Yaoundé — Controversy keeps growing over a possible sanction against Cameroonian football star Samuel Eto'o. He refused to join the national squad for the 8 September Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Cap Verde, describing the team as "amateurish and poorly organized".
In a Yaoundé café, football fans are watching a rebroadcast of one of Eto'o's games. Although they can't understand anything of what's being said - the commentary being in Russian - they stay focused on the plays. But in between exciting bits of actions, they can't help but discuss the Eto'o saga.
Complaints of amateurism
"I believe that, as an individual, Eto'o is free to make his own choices," says 25-year-old Yonoussa Ben Moussa. "But refusing to play in the national team is a grave mistake because it is a nation calling for him."
He adds: "Eto'o plays for the country. When he scores and we win, we say Cameroon has won and not Eto'o. So I think this act of anti-patriotism should be sanctioned."
It all started when 31-year-old Eto'o, who currently plays for Anzhi Makachkala, a club in the Russian republic of Dagestan, wrote a letter to the president of Cameroon football federation Fecafoot. In it, he said: "The shortcomings I raised as team captain are unresolved. Our national team continues to dwell in an environment characterized by amateurism and poor organization incompatible with professional sports."
Cameroonian sport journalist Atéba Biwolé cannot help but agree. "Eto'o is not the first to complain about Fecafoot," he says. "This sense of amateurism is shared by several other players. It's been many years now since the directors haven't taken players seriously. It was about time somebody brought the problem into the spotlight."
Freedom of expression or professional obligation?
Junior Binyam, in charge of communication at Fecafoot, says Eto'o is "using his right as a citizen to express himself about the dysfunctions, based on his own observations. But he is not meeting his commitment as a player, which is to respond to a call."
According to Binyam, there "are various levels of sanctions, ranging from blame, warnings, temporary suspensions up to the most severe, which is a complete ban."
As for Eto'o's case, he notes: "Article 9 of the federation's rules and regulations says that whoever is called to play in the national team is obliged to respond." Those in contravention to this article should face disciplinary actions. This would thus apply to Eto'o, although, as Binyam adds, the people inside the federation and in charge of imposing the sanction have not done so yet.
For some human rights activists like Jean-Aimé Kamga, if Eto'o is sanctioned for merely expressing his thoughts, it would be a violation of freedom of expression.
The social rules of football
In response, Binyam says: "No player in Cameroon has ever been prevented from expressing his thoughts. They can express themselves whenever and however it pleases them." For the Fecafoot representative, the issue is of not respecting his obligations as a player - a principle, rather than a violation of freedom of expression.
"Society is regulated by rules. When you are member of an organization, you abide by the rules or you leave. Players are obliged to respond to calls and play games, except in cases of injury. Every single player knows this is the rule and by accepting to be a football player you abide by it," concludes Binyam.
So, the Eto'o's controversy stands. Everybody in Cameroon - and many fans around the world - await an outcome. Although some might think the former FC Barcelona player's career would be stained by this episode, his brilliant skills continue to inspire many young Cameroonian football hopefuls.