Dec 29, 2008, 6:11 AM
Dear Sir, my name is Mustapha Ismaila Wadda and I am the President of SPICE Sports, an organization whose goals and objective is to transform the game of Gambian domestic sports from an armature or part time sport to a local industry, as important to our economy as, for example, the tourist industry. Football can employ thousands of people (very healthy people; both on and off the field), bring in millions of both local and foreign exchange earnings, build stadiums all over the country, creating the infrastructures necessary for The Gambia to one day host the African Cup of Nations or even the World Cup.
We believe we can start making the dream a reality Sir, if we start now. You have been given an opportunity of a lifetime by the dynamic Minister of Youths and Sports (MOYS) and his Permanent Secretary at the MOYS to reform and reorganize our football and subsequently our sports in general. I am with the opinion that if the game and organization of football can be organize and regulated other sporting disciplines will follow suit.
We also believe that sports, especially football, has proven very effective in reducing smoking, drug abuse, crime, obesity, etc, among young and older people and is also a key ingredient in maintaining good moral values, discipline and good health. A well organized community based domestic football league is bound;
1. To activate organized football tournaments for the people of The Gambia.
2. To rise funds to develop the infrastructure and sports facilities at our sports fields. The provision of the enhanced sporting facilities should encourage and broaden the availability of and access to these facilities by communities and thereby encourage the participation in physical fitness and sports by a wide cross section of people of all ages and abilities.
3. To develop and expose young upcoming talented Gambian Sporting males and females.
4. To help our youths avoid negative vices (e.g. crime, obesity, drugs, sex abuse, etc.); and in order:
5. To achieve our National and International goals and objectives in sports, we need to
encourage locally based tournaments like Nawettan Football, Nawettan Cup Winners Cup, Super Nawettan/Zonal Football, etc; and in order for these tournaments to be successful and sustainable they need to be well organize and sponsored by individuals, parents, communities, local authorities, NGOs, companies and they need to be National in character.
SPICE is basically a sport promotion and consulting organization, concern with the lack of development in Gambian domestic sports. SPICE is a registered voluntary/charitable organization established since 2006; and has been active in developing Gambian sports. The organization has organized tournaments, sponsored kit and goalpost for football clubs and Sports Organizations (at the Serekunda Central Sports Development Organization, for example), designed and supervised sports fields and pavilions (at Serekunda East sports field, for example) as well as designing and costing proposed Mini-Stadiums for Kotu and Bakau Sports Organizations. We have studied the problems and constraints facing Gambian sport, and have come up with tested, action-orientated solution that will change Gambian domestic sports forever. Below is our view of the problems and solutions for the future of Gambian football for your consideration.
Presently, there is only one internationally recognized stadium in The Gambia, the Independence Stadium in Bakau. The 2005 Under 17 Tournaments, which was organized by CAF and hosted by The Gambia, enable the country to upgrade three mini-stadiums (Serekunda East, West and Banjul) to CAF acceptable standard. All the matches were, however, held at the Independent Stadium and the Serekunda West sports field. The entire three upgraded sports field is located around the Greater Banjul Area (GBA). Other recent developments were the grassing of playing fields at Brikama, Banjul and Manjaikunda sports fields by international funding bodies via the GFA, Gamworks and private investors like father J. Gough
In fact, sports infrastructure and facilities, during the last ten to fifteen years has seen very little development, even for football, despite the fact that there are over 22 registered sports associations in The Gambia. However, it is important to mention that the Gambia football Association (GFA) is the most active association in the country, but the lack of basic sports infrastructure and facilities, even within the GBA, is acute in all sporting disciplines in this country.
Structures, such as pavilions, toilets, changing rooms, fencing, etc, does not exist, or are in very poor state, in most football fields throughout The Gambia. This is making the move from armature to professional sports in the country very difficult to achieve.
National League football competitions (organized by the GFA) are limited to clubs located within the GBA. Clubs from the Provinces are not allowed to compete in this GFA league, despite the fact that a large number of people residing within GBA are mostly from the provinces.
