How much longer must we sing a sad African song?

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REIN­ERS

ARIVER of tears snakes its way through the con­ti­nent af­ter yet an­other World Cup fail­ure for Africa.

Egypt, Morocco, Nige­ria, Tu­nisia and Sene­gal have all crashed out in the group stages of Rus­sia 2018 – and, while sad­ness and sor­row ac­com­pany this sob­bing stream of dis­ap­point­ment, it does re­veal a des­per­ate need for greater in­tro­spec­tion.

In fact, scrap that: there have been too many years of anal­y­sis and soulsearch­ing for African foot­ball; the time for change is at hand. Surely, this can­not go on any longer.

Let’s not even talk too much about the sta­tis­tics: this is Africa’s worst World Cup in 36 years – with­out a team in the knock­out stage for the first time since 1982 – and, of course, the big­gest blip of them all: no African coun­try has ever reached the semi-fi­nals of the World Cup; only Cameroon (1990), Sene­gal (2002) and Ghana (2010) have made it to the quar­ter­fi­nals.

In the build-up to the crunch fi­nal group game against Colom­bia on Thurs­day, Sene­gal’s play­ers spoke about not just rep­re­sent­ing their own coun­try, but that they were car­ry­ing the hopes of the en­tire con­ti­nent.

It’s al­ways this way: the is­sues at play in Africa, like its colo­nial his­tory and eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tages, cre­ate a sense of unity; we are all in the same boat.

And it’s one of the rea­sons why Africa is reg­u­larly re­ferred to as a coun­try rather than a con­ti­nent – and why, when an African team plays at the World Cup, it has 1.2 bil­lion root­ing for it.

More than that, foot­ball is idolised in Africa; peo­ple love the sport. It’s played on ev­ery patch of tar, ce­ment or grass, with any raw ma­te­rial that can be shaped into a ball, in ev­ery cor­ner and cranny of the con­ti­nent.

Be­cause of this, foot­ball owes big­time. it’s about time – it’s time for African foot­ball sides to live up to its po­ten­tial.

So what have we seen in Rus­sia? Egypt, Mo Salah and all, were hugely frus­trat­ing; Tu­nisia, the less said the bet­ter; Morocco showed prom­ise, but that’s about it; and, then, both Sene­gal and Nige­ria had op­por­tu­ni­ties to progress, but lacked the cut­ting edge, the com­po­sure and the over­all de­ci­sive­ness dur­ing the crit­i­cal mo­ments.

Ev­ery World Cup, Africa sings the same tune: they played well and they can hold their heads high.

How long, to steal a line from the U2 song, how long must we sing this song?

More sig­nif­i­cantly, what the con­tin­ued de­cline does is re­in­force that ir­ri­tat­ing and pa­tro­n­is­ing at­ti­tude to­wards Africa: they have po­ten­tial, but; they have the play­ers, but; they could one day win the World Cup, but; and this “but” per­spec­tive is, of course, syn­ony­mous with the gen­eral at­ti­tude to the African con­ti­nent, in ev­ery sphere of life.

It’s time for foot­ball to break such per­cep­tions.

There is no doubt that the top African teams have the ta­lent to go all the way at a World Cup. But, and here’s the rub, how do they do it?

To be hon­est, I don’t re­ally know. Hav­ing been in­volved in foot­ball, as a player and then a writer since the 1980s, and hav­ing wit­nessed, first-hand, the im­plo­sion of foot­ball in South Africa – from the highs of 1996 to a stag­nant 2018 – the so­lu­tion is not easy; there are so many fac­tors at play.

But what I do know is foot­ball on the con­ti­nent has to struc­ture and plan bet­ter, it needs to change its top-down ap­proach, it needs clean, com­mit­ted, vi­sion­ary ad­min­is­tra­tors, and it has to place greater em­pha­sis and fi­nan­cial re­sources on de­vel­op­ment.

More than that, and probably even more im­por­tantly, the rem­edy to Africa’s foot­ball anguish is not to be found in point­ing fin­gers out­ward; the cure, route to suc­cess, will be found when they search within: the an­swers are there.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.