FIFA is turning a blind eye to African countries who are ‘buying’ their own national teams.

By Mark Gleeson
With a population of just over 500,000 and a landmass of less than 30,000 sq km, Equatorial Guinea is among Africa’s smallest countries. Decades of tyrannical rule have also made it among the most isolated – until the recent discovery of oil and a sudden cash injection.

Some of this windfall has trickled down to football, so much so that Equatorial Guinea has been able to virtually buy its own national teams.

Despite the small size of the country, they are newly crowned Africa’s women champions, courtesy of a contingent of paid mercenaries from Brazil.

That they were able to overcome Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa speaks not of an incredible fairytale feat but the dangers of the unchecked nationality cheating that is growing in African football.

In the men’s game, the recent first phase of African World Cup qualifiers saw Equatorial Guinea field a host of Brazilians. Other countries such as Mauritania, Niger and Rwanda also hand out passports to players. This is in contravention of FIFA rules, yet the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has chosen to turn a blind eye.

Indeed FIFA also seems to apply its rules selectively, going after Qatar a few years ago in similar circumstances because it was a high-profile case but not dealing with African countries well off the world spotlight.

Brazilian coach Antonio Dumas began the hiring of players from his native country when he was in charge of Togo in 2003. Countries who competed against them in the African Nations Cup qualifiers complained to CAF but, incredulously, it refused to take any action against six Brazilians who flew in to play for Togo in international encounters.

Having got away with it once, Dumas repeated the deceit when he took charge of Equatorial Guinea soon after. Equatorial Guinea have also handed nationality with improper haste to players from Cameroon, Liberia and Senegal.

The Brazilian mercenaries continued to play throughout the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, long after Dumas had been fired – goalkeeper Danilo, for example, playing all six group games. He is a 27-year-old journeyman from Caruaru, now playing at Deportivo Sergipe in the third level of competition in Brazil and has only ever been to Africa to play international football.

Rwanda, incredibly, were allowed to play Angolan-born Joao Elias, a political refugee from Belgium, at the 2004 Nations Cup finals, where he scored a cracking goal in the opening match against hosts Tunisia. Elias’ only connection with Rwanda was the fact his team-mate at Belgian club Mechelen, Desire Mbonyabucy, had recruited him to the cause.

Hire at will
Rwanda have continued to hire outside talent at will and go unchallenged by those tasked with upholding the sanctity of the game.

Key to their surprise berth in the last 20 of the African qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup finals are players such as Mafisango Mutesa (born in the Congo), fellow defender Boubakary Sadou from Cameroon and new strike sensation Labama Bokota, who hails from DR Congo. There is even the absurdity of Manfred Kizito, hired from neighbours Uganda, and whose brother, Nestory, actually played in the World Cup qualifiers for Uganda.

Mauritania lost all their recent World Cup qualifiers, failing to profit from the continued use of Frenchmen Dominique Gourville and Yohan Langlet, who were turned into instant internationals when their former club coach Noel Tosi took the Mauritania helm in 2003.

FIFA promised to clampdown on players claiming dual nationality to qualify for national team selection in March 2004 in the wake of a bid by Qatar to recruit the Bundesliga’s top scorer Ailton, who had been ignored by his native Brazil.

Sepp Blatter took a principled stand when the Ailton controversy broke but his organisation has done little since to enforce it.

In order to qualify for international football players must be born in the territory of the relevant team, have a biological parent or grandparent from that territory, or have lived continuously in the country for at least two years.

Or, as in the case of Africa, you can always just slip over the border or fly in from Brazil.