It was a moment that will forever remain etched into the memory of African football fans worldwide. Flashback to the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals. Ghana was locked in an extra time battle against a plucky American team when suddenly the mercurial Asamoah Gyan popped up between two defenders—miraculously staying on his feet—and lashed a thunderous left footed volley into the back on the net. For a brief moment, African football looked unstoppable.
Three summers ago, all signs pointed to the much-maligned prospect of African football finally arriving at its peak. With the 32 best countries competing in one of the most exciting World Cups in recent memory, the continent was perfectly poised to usher in a new era. An era that would undoubtedly leave the gloomy clouds of rampant corruption and ineptitude behind. The culture was on show, and despite FIFA’s initial skepticism regarding South Africa’s preparedness, everything went off without a hitch.
But in what tends to be a recurring theme plaguing far too many African endeavors (sporting or otherwise), it’s proving to be a case of one step forward and two steps back. Three years after Africa’s moment on the world stage, allegations of match fixing, ineligible players and disappearing match revenues are dragging the continent back into football abyss. Case in point, what may go down as the most heart breaking case this year, Cape Verde’s recent disqualification from 2014 World Cup qualifying for illegally fielding a suspended Fernando Varela during their game against Tunisia. The nation, comprised of a tiny group of islands off the coast of West Africa, will now miss out on a chance to be the smallest nation to ever make a World Cup and will be replaced by Tunisia.
Worst yet, these issues are not limited to smaller countries. The culprits are spread throughout the region.
This year, the major offenses have ranged from Ethiopia and Togo’s incredulous attempt to field suspended players to the equally embarrassing acts of Gabon and Burkina Faso who attempted to field Cameroonian born players before their papers where ratified. The problem is that these aren’t simply corrupt offenses, though there are a fair amount of those as well, these are major lapses by the various football associations. And there is no reprieve on the club level either, in fact in some cases it’s worse. The entire situation is putrid, reeking of basic unprofessionalism.
But why is this so widespread in Africa?
In order to break it down, Africa.com spoke to Goal.com’s Nana Frimpong and Asante Kotoko about the deep-seated reasons behind what’s quickly turning into Africa’s dark year in football. It’s no surprise that the money is the unifying theme.
The Pressure to win
“There is the win-at-all-costs that permeates across Africa.” – Nana Frimpong
While the win at all costs ideology isn’t unique to Africa, it’s far more rampant here than in other continents. The local African clubs are owned by backers who invest heavily in the hopes of on the pitch success. When this success is threatened they resort to bribery, coercion and other tactics in order to get what they want, success.
“Referees are poorly remunerated and would surely be tempted to ‘earn’ something by the side to supplement their meager income.” – Asante Kotoko
This unfortunately builds off the previous point regarding corruption in African football. While on the surface curtailing bribery may seem like a straightforward solution, when one further examines the situation it becomes apparent why bribery is so widespread. We can focus on the referees, but the truth all of those involved—the referees to the players—to officials are all poorly compensated. Therefore the chance to make a little extra money on the side is way too valuable to pass up.
“Why, quite often, all they need to do in return is merely raise a flag, flash a red card, give a penalty, blow his whistle, or disallow a goal when they ought not! Not too much of, if you think of it.” – Kotoko
But these shortcomings by the various Football Associations (FA) don’t just occur in a vacuum and their repercussions span much further than the respective FA’s boardroom or FIFA’s whipping stick. In a continent ripe with burgeoning talent these setbacks in effect become trickle down distractions that harm the game even at the most grassroots level.
For example, a young African boy who sees the rampant cheating is likely to lose his respect for the game at an early age. In his mind, why should he adhere to these standards if his elders won’t do the same? This ideology permeates onto the field as well; we’ve often seen African players ripe with talent but lacking the necessary discipline to go to the next level.
But there have been some strides made in recent years. The formation of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) in 2008 was a monumental stepping-stone. Along with the South African Premier league, it became only the second African professional football league to be owned by the clubs. This, however, only came after years of incompetence by the owners that eventually lead to a revolt of sorts by the clubs. Is it even feasible to expect the other 52 nations in this vast continent to undergo their own football civil war of sorts? Likely not, sweeping changes are needed.
The fact remains that Africa’s governing body, The Confederation of African Football (CAF), needs to intervene and take a hard stance against the cheating. The idea of passing the buck to the country’s individual FA is rooted in absurdity. The individual FA’s are either A) over ran by corrupt individuals or B) Far too mired with other issues to handle the creation of a separate committee to deal with allegations of cheating.
The CAF needs to take a major role in stamping out these offenses or we risk the continent returning to the doldrums of football.