The highest paid football player in the GFA Division One League receives less than D2, 000 per month. Match attendance level at Division One League matches is very low (an average of 350 to 500 spectators). Nawettan tournaments do better in terms of match attendance levels and are more economically and financially viable than GFA league matches. In 2006, two GFA league Division One clubs, Wallidan FC and Bakau FC, lost their chances to compete in CAF competitions because of lack of finance and venue for their matches respectively. More recently Brikama United F C failed to proceed to a higher level with CAF League competition mainly because of lack of a competitive domestic league and experience at that level.
That Gambians are interested in sports, and on football in particular, is demonstrated by the large turnout during international matches held in The Gambia and their interest in the European leagues. People are paying up to D10 per match, or more, to watch European league matches at local video clubs all over the country.
Below are four of the major problem and constraints, identified by the 1999-2008 Sports Policy, as adversely affecting the development of sports in The Gambia; and they are:
1. Poor and inadequate funding for sports development.
2. Lack of basic infrastructure and facilities
3. Lack of training facilities and well qualified and experience coaches and trainers.
4. Lack of professionally qualified manpower and over dependence on volunteers in the organization and administration of sports.
The following are the reasons the Policy gave out for the cause of the problems and constraints mentioned above…. “Sports promotion and development like any other area of development endeavor needs adequate funding to succeed. If more people are to be seriously encourage to take up sports and if the quality of the training both at the national and divisional level in sporting disciplines is to improve, it will mean that more train personnel have to be involved in sports, more materials will be utilized and more fertilities required. Most times the government is relied on an expected to provide the funds required fore the administration of sports, the provision of infrastructure, sport equipment and promotion of sporting activities. However, because of the low priority accorded to sports by many governments in developing countries and given the serious economic problems faced by these countries, financial allocation to sports is always grossly inadequate”.
In our opinion, however, the authors of Sports Policies, failed to blame the sport associations for the lack of progress in sports. The associations have basically failed to create a popular and profitable domestic sports industry. In most countries it is the interaction (or marketing) between sports associations, the private sector and the media that have promoted and developed sport. The government only acts as facilitators. Sports associations are not considering or are not, involving the people into the sports. In football for example, most of the clubs participating in the GFA league, are not community-based clubs, having no stadium of their own and they’re all concentrated in the GBA.
We believe that, government departments, private companies, etc, should not be named after professional football clubs (for example, Gamtel FC, Ports Authority FC, Interior FC, Quantum Associate FC, LG FC, etc). They may owned a football club, enter into long term deals with clubs, sponsor tournaments, leagues, etc, but they should never name a professional football club after themselves.
Poor attendance at GFA league matches is mainly due to:
a) Most of the GFA league football clubs are not community-based clubs, hence, have no support base (fan club) or attract long term sponsorship.
b) 99% of the GFA league clubs do not have their own football stadium; hence, they are playing on borrowed field. There is no home and away match.
c) Lack of infrastructure and facilities such as pavilions, changing rooms, toilets, fence, etc in most football fields in The Gambia.
A large fan club and ownership of a football stadium by a football club is a key ingredient for the development of any football club, and for the league of any country.
As mention in our articles football is basically a community based sport. Community participation is essential for the club to perform well and to be successful financially and socially. Without the fan clubs, players will not perform to expectation, stadiums will not be filled to capacity, sponsors and promoters will not be interested. Clubs like Manchester United FC, Liverpool FC, Barcelona FC, Chelsea FC, Real Madrid FC, etc, have clearly demonstrated this. Change the names of these clubs to the owner of these clubs and you will get a negative effect. This negative effect is what is presently happening with our existing GFA League and League clubs. The lacks of fan clubs for most of the existing GFA League clubs reduce the pressure to build stadiums and develop existing football fields. Without the fan clubs, sponsors and promoters are not interested enough to invest money into clubs, sport centers and football players.
It is now 13 years since 1999, but very little of the goals, objectives and a recommendation of the Sport Policies has been archived, despite a detailed “Action Plan”. The 1999-2008 Sport Policies failed, partly because it completely overlooked the mostly negative and passive role that the 22 or more sports associations have played in Gambian sports history. Despite mentioning and recognizing the Government on sports as mainly facilitators, the Action Plan targeted the Government as the main actor for the implementation of the Policy.
