[Marxism] African football, global inequality and South Africa 2010

steve sharra sharrast at msu.edu
Sun Jul 9 10:39:16 MDT 2006

Much of the African media's analyses on the reasons why no African team 
went beyond the second round at the ongoing World Cup Finals in Germany 
focus on two themes that reflect much of the African media's analysis of 
Africa's problems: self blame. Few analyses I have so far looked at mention 
broader issues of global, historical and political injustice and 
inequality, in how world cup berths are allotted in the different FIFA 
confederations. In fact, a Rwandan columnist 
repeats a common refrain about how Africans always blame colonialism for 
their ills, when no such thing has even been mentioned in any of the 
analyses and comments, whose uniting feature has been blaming African teams 
for lacking self-confidence and resources. Such is the strength of the 
reluctance to examine African problems in their broader context that 
blaming colonialism is considered not only taboo, it is brought up even 
when nobody mentions it.

In Malawi, The Nation newspaper of July 1 
<http://www.nationmalawi.com/articles.asp?articleID=17480> quoted national 
team players, sports commentators and coaches as saying African teams 
lacked tactics and "failed to properly read issues on the pitch and react 
quickly." Another player blamed it on lack of self-confidence, saying 
African teams gave a lot of respect to the more experiences teams. The 
Zambian paper The Post 
<http://www.postzambia.com/post-read_article.php?articleId=11994> quoted 
the Nigerian coach Augustine Eguavoen as attributing the problem to lack of 
experience, while the Business Day of South Africa 
<http://allafrica.com/stories/200606270125.html> quoted Farouk Khan, youth 
development coach, as saying it boiled down to lack of facilities to 
promote the sport in Africa. The Zimbabwean Independent put their finger on 
"naivety." There is no denying of the validity of each of these issues.

However, in addition to these analyses, I want to suggest a deeper 
examination of historical and political trends apparent in the development 
of the game since 1930, the first time that the world cup finals were 
staged, in Uruguay, South America. At the center of these historical and 
political trends lie questions of hosting rights and the allocation of 
world cup slots per confederation and region. I want to point out these 
historical and geo-political trends also say a lot about the reasons why 
African and other Third World teams have never been able to go beyond the 
quarterfinals of the world cup tournament, let alone winning the trophy.

With the exception of Japan and South Korea in 2002, the world cup finals 
have always been played in two regions, Europe and the Americas. Is it much 
wonder, then, that the world cup has always been won by teams from these 
two regions, and never from any other region of the world? To date, after 
18 world cup tournaments, in a period of 76 years, only 7 seven teams in 
the world have ever won the FIFA World Cup, all of them from either Europe, 
or South America. Is it such a big surprise that these two regions boast 
the world's most accomplished footballing nations, and that other regions 
do not have such pedigree?

The inequality and injustice of the game's organization is even more 
apparent in the way world cup finals slots are apportioned. The continent 
of Europe has 51 national football associations, and has 14 (15 in 2002) 
world cup finals slots. Africa, which has 52 member associations, has only 
5 slots, an improvement from 1978 when Africa was accorded only one slot. 
South America has 10 associations, yet it claims 5 world cup places. Asia, 
with 44 associations, has 4 places, while Oceania, with 11 associations, 
has no slot of its own, relying on a victory in a play off with the 5th 
placed in South America to be accorded a slot. Unstated in these 
allocations is the fact that some of the teams that are accorded national 
status in FIFA are not even sovereign nations. Examples include Scotland, 
Wales and Northern Ireland, teams that do not have nation status at the 
United Nations, yet they are accorded the opportunity to compete with a 3 
to 1 chance of making it to the finals over sovereign African and Asian 
nations. This not an argument against these teams' world cup berths; 
rather, it is an argument against the injustice and inequality facing 
African and Asian nations.

To its credit, FIFA has been more open and accepting to demands from the 
Confederation of African Football (CAF) for more places and support, thanks 
to the two FIFA's presidencies of Joao Havelange, a Brazilian, and Sepp 
Blatter, a Swiss, who is the current president. According to Paul Darby's 
(2002) study of the development of football in Africa, politics and 
colonialism have always been attendant at each turn of the game. In his 
book titled Africa, Football and FIFA: Politics, Colonialism and 
Resistance, Darby argues that the contours of the development of football 
in Africa reflect the struggles of African countries in global politics and 
history. Writes Darby: "Africa's position within FIFA's global hierarchy 
can be illustrated and informed by drawing upon explanations which take 
into account of the globalization of culture, economic models of global 
development and a range of perspectives in international relations" (p. 7).

Darby's framework and approach, which leads him to conclude that Africa has 
contributed a lot to world football, is shared by other researchers, 
including Alegi (2004), Cornelissen (2004), and several others. This is why 
I am suggesting that the reasons why an African team has never gone to the 
crucial stages of the finals should be understood in the broader contexts 
in which African football has to dribble and tackle. It does not take 
sophisticated thinking to understand how more opportunities to play in the 
world cup finals translate into improvement of the game back in the region 
accorded those opportunities. Our tendency has been to blame ourselves 
without considering other, equally important contexts. As mentioned by 
other commentators, France is dominated by players of African descent. This 
should be seen as evidence of the contributions Africa has made to world 
sports. The choice of South Africa to host the 2010 should also been in a 
positive light, and not in the fear expressed through the prayer that 2010 
will be better than Germany 2006, out of the worry that South Africa might 
"shame Africa" <http://www.nationmalawi.com/articles.asp?articleID=17556>.

There is much to be admired in the tendency for Africans to blame 
ourselves, contrary to those who claim that Africans like to blame others. 
However there are broader contexts that must be taken into consideration, 
to make the analysis more accurate. A lot of the self-blame can in fact be 
seen as coming out of the inferiority complex that is widely, and perhaps 
correctly, understood to plague many Africans, who never cease to see 
Europe and America as the unmatched epitome of civilization and 
advancement. Some of the self-blame also comes from an attitude of 
Africans' dissatisfaction with conditions in their own countries, 
unbalanced with an acceptance of the status quo at the global level. These 
are effects of a Eurocentric mindset, in which some Africans, mostly from 
the elite ranks, have been schooled to view themselves through European 

After several shots from the penalty box, Africa has finally scored into 
the goal of the hosting rights to the 2010 world cup finals. A few 
commentators have observed that Ghana's performance in Germany has been 
worthy of world cup finalists, and that to those who have followed Ghanaian 
football, this has not been a lucky flick. Whereas hosting the tournament 
on African soil does give African teams an added boost, the reality of five 
slots, against historical domination and slot advantage from Europe and 
South America, does not offer much hope for an African team winning the 
cup. Africa's victory lies in the gradual triumphs registered so far, a 
reflection of the awareness of the inequality and injustice of not only the 
world game but global relations as well, on the part of Africa's struggle 
leaders and other fair-minded individuals around the world.

Midwiving the Afrikan Rebirth 

More information about the Marxism mailing list