Santi Cazorla says Spain’s players are trying to keep out of the continuing controversy around Saturday’s friendly in Equatorial Guinea.
The decision of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to play the game has been widely criticised by Spanish and Equatoguinean human rights groups and opposition politicians, who see it as a demonstration of support for dictator Teodoro Obiang.
The long-serving leader has been accused of being responsible for grave inequality and human rights abuse in the Central African nation.
Arsenal midfielder Cazorla told El Larguero that he and the rest of the players have tried to stay away from any such controversies -- and not discussed whether or not they would accept having their photo taken with Obiang.
“We have read in the press about the controversy, some political things, but we stay away from that,” Cazorla said. “If the federation has decided on the game, it is because they think it is the best option, that there will be no problem and hopefully there will be a nice game of football for people to enjoy.
“We are going there to play a game, to be as nice as possible with everyone. Nobody thinks about whether there will be a photo or things like that.”
AS interviewed Guinea’s president in exile Severo Moto, who said Cazorla and his colleagues may not see it, but the country they are visiting has been ruined during Obiang’s 34 year dictatorship.
“The country is divided in two: the rich, fattened on oil and supported by foreigners who benefit from the situation, and the Guineans, most of whom live in miserable and humiliating conditions,” Moto said. “There is no way to have elections and this is the great claim of the opposition -- that the people can choose who governs them.”
The dissident politician said that Equatorial Guinea’s football culture had been ruined under dictatorship.
“It is clear that the Guinean people like football a lot, and will like to see a great power like La Roja,” Moto said. “I remember teams like Akonangui, Cultural de Sevilla de Niefang, Atletico Malabo, Sony Ela Nguema, Real Rebola Rojo... Nothing of that exists anymore.
“The national team, called the Nzalang -- the name of Obiang’s town -- is the only one left, and is just to suit his wants and desires. The Nzalang has Brazilians, Venezuelans, Latin Americans and Africans. They all earn really well. And Obiang’s son has promised a bonus of five million euros if they win the game, and 50,000 more for each goal. In this game there is everything, except football.”
While the RFEF have claimed they are not receiving any appearance fee for the game, Moto said he had been told that it would receive between five and fifteen million euros.
“The news we have is that Gabon were going to play against Spain, but would not pay two million euros for just 90 minutes,” he said. “Angola did not want to pay them either. Obiang took advantage of the opportunity to say: ‘come here, I can sort out everything’. Obiang is used to paying very well. We believe he has paid between five and 15 million euros, most likely 15. I have direct information of the amount from the Equatorial Guinea embassy in Madrid.”
The game has become a political issue in Spain, amid accusations that the government in Madrid backed it as a means to get closer to Obiang and the Equatoguinean oil industry. A ‘high level source’ from the Spanish government told AS this was not the case, that the RFEF had set the fixture as a last resort.
“The game in Malabo is the consequence of a chain of errors,” the source said. “Spain was going to play first in Gabon, then in Angola, and has ended up stopping in [Equatorial] Guinea on the way to South Africa.”
An RFEF source disputed that reading of the events, saying the federation had consulted with the government before agreeing the trip, and accusing critics of playing politics with what was a positive occasion.
“People are trying to make politics out of a sporting matter, and they have achieved that,” the source said. “But if Spain plays in Equatorial Guinea it is not to cosy up to Obiang, but to bring joy to the Equatoguinean people and to help out financially their federation, which is in ruins. That is why we are going there free.”