Friday, February 17, 2006

Players and followers: followers.

In the world of football journalism, there are two categories of people: footballers and the rest. This categories are even more defined in African football where some of the players earn in one month what the whole press corps earn collectively in one year. In Egypt, there was a siege mentality among the players, a feeling that everyone who spoke to them was trying to suck them dry, literally and figuratively. Granted, I was always trying to get something from them, but it was merely a story I wanted, not coppers falling out of their wallets. The Nigerian press corps were "looked after" by the Nigeria FA, which meant they received sports jackets (which shielded against the cold), jerseys, shorts, etc.

Some of the items were perfectly harmless, souvenirs picked up like one would pens and pencils at a trade fair. However towards the end of the competition, a list of Nigerian journalists was drawn up for the Minister of Sport, Saidu Sambawa (the same one with bird flu on his farm). The lucky hacks on the list would get one thousand Egyptian pounds (LE1000), which is about £100. The journalists would have picked up this money on or about the 7th/8th of February, a couple of days before the final. I have no idea what services were performed by the journos to receive this money, but it seemed inappropriate to me.

I'm not part of the "old guard", nor was did anybody really know me, so my name wasn't on the list. I was the one who was constantly mistaken for being Ghanaian, prompting cries of, "oh, you're Nigerian sef. I thought you were one of the charley boys." The money was seen as a "gift" from the ministry, probably some excess left over after win bonuses weren't given out for Nigeria's loss to Cote d'Ivoire. There were some journalists who refused to accept the money, saying it was only journalists who had "sold their souls" that accepted such. I told the story of Jack McConnell's holiday in Kirsty Wark's Spanish villa, and how that had caused such a furore. But apparently, the rules for sports journalism are different.

Small Man spoke about how he had accepted gifts of money from some Ghanaian players, some of whom he's been friends with since childhood when they played keepy uppy with eaten oranges. He said there was no shame in it and when he interviewed them, they'd complain, "look at the relationship we have, and yet you were asking me those kinds of questions." This, Small Man felt, was a sign of his impartiality, maintaining his ability to do the job regardless of personal friendships.

In a country like Nigeria where all lines of propriety are blurred, it can be difficult to determine what is an actual taboo, and what isn't. One could argue that the journalists are underpaid and undervalued, financial help (a subsidy perhaps) from the ministry shouldn't be judged harshly. The question though is whether the Sports Minitry's records will show that money was given to certain journalists. I doubt that it will, and that is the big problem for me. Hiding that kind of information undermines the journalists, and could hamper their ability to write articles that are critical of the ministry. The Sports Minister apparently has a habit of summoning reporters whenever he choses a platform from which to spin his yarn. How can a journalist resist a minister's overtures when he is seemingly in the minister's pocket?

No comments: