WHEN Roger Milla, the great Cameroonian footballer, was alleged to have received £11 000 (about US$14 600) from Sepp Blatter to endorse the under-fire Swiss’s re-election as Fifa president in 2002, it brought to the fore the plight of former sports-persons who, for some reason or another, have found the going tough in post-retirement life.
By Enock Muchinjo
Whatever happened to Milla is, of course, quite unfortunate and can never be wished on anyone — let alone a legendary African footballer who brought joy into many people’s lives worldwide and will live forever in our hearts.
There is a most pertinent question to be asked from this: if a man like the great Milla can be subjected to this kind of modern-day exploitation, who then — especially in these parts of the world — can resist being compromised, being stripped of their dignity in return for much-needed financial relief? Of course, Milla’s case is vastly different from that of Ryan Giggs, Carles Puyol, Roberto Carlos, Jay-Jay Okocha or Robert Pires — who have been reported to be part of an outfit named World Class Legends scheduled to play a match in Zimbabwe this month as part of an ongoing government-driven campaign to market the country as a tourist destination.
Most of these ex-stars making the trip here are in sound financial positions, or we should assume. But here is the thing: who amongst professional footballers — past and present — can pass up an opportunity to travel first-class to a totally different country somewhere in the corner of this world, enjoy VIP treatment throughout, flash the mandatory smile here and there, possibly get to shake the hand of the country’s president, play in the most meaningless game of your life against retired local footballers with expanded waistlines and then, at the end of it all, get to share a cool US$2,3 million?
None, you can be sure, will turn down a quick money-making venture — not least a retired footballer probably sitting somewhere in Europe and glancing rather enviously at the big sums of money now being earned today by current stars still at the pinnacle of their careers.
You cannot fault these former players.
It took great amounts of self-discipline, sacrifice and toil of many years to be the prodigious athletes they became in their prime, and what they are simply doing now is to make hay while the sun shines.
A sporting career is short lived: there will come a time when these men will exit the limelight and what a tragedy it would be, one day, if one of them has to be dragged through the mud over pitiful amounts of money, like Roger Milla.
In truth, the lure of the greenback is what makes these ex-footballers continue to make the trip to Zimbabwe without a qualm. Marketing the country?
Sorry, but I don’t get the point.
If the exhibition football match goes ahead as planned this month in Harare, I would like to watch in flesh one of my favourite players from Arsenal’s 2003-04 Invincibles season, Robert Pires — yesterday’s man he may be now.
I do not doubt that many football lovers in this country will also have something to look forward to. But spare me the whole tourism thing. I would rather we talk about something else.