Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why an African team must not win the World Cup

When South Africa bagged the privilege to host the 2010 World Cup, there was excitement all over Africa. It was the first time this greatest of global sporting events was coming to the continent.

In Africa and the rest of the world, everyone started referring to the “African World Cup”. Many people even dared believe that this time, an African team might win the World Cup. Over the last few weeks, reality has dawned. The performance of African teams was very disappointing, and only Ghana has made it to the final eight.

However, if you look at the big picture, it would be wrong for an African team to win in South Africa. I have five reasons why an African team shouldn’t win World Cup 2012. First, it would be un-African. In Africa, when you organise a party as South Africa has done with the World Cup, the visitor takes the best.

In good old Africa, if you were a married man and your best friend from beyond the hills visited, you left your bed to him. In parts of western Uganda, you left him your wife too. The visitor ate the best part of the chicken, and the best steak. And upon his departure, you gave him the best cow in your kraal or the fattest goat in your compound.

So we would be going against our culture to host the World Cup and also win it. We would be risking the wrath of the gods, who might unleash locusts on Africa next year. Secondly, the victory by an African team at the World Cup would turn football, already a hugely popular sport in Africa, into a religion and blind obsession.

Our best and brightest young people would not want to become urban planners, teachers, police officers, engineers, or doctors. They would all want to become footballers. This would result in a massive “internal brain drain”, where our best are taken away to expend their talents and energies chasing a piece of leather.

Thirdly, and most worrying for me, a better African performance in South Africa could have been a huge blow to democracy on the continent. Consider that of all the African countries that qualified (excluding South Africa that went in because it is host) – Ghana, Cameroon, Algeria, Cote d‘Ivoire, Nigeria – only Ghana has had a democratic transition from one elected civilian leader to another of a different party.

In Cameroon, the vote stealing Paul Biya has been president for over 30 years. I fear that if all the African teams had gone into the semi-finals, and then two met at the finals, the leaders of these countries would have rewarded themselves by becoming presidents for life or, as happened in Central Africa with dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa in the 1970s, turn themselves into emperors.

A football-drunk adulating public would happily let them get away with it.Fourthly, African dominance and victory at the World Cup would have led to a new outbreak of grand corruption. How, you might ask. Well, an African victory would have led to a new burst of investment in football – in the national teams, and in rehabilitating or building new stadiums – all over the continent.

Every African country would be looking for football glory at the next World Cup. So politicians and well-connected people would have used the frenzy to grab public land, purportedly to build new stadiums. Football would become like national security.

There would be a sharp rise in the money allocated to the ministries of sports and national football associations to build killer teams for World Cup 2014, and no questions would be asked. Because of this, we would see a new round of corruption.

Fifthly, and finally, an African team victory and the euphoria it would kick off, would result in the death of the African family. When you listen to the FM call-in programmes, women are already bitterly complaining that their football-loving husbands and boyfriends have abandoned them (and the children) for the World Cup. Mark you, even without the World Cup, African women (like their suffering sisters in other parts of the football-crazy world) have been grumbling that the English Premier League has become a family-wrecking addiction.

If men are absent all of Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from their homes because of the Premier League, the football madness set off by an African team’s victory in South Africa means African men would move their mattresses to sports pubs. So, for the sake of Africa, surviving Ghana needs to be knocked out quickly.

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