“Gabonese footballers are optimistic after all”

Gabon’s Football Championship resumed on May 14, 2022 after a break of almost three years. For the players, it is a first step, assures Rémy Ebanega, president of the National Association of Professional Footballers of Gabon (ANFPG). However, the former international defender calls on local authorities to settle a debt to local players, which he estimates at 1.5 billion CFA francs.

RFI: Rémy Ebanega, Gabon Championship resumed on May 14, 2022 after a three-year hiatus. What state of mind are you in?

Remy Ebanega: I am very happy for my younger brothers who have gone more than two years without playing. The fact that they are already resuming is a very good thing. Knowing that many, if not the majority, live from this professional football profession. So the fact that they are resuming is already a small guarantee of having something at the end of the month, to meet the needs of their families, in addition to this joy of resuming. Because before they are a job, football is a passion for them.

In what state of mind do you know the local players?

They are very impatient to fight it! So impatient that we are worried about them because several clubs have made them travel without signing contracts. Many players, even if they have taken over, have not yet received any money. But they are optimistic, after all. They play again because they miss it.

But we, we especially would not want the leaders to take advantage of this desire of the players every time to do as they please.

Specifically, how is the Premier League 2022 supposed to take place in such a short time?

We immediately challenged the Ministry of Sports, the National Football League (LINAF) and the clubs that the championship must be played in 11 weeks.

We thought it was quite dangerous for the players’ health and safety to have them play three matches in eight days. […] It is true that the championship must be carried out in order to be able to register clubs in the African Cups. But it is first the players’ health that counts.

We have contacted the authorities and the union to review this program, as it is quite intense and dangerous. We hope that they have thought it through carefully and that we remain attentive.

Does the championship have a good start or is there a risk that it will end again?

The championship is underway. But it is true that since 2014-2015 we have always had championships that have ended. And every time it starts, we say that it has begun and that it will not end. So hopefully it does not end … […]

Now the most important thing for us, regardless of whether the championship is stopped or continues, is that the contracts that the players will sign are respected.

Why was the championship stopped for so long?

The only unit that can answer your question is the Ministry of Sports. There was a decree banning the practice of sport [le 4 novembre 2020, à cause du Covid, Ndlr]. A year later, when the state decided to release certain sectors of activity, we went so far as to arrest the President of the Republic to ask for the football CV because some feed on it.

Unfortunately, it went very far, because they did not listen to our interventions. Then the government decided to restart everything. We were already more than two years free.

However, it should be emphasized that in the other countries this situation lasted only 4, 5 or 6 months. CHAN was played in Cameroon, CAN was played in Cameroon. All championships in Africa have been resumed. Only that in Gabon has still been more than a year without resumption.

Gabon’s professional footballer camped for 47 days in front of the Ministry of Youth and Sports to demand payment of a debt of 1.5 billion CFA francs, or 2.3 million euros. Where are you with your claims?

We are awaiting the ministry’s decision. It is the state that regulates this debt. I want to congratulate all my young brothers who lasted for almost 50 days. You imagine? Morning, dinner, evening, every night? It was the sun, the rain … They stayed there all the time. I do not know if this has ever been done anywhere in the world. So you really have to congratulate them.

The desire of these young people was that a gesture in connection with the debt should be made before the championship resumes. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Sports did not want to do this. The minister said the debt was assessed by an audit firm. Subsequently, this audit firm reported that they had already done all their work, but that some clubs had not submitted all the necessary documentation. We told them that if a club can not justify itself while the player has done so, it is better to take into account the player’s elements. So why is it still dragging? The government replied that it was waiting for the ministry to say “ok” so that it would submit its report.

This is where we are today. We had to beg some young people to stop sitting down to join their clubs. At the same time, we are waiting for Ernst & Young’s report. Report as the Cabinet should have done in November 2021. Do you realize? […]

How can one explain that Gabon, a country that has spent tens of millions of euros to organize two African Cups of Nations (2012 and 2017), is struggling to settle this “modest” debt to its local footballers?

It’s a pretty complicated question … I want to answer you that this debt issue, we put it on the table in 2016, with the clubs. The clubs sent us back to LINAF. LINAF referred us to the Gabonese Football Association (Fégafoot).

We then turned to the International Federation (FIFA), before returning to Fégafoot and the Ministry. The same question you ask me, we ask ourselves. […] I do not know what to say to you. I think only the Minister can answer you. […]

We at ANFPG had to start a charity shop to help these young people have the basic necessities. For these young people who have survived two years without support, I do not understand how we can look at them that way, without paying them part of their debt. It’s a due date. They played a championship. We owe them money. But why not pay? I do not think it’s a question of money. Since 2017, we have provided all the necessary evidence. […]

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