It’s as if I’ve gone back in time ten years.
With David Beckham’s name once again on everybody’s lips; this time for selflessly donating his five months wages at Paris Saint Germain to a Parisian children’s charity. This could mean a donation of up to £1,000,000. As the news broke the twittersphere literally exploded (I, at least, suffered some twitter problems on transfer deadline day) with adulation for the nation’s favourite – Monsieur “Becks”. Everyone from the average-Joe to respected football journalists were eager to heap praise on PSG’s new #32, and show their admiration for a man who commands an inexplainable and unprecedented aura on the English football fan. But within this fanfare the charitable work of other footballers should not and cannot be lost.
I make particular reference to that of African footballers, Dider Drogba (Ivory Coast), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo) and Joseph Yobo (Nigeria). All have dedicated time, money and their image to respective charities back in Africa, in support of some of the most under-privileged children on the planet, and all have represented their nations at 2013’s AFCON tournament. With the tournament having just reached its conclusion, there is no better time to highlight their significant and long-standing work, and remember what they’ve achieved. With any luck, once the Beckham-inspired dust has settled, Africa’s charitable men will reclaim some well-deserved thunder.
Having been born into such poverty-stricken environments, those lucky enough to escape it have grown keen to give something back. Nowhere is this more the case than in Africa, and in no footballer is this better embodied than Didier Drogba. The most talented African footballer of my generation has made it his mission to “give people basic healthcare and education”. African children are largely unable to rescue themselves from poverty without a fortuitous blessing of, for example, footballing ability. Many are without access to the most basic human rights such as clean water, malaria medication and education. Drogba invests his own personal funds into the organization he resides over as president, The Didier Drogba Foundation. Symbolic of his commitment to helping others back in Africa, in 2009 he donated his image rights as the face of Pepsi – £3,000,000 -to the construction of a new hospital in his home nation. This one-off pledge is three-times that of Beckham’s. Not to take away from the England man’s generosity, just don’t get carried away with the media’s hype; Beckham is not the first nor will he be the last to donate generously.
A more controversial figure is Emmanuel Adebayor, having garnered somewhat of a reputation as a footballing mercenary. Having played for the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid (loan), and Tottenham, his detractors have accused the Togolese of skipping from club to club in search for a more lucrative contract. Remember, whatever he earns should not be held against him; he only receives what his club are willing to fork out for his services. Last summer he came under media criticism for holding out for a better contract at current club Tottenham, yet when you consider this from the perspective of his various charities and commitments, his wage demands are more understandable. His readily-admitted privileged position has included multiple six-figure salaries, yet it has by no means been splurged solely on nightclub outings, sports cars and designer clothing.
The troubled and volatile nation of The Ivory Coast, which became incredibly strained over the corrupt election of President Gbago in 2010 was a subject close to his heart according to his website. “I am speaking up about this, to make people aware, to make more people help,” went his statement. “Children are being orphaned” he explained shortly before declaring his decision to build a house, big enough for 100 orphans in Togo. Courtesy of his Ivoire Sport Promotion Foundation a school was rebuilt and two new hospitals created for the disadvantaged beneficiaries- some mercenary eh? With a degree of modesty and humility we come to disassociate with the modern footballer, Adebayor underrates his significant contribution: “I’m only helping a few, but we need to be helping thousands. It’s the least I can do”.
The thousands more that Adebayor mentions have begun to be addressed by Super Eagles captain, Joseph Yobo, one of Nigeria’s most significant contributors to home charities. He will be remembered by most English football fans for his 196 appearances for Everton between 2003 and 2012. He will be remembered by most Nigerian fans for his stellar contribution to improving education in Nigeria. Although playing miles away from his native Nigeria, the former Everton-man never forgot his roots and started giving back when he could. “Proud to be able to help” he said following distribution of 300-odd educational scholarships in Kono, his birth-place, back in 2007. “I want to use my position to touch people so as to change the perception of the world about the area”. This charitable work is not solely about the specific beneficiaries of these scholarships, but aiming to improve the image of his entire country. The potential this has to boost investment in the delta region is simply incredible.
Perhaps in breaking free from the impoverished and often violent clutches of the continent, the moral compasses of the likes of Drogba, Adebayor and Yobo point to an insatiable sense of duty, deep within them. Compelled to help others to escape without the good fortune of footballing ability is an admirable quality not all footballers possess. Equally not enough footballers who do so are praised. The AFCON tournament, although not always held in the highest regard by football fans, is a tournament showcasing some of the most ardent contributors to charity work and biggest promoters of a better life for many disadvantaged children the game has to offer. Try not to forget that in the midst of Beckham’s swansong in Paris.