with Chioma Uzoigwe
WHO REALLY WON THE WORLD CUP: AFRICA?
The Mondial may have been done and dusted with of course France lifting the prestigious trophy but it propelled up the issue of racism which has been the bane of football over the years. This year’s World Cup is also most shockingly the first time since 1982 in which no African team has advanced to the knockout stages. Nigeria was defeated by Argentina. Africa’s expectation was that Senegal would at least advance to the knockout stages but was sent home despite having the same win-loss record as Japan; the team accumulated more yellow cards than Japan and thus also emerged as the first team in history to be sent home from the World Cup due to the fair-play rule. Africa again, made a poor showing at the world cup.
Africa’s involvement in the World Cup ended when Senegal were eliminated by Colombia but in the eyes of many African football fans from across the continent, they had their compatriots in the French team who finally lifted the trophy. There are at least 15 players with African roots in the France squad, and their lineages stem from all over Africa.
Samuel Umtiti was born in Cameroon, Steve Mandanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Paul Pogba’s parents are from Guinea, N’Golo Kante’s from Mali. Blaise Matuidi’s parents are from Angola and came to France via DR Congo. Kylian Mbappe has an Algerian mother and a Cameroonian father (some say his father is half Nigerian). Presnel Kimpembe and Steven Nzonzi’s fathers are Congolese. Corentin Tolisso’s dad is from Togo. The list goes on. The list of their predecessors (the 1998 winners) are many too – Patrick Vieira et all.
Some commentators have been referring to what they termed the ‘Africanness’ of the team. Trevor Noah (the South African Comedian) said “I mean, look, I get it: They have to say it’s the French team. But look at those guys. You don’t get that tan by hanging out in the south of France.” As racist as that may sound to the French man, Africans are happy that their ‘own’ won the World Cup.
The French polity disagrees and frowns at this. The French Ambassador to the US Gerard Araud retorted at Trevor Noah”I heard your words about ‘an African victory,’ nothing could be less true. … By calling them an African team, it seems you are denying their Frenchness,” Araud said. “This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French.”
France took home the most coveted prize for the second time in the country’s history with a team starring black and Muslim players.
Araud acknowledged that some of the team members’ “parents may have come from another country,” but he said all but two of the 23 players were born in France.
“They were educated in France, they learned to play soccer in France, and they are French citizens,” he said. “They are proud of their country, France.” The racist war has taken a new crescendo with the retirement of Mezuit Ozil from international football after the world cup. “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Özil wrote, describing a double standard that led him to hang up his national jersey: “I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t.”
The performance of African teams in the competition leaves much to be desired and poses very ominous questions about the future of African football. Africa, represented by Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia and unfortunately, none of these five teams made it beyond the group stage of the competition.
Likewise, another ominous question is if many of our African players are performing well in European clubs, how can this be translated from club to country. One writer sarcastically commented that if indeed Africa (French players) won the latest World Cup how come no African team emerged from the group stages. This is really food for thought and a misnomer, a reflection of our fragile polity and shoddy environment. We never prepare well for world tournaments. We either rely on voodoo or prayers instead of taking time out to prepare.
It’s time for African countries’ Football Associations to review the way forward and not just make up the numbers in every major tournament as we have consistently done. Those who manage our football have only paid attention to greed and personal aggrandizement without drawing long terms plans on how to improve our football.