Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Anticipating the 2012 African Cup of Nations with pride and anxiety for Sport in Africa.

Anticipating the 2012 African Cup of Nations with pride and  anxiety for Sport in Africa.
 By Takura Zhangazha

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) African Cup of Nations (AFCON) begins on 21 January 2012 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. It is a tournament that will have many of the participating countries citizens glued to television screens and radio sets in support of their teams. Other football fans of countries that did not qualify may however not be as enthusiastic and understandably  they will fight over the television remote controls arguing about whether to switch to an AFCON or a European league match.

This is because when it comes to the entertainment component of football, fans want many options, even if they are using one television as is the case in most African circumstances. Sometimes however, there is a lot more loyalty to a European club than a national side or even a local premiership side. This is probably because the European Clubs play better football and in any event, football is intended primarily to entertain and in most instances only requires loyalty from fans as an added advantage.

This year’s AFCON is however significant in that it occurs almost two years after South Africa became the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, a development which, as the same tournament’s slogan had it, was intended to show it is now Africa’s time (it is time!) to enter the world stage of football on an equal footing with the rest of the world.
It has since transpired that we did not gain as much as we thought we would either as Africans or as South Africans. Arguments still remain in South Africa about the benefits of large stadiums that are difficult in the aftermath of the tournament to justify amidst poverty. We can however take comfort in the fact that premier league football is still played in some of the stadiums, though without the capacity crowds. The quality of the game may not improve, but at least for a while it will be played in somewhat modern settings.

And perhaps this is the challenge of not only African football but all major African sports. This being a desire, via hosting important but costly sporting tournaments,  to be seen as being modern and up to international standards albeit temporarily so. The two weeks of football we shall witness in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are worked for over two years, and the moment in the international/continental sun is enjoyed only to leave limited benefits in the aftermath of the games. And of these limited benefits, the most celebrated one is always that of new sporting infrastructure in the form of new stadiums or a new short railway line linking stadiums and improved hotel accommodation (read as improvements in tourism).

These hardly have anything to with the development of the sport in the host country or even for the hosting region or continent, especially if it is viewed as an underdeveloped one. After all the stars leave, there will be a return to complacency in relation to the management of the particular sport and sport in general. An easy example is that of the South African national football team and not only its failure to qualify for this year’s AFCON but the manner in which it did so. This only some eighteen months after their country hosted the FIFA World Cup.
Zimbabwe is an even more disappointing example when one looks at  the manner in which we hosted the All Africa Games in 1995 and built infrastructure  without a longer term comprehensive national sports policy. The end result has been not only dilapidated sports infrastructure and unfinished sporting projects but inefficient sports administration and continued decline in popular participation in various sports disciplines.

In order to mitigate the challenges that come with hosting international tournaments, African sporting associations and governments need to re-think the long term benefits at country, regional and continental level. It is ill-advised to fall into the default mode of arguing that countries  bid to host a tournament for short term gain and expect the long term ones to define themselves later.

And it is not the physical infrastructure that counts. Instead it is the sporting culture and administration that is significantly more important. This includes not only how the tournament is held, but how the relevant sports become an integral part of the socio-economic fabric of the societies that hosted them. From grassroots based training institutions through to national, regional and international competitions that are not only popular but grounded in firm institutions that seek more to serve than to extract raw talent from the African continent.

I will therefore be watching the AFCON 2012 with pride and anxiety. Pride that as Africans we continue with the international traditions of the beautiful game that is football. The anxiety  for the future is that the two weeks of sporting competition will once again, leave us the poorer in the development of our sport as countries and as a continent.
Ends//Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity and this article first appeared on Please acknowledge this