Opinion: Sport As A Career For Africans – It Pays To Play Away

As children many of us dream of becoming sportsmen and women, reaching the heights of the superstars that we see on television screens and enjoying the sport we love as our careers.

But this only happens for few of us, and perhaps at some point in our journey to adulthood it becomes clear that this path is not meant for everyone, whether for reasons of a clear talent deficit or simply a realisation that the life of a sports person is not for us.

For a select few, however, a professional sports career is a possibility.

For these individuals a life of dedication and single-mindedness awaits, and their chosen sport will dictate whether or not they will be making big bucks or simply struggling to get by for the love of their sport.

Most professional athletes in contact sports or those requiring high levels of fitness such as football, rugby and tennis retire by around age 34 on average, meaning that a sports star’s ability to generate top income is restricted to a short time period.

This may not be the case for some sports such as golf, but generally speaking the higher paying sports fall into the previously mentioned category.

Sport pays well for the top level athletes who are the best in their chosen field, but for many the availability of sponsorships and endorsements are dependent on the popularity of their sport.

This can be a problem in Africa, as often there is simply no national budget or focus from government or other associations to allow for minor sports to thrive and for those who compete in those sports to be recognised at the level they deserve.

Team sports provide the most opportunities due to the fact that they are more popular for the watching public, sponsors and the players themselves, versus individual sports such as tennis and athletics.

In the later sports, sponsored training and competing is often exclusively the domain of the elite, especially in African countries where the resources are directed towards the major sports.

Other activities are almost entirely ignored, forcing them to live a difficult life where they are constantly seeking assistance to be able to fulfil their passion and represent their countries on the regional, national, continental and global stage.

Popular Sports Perform Best

In general African footballers and rugby players seem to have the best opportunities for monetary gain due to the exposure that their sports receive on the continent and globally, though the level of financial compensation in Africa for sports such as football and rugby pale in comparison to teams in Europe, America and Asia.

An example of this can be illustrated in South Africa, which is a country with an established sports industry and a variety of sports that are popular with sponsors and fans, such as football, cricket and rugby.

According to a Sunday Times report in 2014, the financial pull of cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) and European and Japanese rugby clubs for sportsmen from South Africa was clear, compared to local teams.

Cricketer Jacques Kallis made $305,000 a year playing for his country, while he pocketed $1million a year from the IPL’s Kolkata Knight Riders.

Another example can be seen with bowler Chris Morris, who made $40,000 a season from his Johannesburg-based Lions team, but $625,000 thanks to his deal with the IPL’s Chennai Super Kings.

English Premier League footballer Steven Pienaar makes an estimated $5million a year at Everton, while none of the top Premier Soccer League players in South Africa are likely to top $500,000 per year.

Springbok rugby wing JP Pietersen signed a $1.1million per season contract with Japan’s Panasonic Wild Knights, and according to the newspaper the value of that deal was five times what he made a year in South Africa from both his provincial and national contracts combined.

In Kenya there is a focus on athletics, as the country has always found success on the international scene with their athletes, but the professional long distance runners from the country often struggle financially because of an exorbitant tax system in place which sees them double taxed in the country they are competing in, as well as back home.

Add the agent fees to the double taxation and these athletes are left poor and struggling to make ends meet.

In contrast, such top athletes are embraced on other continents, with places like Qatar offering citizenship to talented sportsmen in exchange for their representation at competitions.

Africa’s Highest Paid Footballer

The highest paid African footballer is Yaya Toure, an Ivorian international who represents Manchester City in the Premier League.

According to France Football, the midfielder receives approximately $21.9 million per year in endorsements and salary from his English club.

In comparison, one of the top players in the PSL, Teko Modise reportedly earns around half a million dollars per annum. It is important to note that this is far above the PSL average monthly pay for a player in the league.

According to a 2014 Sportsmail study of football leagues around the world, Premier League footballers earn an average of $3.6 million each a year, or $69,031 a week, which places them at the top of the earning chain, while the same list positioned the South African and Nigerian leagues in 33rd and 34th place respectively.

The South African PSL sees an average annual pay of $53,149 per annum, and in Nigeria, where the domestic football scene has been in turmoil for some time, players receive an average of $10,700 a year, or $205 a week.

That means that the annual average pay for a player in South Africa is less than the average weekly pay for a professional footballer in England’s top flight.

So it seems that the only way a talented African to become a rich professional sportsman or woman, they should choose a sport such as football or rugby and ensure that they train harder than all of their peers so that they are able to rise to the top of the sport at a young age and secure a long-term deal with a European or Asian team in one of the top leagues, where they will be making good money.

Source: AFK Insider

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