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September 2, 2003

Congo's football officials 'go deaf'

From: BBC News, UK - Sep 2, 2003

By Said Penda
BBC, Brazzaville

Congo's football authorities have come up with a new idea to end mounting corruption at the turnstiles of its stadiums.

They have decided to replace the old officials on the gates with people who can neither speak nor hear.

The directors of the league say the deaf and dumb officials will prove incorruptible and that ticket receipts have already gone up.

After only two matches, the directors of the league have declared themselves completely satisfied with their new, deaf, employees.

With half a smile, the secretary general of Brazzaville's football league, Badji Mombu, explained to me how difficult it was now for those who wanted to illegally purchase entry to the stadium to communicate with the new ticket sellers.

Not only are they deaf and dumb, but they also carry out their tasks to the letter.

Gate receipts have soared, Badji Mombu said, but the football directors are worried that the fans who used to bribe their way are not accepting the new situation sitting down.

The deaf gate turnstile operators have occasionally been assaulted in front of policemen and para-military gendarmes, who did not intervene to protect them, an attitude the football league has criticised.

For each match, 50 deaf and mute youths are recruited by Brazzaville's football league through the national deaf association.

Employed on a daily basis and paid 2,500 CFA francs ($4), they have been so successful, that those in charge of Congo's national sport are keen to continue the experiment.

Nazaire Diabinda, the director of the deaf institute in the capital, explained that for the youths, the payment was not as important as the fact that they could demonstrate they could be more important, and more useful than able-bodied people.

"It's a real challenge for them," the director said.

However cynics believe it is only a matter of time before football lovers learn sign language and for the deaf ticket sellers to realise that they can earn more money from bribery than from their official salaries.