Despite its failure, the sports policy did make some profound observations and recommendations; in the following, for example: “While the private sector has been providing sponsorship to some sporting activities, there is a great potential for such assistant to be increased and provided on a regular bases. However, in order for the private sector to increase its financial sponsorship, there is a need for a partnership to be fogged between government, the private sector and other stakeholders. Such partnership can only be strengthened and sustain if there is mutual benefit in the relationship. The private sector is primarily motivated by profit consideration and if they do not anticipate financial benefits in the long run, there sponsorship will not be generous or provided on regular bases. The concept of ownership and partnership by all stakeholders should therefore underpin the policy objectives and strategy for financing sport promotion and development”. The Policy then recommended the following objectives:
1. To establish partnership in the financing of sports among all stake holders.
2. To encourage private sector financial sponsorship through tax incentive
3. To encourage sports associations and other sporting bodies to engage in fund raising activities and business ventures.
SPICE, for its part, has adopted the above-mentioned recommendations and strategy for financing sport promotion and development
The Sports Business Equation
In Gambian football, for example, there is little or no private sector investment, because there is no or little support base (fan club, etc) for the existing league teams, therefore, no meaningful media interest. When the Western Union Company studied the situation in The Gambia, for their sponsorship of sports, they decided to sponsor the Nawettan matches and the Super Nawettan Tournaments, because outside international matches, the nawettan matches are the most popular football tournament in the Gambia. For our football to develop we must involve the local communities.
Football today is recognized as one of the largest industry in the world. The game is highly developed in countries where:
a. The teams are located and named after medium or large population centers
b. The teams and their football associations take up a national characteristic.
c. The teams each have their own football field, stadium or share one.
d. The teams have a large support base (fan club), hence; attract the necessary sponsorship and media promotion.
e. The National League matches are televised live.
None of the Gambian football clubs or national League has any of the above-mentioned criteria and if any one of the above mentioned criteria is missing success will be difficult to achieve.
The Dream Teams
In order for football to become an industry, it requires the participation of the whole country. One would have to imagine at first, football clubs like, Fatoto FC, Basse FC, Bansang FC, Jangjangbureh FC, Brikamaba FC, Kudang FC, Brikama FC and Lamin FC, etc, and within Banjul, Kanifing Municipality (KM) and Western Coast Region, you could have 20 or more football clubs. One could also imagine all these clubs with their own sports fields or mini stadiums.
The social, economical and cultural benefit of the development of the above mentioned clubs within their respective areas should not be underrated. Besides creating nationwide professional football players, managers, trainers etc, the game will:
a. Reduce rural to urban migration of the youths of the country.
b. Build mini stadiums all over the country; hence create work for local construction industries and business.
c. Reduce tribalism and increase positive zonal, divisional and regional unity.
d. Reduce political tension.
e. Develop transport, clothing and food industries all over the country.
f. Thousand of peoples all over the country will be employed directly or indirectly.
g. Improve the Health and welfare of Gambians of all ages and sex.
Not all the benefits can be mentioned here. But in order to achieve our goals and objectives in national football, we need to create a new tournament and a new league that is national in character and sustainable in nature.
The Super Nawettan Concept
The Super Nawettan Tournament has proven to be the most popular domestic football tournament in the Gambia, yet, the events development is hampered by the fact that;
a) Only 8 football clubs in the whole country are participating.
b) It is a tournament not a league.
c) It has not been given its proper importance by the GFA.
d) The event is not well advertised to increase spectators and sponsorship.
e) Security, especially, at local grounds is normally very poor.
f) GFA League club players are allowed to participate in the event.
SPICE is calling for the conversion of the Super Nawettan Tournament to a National League with the following recommendations:
a) 32 clubs will participate in the event.
b) The GFA will recognize the event.
c) Home and away matches are essential for the events to succeed; hence, clubs must have their own football field or have access to one.
d) Decentralization of the clubs participating is essential for the events to succeed.
e) Clubs must be named after and be community based.
f) To succeed, the league clubs must be registered as a limited liability company owned by the 35 clubs. This will ensure the financial independence and development of the League.
g) Security at football matches is given to private security companies.
h) Only professionally registered football players and business registered football clubs will be allowed to participate in the New League.
