Are football Players in Ethiopia Overpaid?
In Ethiopia, football players are earning jaw-dropping salaries. Indeed, they have skyrocketed during the past few decades. The trend began in 2008 and started to pick up steam over the past five years. While this has helped football players earn millions, it has had an adverse impact on the financial outlook of the clubs. Salaries paid to footballers account for over 90Pct of the budget of the clubs. This coupled with the mismatch between the growth in income and salary expenses of the clubs, had affected their performance and of course their very existence, as EBR adjunct writer Abiy Wondifraw reports.
One would be forgiven for thinking that bank presidents or medical doctors are the highest paid people in Ethiopia, but footballers are now the top earners, receiving hefty gross monthly salaries of up to ETB250,000. This is a dramatic increase compared with the monthly salary 15 years ago when footballers used to earn an average of ETB 2,000. Now the lowest monthly salary documented until September 14, 2018 is ETB 100,000, according to the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF).
The career journey of Adane Girma, a legend well remembered for scoring the equalizer for Ethiopia against Zambia in the 2013 African Cup of Nations in the team’s first match, who was promoted to the senior Hawassa City team from the youth category to earn a monthly salary of just ETB 400 in 2007 is a showcase for the unprecedented growth of footballers’ salaries over the last decade. When his contract came to an end in 2008, the Hawassa city team offered him a new deal with an ETB 40,000 signing-on fee and a plot of land worth ETB 25,000 to build a house. To the surprise of officials at his hometown club, St. George, the most successful team in the country, offered him an ETB 70,000 signing-on fee to wear their colours.
“I think that was the turning point for the ever rising players’ fees. ETB 70,000 was big money. With that offer of money and land, my club officials were very confident I would stay at my hometown team. When I told them what St. George put on the table, they did not believe me. I had to take a picture of the check to show them,” Adane remembers.
A team spends a minimum of ETB 20 million to compete in the Premier League, which requires clubs to travel thousands of kilometers to different regions every week for games. Players’ salaries alone consume over 90Pct of the total budget, leaving club officials hard pressed to cover transportation and hotel expenses with the remaining money. The financial pressures don’t ease as time passes; players demand higher salaries every time they sign new deals. In fact, with an average monthly salary of USD7,000, clubs in the Ethiopian premier league ranked seventh amongst African countries in paying footballers, according to FIFA, which presented a study recently at a workshop at Capital Hotel. That is higher than the average salary in the second league of France, which stands at USD3,000. Even in Egypt, which has built one of the most valuable football leagues in Africa, the average salary of players is below USD1,150.
The only ones profiting from the salary spikes, however, seem to be footballers, and perhaps managers. There are allegations that corrupt club officials keep salaries high to fill their own pockets.
In a country where tens of thousands of graduates are jobless, there has been some outcry regarding footballers’ growing salaries, compared to what teachers, public servants and even physicians earn. This specific argument irritates Adane. “That is how it goes when we come to sports everywhere in the world. We don’t bring up how much Neymar is paid in France.”
Globally, the salaries of professional footballers have skyrocketed during the past few decades, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo being at the top of the list with salaries of USD585,000 weekly. They are followed by Neymar- whose weekly earnings are USD530,000. Other European and Asian leagues are no different.
Abel Jebessa, a sport journalist at Ethio FM 107.8, is among who have witnessed this worldwide phenomenon. “It is not just football or other sport disciplines, artists, singers and actors earn a lot of money. The salaries these people enjoy can be explained by the enormous revenue they attract. Here, the situation is very different. Our footballers are just playing their game and taking all the money. Football clubs’ revenues from stadium tickets, merchandise sales and TV rights are very minor. Since most of the clubs are financed and owned by municipalities and government enterprises, it is fair to say that Ethiopian football is consuming tax payers’ money.”
But according to Adane, this still is not a good reason to criticize players’ salaries. “Increasing revenues and selling the game should not be the players’ headache.” Adane, who is now looking to join the third and final club of his career, thinks they could have earned even higher money if others do their jobs to maximize revenue for the club and players. “Why does a company that advertises how spaghetti is good for a sports person on TV use commercial actors who never exercise at all? Had such an opportunity been given to players, it would have contributed a lot to raising the income of clubs as well as footballers” said Adane.
But Abel thinks the current trend might encourage kids from poor family to target football as a way out of poverty, saying, “Perhaps that is one possible reason why many low paid parents tend to take their kids to private football training coaches and pay for it.”
After losing both of his parents at age 13, Adane cannot imagine where life would have led him if he was not a footballer. “The only job I am capable of is football. I invested my time and effort in it since childhood. I had childhood friends who took the same risk engaging in just football and never made it to a high level. Few of them managed to find a new career. Others suffered because it was a bit late to make a career switch and start from scratch,” says Adane. “For those who made it the top, just like me, the job demands great devotion and commitment. Yet, after some 10-15 years, you are done. I think everyone remembers what happened to the country’s football legends who suffered after retirement. That is why I believe the rare talents those make it to the top level should be rewarded.”
After playing for 17 years in the domestic league and winning a few premier league medals with St. George FC, the club that is now planning a testimonial match for his huge service. Adane does not fear retirement. He already has a café in Hawassa and some heavy trucks at his disposal.
For Mensur Abdulkeni, renowned football analyst, the escalating salaries for footballers is a concerning topic. “It is not fair to pay a huge sum of money to footballers who are playing in a non-marketable league. The income of the clubs does not even cover five percent of their expenses,” he explains. “Under such circumstance there is no reason for the clubs to pay huge money for players.”
Mensur recommends a salary cap. “Most football clubs are financed by regional governments, which mean tax payers are funding them. Thus, there is no reason for the clubs to waste tax payers’ money on something that has no value. Had the money been spent on training players with a passion and prime age for football, it would have contributed a lot to the betterment of the game. Unluckily, that is not happening now.”
For Solomon Gebresilassie, acting office head at EFF, regulating the financial outlook of the club is unthinkable. “We cannot regulate their financial health. It is the clubs that should be worried about where the current trend takes us all.
Teams, unfortunately, are still competing in the market to push salaries even higher. At the same time, the clubs are paying the price. Many of them are struggling. Dedebit FC, one club blamed by the media for inflating the transfer market in the past, seems the major victim in the process. Their much appreciated strategy to sustain club finances by starting two businesses, Dedebit Business PLC and Dera Trading, to cover the budget has not saved The Blues.
Recently the club officials declared that Dedebit had moved its base to Mekelle from Addis, claiming its large potential fan base is found in the state of Tigrai. Michael Amdemeskel, the club general manager, confirmed at a press conference that the maximum monthly salary Dedebit can pay a player from now on is just ETB 25,000, which is 25Pct of the minimum registered salary during the current transfer window. Many fear the time might have come for clubs to face the monster they were feeding.
7th Year • Oct.16 – Nov. 15 2018 • No. 67