Chad seeks salvation through soccer

    Story highlights

    • Chad and media group sponsor FC Metz
    • Deal is controversial as the nation faces economic and security emergencies
    • Government denies reported fees

    (CNN)The Central African state of Chad is suffering through a steep economic decline and a grueling fight against terrorism.

    But the government believes that soccer can help to revive the nation's fortunes.
      A new sponsorship deal between state officials, Pan-African media group LC2, and FC Metz will see the French team play with the message "Chad: Oasis of the Sahel" on their shirts, and participate in joint initiatives to develop soccer in Chad.
      It is hoped that the partnership will improve the nation's reputation abroad and encourage tourism.
      "This is part of a strategic partnership," says Betel Miarom, minister of culture, youth, and sport. "The Chadian tourist office, LC2 Group, and FC Metz have forged an agreement for the promotion of Chad's international image through sports."

      Substitute appearance

      FC Metz was promoted this year to Ligue 1, the top division in French football, and required a new sponsor after a previous deal expired.
      The first contact came from LC2 Group, which recently launched a new channel in Chad, and proposed to broker a deal on behalf of the Chadian government. FC Metz President Bernard Serin required further assurance.
      "I wanted to be sure that the government was fully part of the agreement," says Serin. "For that reason we postponed until government representatives came to Metz and showed the commitment and engagement of the country."
      Miarom, along with several more government officials, made the trip to northern France in late August, and the deal was swiftly struck.
      Serin was surprised at the identity of the new sponsors, but notes that the club has strong connections with Africa, having established the "Generation Foot" academy in Senegal in 2000, which produced stars such as Liverpool's Sadio Mane. His new partners will now have access to the facility.
      "This agreement will help young players of Chad come to our academy, which is one of the best in Africa," says Serin.
      The president adds that FC Metz will send a delegation to meet soccer officials in Chad to provide guidance in developing the game, which is the nation's most popular sport.
      Team photo at the 'Generation Foot' academy in Dakar Senegal.

      'Waste of money'

      The agreement has proved controversial, drawing fierce criticism from Chadian analysts.
      Blogger Senior Mbary described the deal as "fraud" and an "opportunity to pillage the meager resources of Chad."
      France-based journalist Ahmat Zeidane Bichara also attacked the agreement, questioning the value of promoting tourism at a time when many Western governments have issued warnings against travel to Chad due to terror fears.
      "Is it not money thrown out the window?" wrote Bichara, contrasting the deal with neglect of emergencies such as widespread water shortages.
      Bichara estimated the sponsorship would cost Chad 2-4 million euros ($2.25-$4.5m) a year, a figure widely circulated following the deal.
      But Miarom denies this, insisting that LC2 Group is covering all expenses.
      "The partnership was finalized by LC2 and Chad has not spent a single penny," he says.
      The minister further claims that the deal supports rather than detracts from core commitments.
      "The Government has been engaged in a vast battle against poverty," says Miarom. "The President of the Republic has initiated a plan for the emergence of Chad in 2030. And in this Chad we want in 2030, sport occupies a prominent place."
      A market gardener waters salad greens near N'Djamena, Chad. Critics have attacked the government for the sponsorship of FC Metz at a time the country is experiencing widespread water insecurity.

      Country club

      Sponsorship deals between countries and soccer clubs are increasingly common, such as Azerbaijan's sponsorship of Atletico Madrid and Qatar's deal with Barcelona.
      Matthew Glendinning, editor of Sports Sponsorship Insider, believes that clubs such as FC Metz are being forced to consider unusual partnerships.
      "The switch to Chad as a country sponsor is surprising, but it is not unusual for lower-tier Ligue 1 clubs to struggle to find commercially-based sponsors," he says.
      Football game in Habile refugee camp in Chad.
      Glendinning can also see the appeal for sponsors, as soccer offers excellent exposure.
      "Chad has a pressing need to promote its tourism industry," he says. "Football, as the most popular sport in the country, would be considered an attractive medium."
        With Ligue 1 being broadcast in over 100 countries, the message of Chad will certainly reach a global audience.
        But whether the deal is remembered as an inspired decision or a regrettable folly remains to be seen.