The Super Nawettan Tournament, Nawettan Cup Winners Cup and Nawettan Matches, which can run alongside the New GFA League, will solve many of Gambian footballs present management, administrational and financial problems, as well as, encourage investment by the private sector in sports infrastructure and facilities. Most of these community based clubs already have their own football fields and have the potential for attracting large fan clubs. Sponsorship and media interest for these clubs is only a matter of time and organization.
The proposed new GFA League will not only develop the game but will also:
1) Give a lot of youths, from all over the country, a chance to participate in the game, earn money and become local football stars.
2) Increase community participation and popularity in the game.
3) Encourage the development of mini-stadiums, while improving the existing football fields by the private sector and local governments.
4) Encourage the private sector to invest in local football clubs and other sporting infrastructures and facilities.
5) Reduce the tension in the football family between those within the GBA and the rest of the Regions in this country.
6) The introduction of the Premier League in England not only made the English league the best and richest in the world but also helped the British economy as a whole. The introduction of the New GFA League should have the same effect, God Willing.
New League Strategy
Our strategy is to identify clubs who will eventually belong to the proposed three Divisions of the New GFA Leagues through football competitions and fund raising for the Nawettan Centers (NC) that wish to participate in the New GFA League.
It is proposed that before the end of the 2012 Nawettan Season and instead of the 2012 Super Nawettan Tournament 32 NC’s will be identified together with their 32 NC clubs and a nationwide Tournament with the 32 NC clubs, similar to the Super Nawettan Tournament, will be conducted and depending on the performance of each club during the Tournament clubs will be placed in their respective Division of the New League. The New League will then officially begin in the years 2013 or 2014.
Present GFA League Division clubs should have no difficulty in adopting and readjusting themselves to the new reality by becoming one of the above mentioned 32 clubs. Wallidan FC, for example, could rename the club “Banjul Wallidan FC” and share KG5 with Banjul United as their home ground till further notice.
The Proposed Constitution of the GFA
Sir, we would like you to explain to us the difference between a National League Club and a Regional League Club. Are we to take it that a football club from Upper River Region can only participate in a Regional League competition and cannot participate in the National League? Such a condition would be totally unacceptable and unfair. Who then will be eligible to belong to the National League? And which “Region” doses the National League belong to? Could it be the GBA Region? There should only be one National League and football clubs from all over The Gambia have a right to participate in it as is done all over the World. Qualification to the League Divisions should be based on performance as suggested above. Two Leagues in one country has been one of our biggest problems. No football association can run two football Leagues at the same time. History has shown that one of those Leagues is bound to suffer.
Please reconsider the meanings of “National League Club, Regional League and Regional League Clubs.” Are we not all in one country? Why all this separation? Again it is said that Nawettan Football “means local football competition played outside the GFA organized National or Regional League season.” What will happen if, as in many cases, Nawettan football moves into the GFA seasons? Most of the sports fields the GFA are using for their matches belong to the NC’s.
Page 3 ARTICLE 5: OBJECTIVES of the proposed Constitution, (g) speaks about the GFA ‘monitoring and supervise all Nawettan football played throughout The Gambia.’ Our advice to the GFA is to stick to Associated Football and try to make the League viable during the next three to five years and leave the Nawettan Football alone because in our opinion they are very organize.
Page 6 ARTICLE 11: MEMBERSHIP, part 11.1 and Page 12 ARTICLE 23: DELEGATES AND VOTES part 23.1 of the proposed Constitution is full of problems and controversy and should be seriously looked at again. We support the formation and membership of a Nawettan Center Associations as well as a Players Association to the GFA.
Positive decentralization not separation (the GBA football clubs versus the rest of the country kind of thing) of our football is the order of the day and Uncle F. Konateh, the leader of the Normalization Committee, is regarded as the father of Provincial Football, so we expect him and the rest of the Committee to do their best to decentralize the game of Gambian football and as we have mentioned above to make our sports an industry because as the whole world has witnessed and accepted already “Gambians got talent.” I would like to end by quoting Mr. Musa Njie, “to progress and develop our national football teams we must first develop our domestic football league.”
Mustapha I. Wadda.
President of the Gambia National Trade Union Congress