One of the most prestigious sports organizations in the country is going through a financial crisis. Faced with the magnitude of the debt, supporters have decided to put their hands in their pockets.
Sportingly, the African Club is doing well. The Tunisian capital formation has won seven of its eight league games and, without a six-point penalty imposed by FIFA, it would lead the league 1. But this record is clouded by the severe economic crisis that has shaken several years the Red and White. With thirteen league titles, as many Tunisia Cups and a Champions League, the African Club, which boasts two to three million supporters, is a monument in danger. Hamadi Bousbia, his former president (1988-1989 and 1993-1994), now a member of the Comite des sages, does not deny it. " The situation is very complicated. There is reason to be concerned because debt is important. I am one of those who think that the future of the club can be threatened "says the businessman, CEO of the Beverage Manufacturing Company of Tunisia.
The cumulative debt of the club, for four years, officially amounts to 9.6 million euros. To date, around 4.2 million euros have been absorbed. The reasons that have pushed the prestigious club Bab Jedid district, one of the six gates of the medina of Tunis, to go into debt are multiple but mainly target Slim Riahi, president of the formation from 2012 to 2017 – he is today who fled to France. The businessman, engaged in politics and founder of the Free Patriotic Union (UPL), is accused of blowing up the debt.
" He saw big, too big, says the French coach Bertrand Marchand, twice on the club bench (2006-2007 and 2017-2018). Riahi practiced a disproportionate wage policy throughout Tunisia. Some players earned 30,000 to 40,000 euros a month, with significant signing bonuses. The problem was that he could not honor all his commitments and the debts ended up accumulating. Riahi understood that the African Club, with its millions of supporters who are also voters, is a political tool. That's why he's been so ambitious. "
Many players have seized FIFA because they have not received the promised wages. For example, the Congolese Fabrice Ondama, recruited in July 2017 and who had left Tunis six months later without receiving a dinar, claims 800,000 euros. The Ghanaian Nicholas Opoku, passed by the African Club in 2017-2018, is waiting for 240,000 euros, while FIFA has imposed on the club to pay a total of 455,000 euros to Cameroonian Nicolas Song and Didier Yemga. The formation also owes money to clubs for transfers that it could not honor. And licensed coaches are demanding their dues.
In July 2017, the club had been sentenced to pay 480,000 euros to the tax authorities because of accumulated unpaid debts between 2000 and 2010. " For years, management problems have been pointed out ", notes Bertrand Marchand. In September, FIFA imposed a penalty of six points because of the non-payment to MC Eulma (Algeria) of 480,000 euros for the purchase of Ibrahim Chenihi in 2015. " How do you expect, with an annual budget of around 6 million euros, that the African Club can hope to get by quickly? It will take time »says Hamadi Bousbia.
Before the end of the year, the African Club will have to settle the disputes between two other players, the Tunisian Yoann Touzghar and the Zimbabwean Matthew Rusike, to whom he owes respectively 500,000 and 193,000 euros. Hamadi Bousbia himself will advance 1.6 million euros, in the form of loan, to help the management to pay off some debts. The financial crisis has grown to such an extent that supporters have started fundraising. To date, nearly 960,000 euros have been raised.
" There are people who make big sacrifices to pay a few dinars. It is a momentum of solidarity quite extraordinary, when we know the daily difficulties that meet many Tunisians "Says Bertrand Marchand, today at the head of the Croissant sportif Chebbien (Ligue 1). Another good news is that the operator Ooredoo reaffirmed its support as the main sponsor by signing a new two-year contract for a total amount of 1.6 million euros, including 320,000 euros paid immediately.
The Sports Ministry, meanwhile, received Abdessalem Younsi, president of the African Club, on 30 October to discuss his situation. The players, who have not received their salary for some for three months, have learned the cancellation of the friendly match against the Italians of Brescia, whose recipe was to bail out the boxes. " Even if money comes in, the debts are important. And the African Club is far from being out of the woods, warns an observer. We are talking about a total slate of 5 million euros, but the sum is perhaps even more important … "