Petty Corruption Stories from Sudan: Corruption at Football Matches
The Sudanese Football Association (SFA) is responsible for annually setting up the national Premier League games for 15 of the best football clubs in the country, each of which represent various local unions. The SFA is also responsible for organizing the Sudan Cup competition, in which all Sudanese football clubs from different levels compete. This competition is very popular among football fans and attracts large crowds every year, bringing in tremendous revenue through the sale of match tickets.
The SFA oversees the process of ticket printing for each competition. However, the burden of deciding ticket pricing, depending on the seating within the stadium, falls on the local football union of the city where the games are being held. The proceeds from the ticket sales go to the home team, but only after deduction of both general and local unions’ fees, and game fees, which include such costs as security, ticket printing, stamps, pitch fare, etc.
Home teams and local unions frequently complain about low financial return on the sale of tickets in some stadiums, despite all seats being occupied. These include the stadiums in Khartoum, Madani and Hassahisa. This is even more noticeable for games in which one of the football clubs participating is either Merikh or Hilal both famous teams with strong followings. There is a huge financial gain in the sale of football tickets in Sudan, but a gap remains in the regulations that govern this process. In this absence, a so-called ‘Mafia’ has emerged that manipulates the proceeds of ticket sales and steal tickets.
These corrupt practices are initiated by the employees who sell tickets at the stadium, and carried forth by the employees who tear the tickets at the entrance gate and those in charge of monitoring this process. This process starts off harmlessly, with match attendees buying tickets at their official price at the stadium, and then presenting their tickets at the gate for entry. So what happens to turn what is meant to be an honest exchange into a corrupt one? The employee at the gate who is meant to tear the ticket when he allows the customer to enter the stadium only tears a few tickets, while keeping a number of them, intact. Once he has collected a substantial number of tickets, he returns them to the ticket office to be re-sold. He repeats this process a number of times until the doors officially close and the games begin. Throughout this process, up to almost half of the seats in the stadium can be re-sold. The proceeds from this enterprise go into the pockets of the so-called ‘Mafia’ who oversee this scheme.
In fact, the scheme does not stop there, continuing well into the game. Fans who were not able to obtain tickets after the game began—usually because there were no more seats or the tickets were too expensive—are allowed to enter without a ticket by paying stadium employees a certain fee, usually lesser than the official ticket price. For example, if the tickets for that game were officially 25 Sudanese Pounds (SDG), then these fans pay only 10 SDG.
This corruption scheme causes great financial losses to the football clubs and their cities, leading to the deterioration of the club’s standard and the standard of football in the whole city. This lost revenue could go towards improving the club’s capabilities and services, instead leading to a deterioration in its management and eventually in the loss of supporters and, crucially, fans attending live matches at the club’s stadium.
While this trend has alarmed the SFA and the local football unions, the way in which they are addressing this issue has been ineffective. For example the FSA could print tickets which could not be tampered with at the Sudanese Central Currency Printing Agency instead of printing them locally. They could also provide more oversight at stadium entrances, in order to identify those who enter without a ticket. Further, the FSA could contract security service companies to oversee the sale and verification of tickets, taking the responsibility away from corrupt FSA employees. Such companies charge reasonable fees, which likely pale in comparison to the amounts made through the corrupt schemes at these football matches.
The participating football teams should also contribute to the monitoring of ticket sales and verification, to ensure the financial gains of their own and their opponent’s clubs, as is their right under the regulations set out by the SFA. However, teams rarely do this due to difficulties in finding willing observers from club members, as most of them prefer to be inside watching the game rather than standing at the entrance gates. To more effectively combat this problem, the SFA should consider introducing e-tickets, which would be scanned and verified by machines, eliminating the element of human corruption and the re-circulation of tickets.
In the end, it is the fans—most of whom are well aware of these schemes—who are the most cheated. Given the social good that football brings to their cities, and to the country, concerned fans and clubs should raise public awareness about the corruption surrounding the beloved game. And they can begin by acting as watchdogs at entrance gates.