African Football Contributes Significantly To Pan-Africanism
By Cheryl Roberts
Admittedly, belief in Africa’s capabilities and pride in our achievements is not yet firmly established in the minds and hearts of all South Africans. African football gives Africans much pride as we follow our awesome footballers in the current edition of African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2013) and football leagues outside of Africa, especially the rich European leagues, amidst Africa’s many challenges, deficiencies and negatives.
Decades of political, social and economic problems in several African countries have drained Africa, yet football has brought unrivalled pride and confidence to Africa. Countries riddled with internecine strife and horrendous pasts, like Rwanda, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Liberia, South Africa have been united by football when their national teams compete internationally.
African football is mighty powerful. Although a sports structure, the confederation of African football (CAF), simultaneously exploded football and catapulted Africa onto the world stage. It was in the Sudan that CAF was born 55 years ago together with Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa as founding member countries. It was South Africa that would face the first expulsion from CAF in 1960 because of the country’s apartheid policies.
The 55th anniversary of the Confederation of African Football, whilst representing the successes and achievements of the African continent’s organized football structure, also highlights the several challenges which Africa since the de-colonisation of Ghana in 1950, Africa’s first independent and post-colonial country.
CAF’s 55th year of existence should not go unnoticed. It is a structure that has been able, though sport and particularly football, to achieve Pan-African unity and unite a disparate and divided continent. CAF has achieved the strength, confidence and global recognition, yearned for so much by Africa, more than any other African structure which still struggles to be acknowledged as a political and economic force by world structures such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization. It was the dynamic explosion of football under the organized leadership of CAF which catapulted post-colonial Africa onto the world stage.
Although a sports structure, CAF has had to have its finger on the political pulse of Africa because the internal conflicts which characterise several African states have impacted on the organization and development of CAF. Decades of political, social and economic problems in most African countries have drained Africa but football has brought unrivalled pride and confidence to Africa. Countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Liberia, South Africa have been united when the national teams compete internationally. It’s the solid foundation and organizational expertise of CAF which has kept Africa in the international spotlight.
Through all the victories though, the challenges have remained, becoming more complex and at times making it difficult to administer the beautiful game throughout all areas and communities of the continent. Africa’s poor and deficient infrastructure, together with lack of strategic and co-ordinated development and fair distribution of financial resources, have served as major hindrances to the development of football.
Long-serving CAF President, Issa Hayatou has remarked in an interview: “This is a difficult job. Africa is a complex society with different nationalities, ethnic and tribal differences, religious differences and all that, and you just have to manage peace, harmony and even good feeling among the different peoples and orientations.”
The winds of change which were sweeping through Africa, at the advent of independence, baptised African sports leaders with a sense of freedom, self-belief and pride in themselves as Africans. And nowhere was this pride more evident than in CAF’s flexing of the muscles in its fight against racism, discrimination, oppression and anti-colonial rule.
Another victory for African football was CAF’s struggle for additional world cup berths for Africa. FIFA agreed in 1990 to increase Africa’s places from two to five. An equally impressive victory was getting FIFA to rotate host continents for the World Cup Finals, effectively globalising the game and giving both developed and developing continents and countries an opportunity to host the world’s biggest football event.
Post-90 world football has seen a proliferation of African football talents signed up for top teams in lucrative leagues and rich clubs, players such as Liberia’s George Weah, Ghana’s Abedi Ayew, South Africa’s Lucas Radebe and Benni McCarthy, Cameroon’s Roger Milla, Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya, Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba and Cameroon’s Samuel Eto. African football administrators have also made their presence felt, amongst them being former CAF President, Ydnekatchew Tessema of Ethiopia, CAF President Issa Hayatou from Cameroon, Danny Jordaan of South Africa, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Mourad Fahmy of Egypt.
Given Africa’s post-colonial challenges, the successes and achievements recorded by CAF, in the interest of African football, should be appreciated by all of Africa and us as Africans. The mistakes have also been made, but we should fully comprehend the pivotal role played by CAF in challenging European domination of FIFA and advancing Africa, instead of accepting a subservient position within world football. CAF’s role in contributing to Pan-Africanism is immense and has achieved in this regard, thus displaying the power of African unity and Pan-Africanism.