration from the Cameroon football federation about the nature of them -- Moldova were drafted in as the replacements two weeks ago.
In making the trek to Yaounde, Moldova became the first Eastern European national team to set foot in Cameroon. Frustratingly for the home fans, who had turned up expecting a scintillating World Cup send-off against a team ranked 99th, the match offered little to remember.
Only what was to unfold afterward will be memorable, and in an unwanted sense. After the match, the players boycotted the traditional handing over of the national flag to the captain, forcing the prime minister to hand it over to coach Volker Finke instead. Captain Samuel Eto'o, apparently suffering from indigestion, had arrived to the stadium at half-time only to leave the stadium before the second half began.
Similarly to rumblings at previous warm-up friendlies, the tug-of-war over bonus payments looked set to reach an impasse. There had been prematch murmurs that the Cameroon team was going to boycott the friendly, but the squad made a U-turn just an hour before kickoff.
The collective ignorance of the flag handover and Eto'o's suspicious injury and half-time skedaddle were the first visible stands of defiance.
The bonus payments stem from promises made after World Cup qualification. In November last year, after the 4-1 win over Tunisia booked Cameroon's ticket to Brazil, President Paul Biya and Joseph Owono, the president of the Cameroon football federation, sauntered into the dressing room and, to much pandemonium, the latter made the players an offer of 109 million Cameroon francs (roughly $225,000 at current exchange rates) to be shared among them.
While the players were ecstatic at the time, it has increasingly become apparent to them that what was offered was too little and they could have perhaps had more. Consequently, over the past few months, they have asked the Cameroonian federation for transparency on where the money, particularly from sponsorship deals, has gone.
The desired transparency has not been forthcoming, with the federation's approach leaning more toward an attitude of "take it or leave it." The team's threats to refuse to play friendlies have been too empty and had they done so, it would have only decreased their bargaining power.
When they boycotted the friendly against Algeria in November 2011, costs had to be incurred by the football federation, Eto'o was banned for eight months for inciting it and the likes of Jean II Makoun and Benoit Angbwa retired in solidarity. A similar fallout would not have been ideal with the World Cup just days away.
With their requests consistently shrugged off, the players decided the best course of action was not to board their Sunday morning flight to Brazil. PR-wise it has, understandably, been a disaster for a team whose endless number of payment disputes suggest it is a ritual rather than a necessity.
Eyebrows have been raised worldwide at players boycotting at such a crucial time, but this is a group of players who have had enough of the cumulative effects of maladministration, greed and lack of transparency from their football federation. On the ground, there has been public empathy with the players' predicament and outrage at the federation.
It's easy to assume that all the players in the squad are high earners and money shouldn't be an issue, but for some it is. Take the locally based duo of Cedric Djeugoue and Loic Feudjou. The duo, who both play for Coton Sport, are on a pittance in comparison to the European-based players, and with expenses and their families to look after, a bigger bonus would allow them to live more comfortably and give them the peace of mind to focus on football.
In the end the boycott has achieved the desired result. Keen to alleviate worldwide humiliation, the Cameroon football federation asked for a loan from the state. Bank managers enjoying their Sundays off awoke to requests to ensure the availability of funds.
And, seemingly, lessons have been learnt. "We have opted for transparency," said Owono after a conclusion was reached. "There is no problem and I think the team needs to be mobilised for all to look in one direction."
Each member of the squad will receive 50 million CFA francs ($105,000) in the new settlement. Although it is worth reiterating that their intention wasn't to boycott the tournament itself, Cameroon will now board a Sunday evening flight to Brazil. Crisis averted, and now Cameroon fans will be hoping their team shows the same defiance and solidarity on the pitch.
Salim Masoud Said is a London-based African football writer and the editor-in-chief of Sandals For Goalposts (@Sandal4Goalpost). He has written for ESPN, The Telegraph, FourFourTwo, official FIFA World Cup magazines, French Football Weekly, among other outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @salimosaid.