Is Africa merely making up the numbers at the mundial?
BY CHIOMA UZOIGWE EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Are Africans merely making up the numbers at the Mundial? As the football world gears up for its greatest show in Russia in June 2018, it is time to take a critical look at the participation of African teams at the world stage.
The qualification matches are all done now with Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco having qualified for the world cup in Russia. The pertinent question is how far can any of these teams go in the tournament? In previous tournaments, the African continent seem to have been pegged at the quarter-final level with Cameroon achieving that in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. With five slots in for Africa, how can we stand up to be counted in Russia 2018? Will our fortunes be brighter this time around?
Indeed, the challenges facing African football reflects the larger African society. Football is not exempted. Challenges of poor leadership and undue government interference in football management abound across Africa. Sit-tight leadership which has permeated African politics is also a common feature of African football with the last CAF president, Mr Issa Hayatou occupying the seat for twenty-two years with very little visible achievement. In Africa, governments influence elections of football officials, particularly the heads of the Football Associations (FAs). FIFA, the world football governing body, on many occasions had threatened to ban some African FAs on account of government’s undue interference in the management of their football. We have over time also seen over-bloated delegations headed to world tournaments which are mainly comprised of politicians and their cronies with scarcely any professional need to be seen in such spaces.
Poor funding and decaying infrastructure have also become part of the bane of African football development except in the instances of a few nations that seem to be faring better. Preparations for the Mundial requires a huge capital outlay which includes camping of the players, training, budgeting for players allowances and bonuses, and of course coaches’ salaries. In times past, we have heard of trouble situations in the camps of some African teams due to non-payment of allowances, bonuses, etc which in turn results in lack of, or distracted focus by the teams in question. On the issue of local infrastructure, the stark reality is that a lot of it is crumbling (notable instances here would be the Nigerian national stadia at Lagos and Abuja) due to corruption, lack of investments and neglect.
Sadly, all of these are continuing even at a time when Africa has now ‘come of age’ in world football, what with the continent’s stars now being household names on the international stage. The managers of our football locally, should therefore rise to the challenge and reciprocate this enhanced fortune by preparing our teams to put up a better performance in Russia. African footballers are making waves in the different leagues in Europe, America and Asia. George Weah, the current president of Liberia was once the FIFA world footballer of the year. Literally, every country in Europe has Africans playing and doing well in their domestic league, so why can’t we translate these into a better showing at the World Cup?
On the hopeful side, of late, we are beginning to see sponsorships for football from the private sector such as the one from Globacom, the Nigerian telecom giants and recently too, from the Aiteo Oil and Gas company. These should be considered the way forward in lifting African football as it is being done in other parts of the world. We earnestly hope that African football will soon begin ‘to reap the fruits’ of these partnerships in the very near future.
Mo Salah of Egypt, Current African footballer of the year