The First African Nations Cup: Decolonizing the Pitch?

By | January 8th, 2015 | No Comments

Courtesy FIFA Archives

FIFA Archives

The 2015 African Nations Cup begins on January 17 in Equatorial Guinea. The oil-rich dictatorship, a former Spanish colony with a population of 736,000, agreed to host the tournament on short notice after Morocco pulled out due to fears related to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Africa’s most important tournament is organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), a trailblazing pan-Africanist institution born at the dawn of the era of decolonization. Joining the world body, as I’ve written elsewhere, was an honorable, quick, and inexpensive way for newly independent nations to assert their full membership in the international community.

CAF took tangible shape at the 1956 FIFA Congress in Lisbon. There, delegates from Egypt, Sudan, and South Africa convened to draft a constitution and by-laws. The men also decided to organize a continental championship. Ethiopia was also involved in the discussions, but Yidnecatchew Tessema was unable to travel to Lisbon. The African proposal was later sent to FIFA for review and approval (see image at left).

On February 8, 1957, football officials from Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa convened at Khartoum’s Grand Hotel to formally launch CAF. Fred Fell, a white man representing apartheid South Africa, was invited because his country was a member of FIFA and the Africans did not wish to be perceived as undiplomatic. In the meantime, the white South African football association gingerly debated the composition of the national team. However, the authorities Pretoria opposed a mixed selection and the white football establishment did not challenge the policy.

There are conflicting accounts about what happened next. CAF officials stated that they promptly excluded South Africa in a show of unequivocal pan-African solidarity. Fell and white South African football put forward a different story: they claimed they withdrew the team prior to any sanctions due to the team’s impending tour to Europe as well as security concerns linked to the ongoing Suez Crisis. Unfortunately, the minutes of the meeting at CAF were later destroyed in a fire so we may never know the exact truth of the matter. What is certain is that the South African issue did not disappear. To the contrary, the struggle against apartheid in football would become a powerful bond that united CAF and nearly all African nations for three decades.

South Africa’s absence in 1957 meant that only three teams, comprised of amateurs, participated in the inaugural African Nations Cup. Ethiopia, which had been drawn to play against South Africa, received a bye into the final. Egypt defeated hosts Sudan 2–1 and then dispatched Ethiopia 4–0 in the final watched by a crowd of 30,000 at the Stade Municipal. All four goals were scored by striker Mohammed Diab El-Attar “Ad Diba.” “Those were unforgettable matches,” Ad Diba recalled in an interview in 2001. “The success of this championship and its popularity amongst the Sudanese encouraged the African federation to organize a tournament on a biennial basis and to be played in a different country each time,” he said. Ad Diba made history again eleven years later in Addis Ababa, when he refereed the Afcon final between Congo (DRC) and Ghana (see video).



In those early days, CAF brought to life Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a United States of Africa. At the same time, football provided a rare form of national culture, unity, and pride in postcolonial Africa.

Today, the African Nations Cup has transformed itself into a globalized commercial event with multinational corporate sponsors, matches on satellite television and online, many European coaches, and most players on the sixteen squads employed by European clubs. It is a far cry from 1957. And yet an alluring contradiction has endured: the Afcon showcases Pan-African solidarity while triggering 90-minute nationalism.

Petrodollars to the Rescue! Equatorial Guinea to Host 2015 African Nations Cup

By | November 14th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Estadio de Malabo Equatorial_Guinea

The Confederation of African Football has announced that Equatorial Guinea will replace Morocco as host nation for the 2015 African Nations Cup, the continent’s oldest and most prestigious international tournament.

The decision followed “fraternal and fruitful discussions” between CAF and Equatorial Guinea’s President Obiang, according to CAF’s official statement. Matches will be played in Malabo, Bata, Mongomo and Ebebiyin. The draw is scheduled for December 3 in Malabo.

The oil-rich former Spanish colony, population 736,000, previously co-hosted the tournament, with Gabon, in 2012.

CAF’s announcement brought a controversial and increasingly tense saga to a close. Morocco’s decision to back out of its commitment to stage the Nations Cup came in the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The North African nation’s withdrawal drew passionate criticism from many fans and observers in Africa and overseas.

Writing for The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Sean Jacobs (the South African founder of the Africa Is A Country website) argues that “a mix of politics, opportunism and self-interest seem to be behind Morocco’s decision.”

The incident, Jacobs explains, is evidence of Morocco’s “difficult relationship with nations south of the Sahara. African migrants, some on their way to Europe, regularly complain about harassment, violence and xenophobia.”

James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog took a similar tack. “Morocco can’t escape the impression that its decision was informed by prejudice,” especially within the context of a long and complex history of economic, cultural, and political relations between North African countries and sub-Saharan African nations. And, of course, fear shaped the decision as well. Fear, specifically, “about the possible impact of an Ebola case on tourism that accounts for an estimated ten percent of Morocco’s gross domestic product.”

Morocco’s seemingly contradictory decision not to host the Nations Cup in January but to go ahead and stage the FIFA World Club Cup next month sparked more criticism.

In the end, Africa’s grandest football show will go on thanks to Issa Hayatou, CAF’s president for the past 26 years, and President Obiang, Africa’s longest serving autocrat–in power since 1979 and at the head of the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea that holds 153 of 155 parliamentary seats.

This last-minute African Nations Cup resolution reminds me of FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke’s statement during the massive 2013 Confederations Cup protests in Brazil: “less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup.” And, in this case, it seems to work for an African Nations Cup too.

Banyana Banyana Win Silver: What Next?

By | November 12th, 2012 | No Comments

Boosted by a home crowd of 20,000 fans, including President Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea crushed South Africa 4-0 in the final of the 8th African Women’s Championship in Malabo on Sunday.

Banyana Banyana — as the team is affectionately known — held out until the 43rd minute when the home team took the lead through Chinasa’s header from a corner kick. The goal seemed to take the wind out of Banyana’s sails. After the break the qualitative difference between the two sides became evident. Midway through the second half Banyana lost their concentration, giving up three goals in six minutes to the Nzalang Nacional (Nation’s light): Costa (66′), Anonman (70′) and Tiga (72′).

“Falling at the final hurdle is a major disappointment to all involved with Banyana Banyana,” said head coach Joseph Mkhonza at the post-match press conference. In a year that saw South Africa’s women’s team reach two major milestones, competing in the Olympics for the first time and finally beating powerhouse Nigeria, Mkhonza looked ahead and said that “Banyana Banyana should be able to qualify for international tournaments, such as the World Cup and the Olympics, in the future.”

It is always tough to play a final against the host nation, but the big game in hostile territory did appear to get the best of the South Africans. The night before the match, for example, Banyana captain Amanda Dlamini (@Amanda_Dlamini9) shared her state of mind on Twitter. “I don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight. If I’m going to sleep at all,” she wrote. Then a few hours before the match, defender Janine Van Wyk (@Janinevanwyk5), whose marvelous goal beat Nigeria in Wednesday’s semifinal, tweeted: “Very IMPORTANT game today. I’m so nervous its [sic] insane but I know we will do well.” Perhaps adding to the pressure of the moment, the office of the Presidency (@PresidencyZA) followed by tweeting its support: “President Zuma wishes Banyana well.”

That Banyana could not field three overseas players partly explains Sunday’s result. Midfielder Kylie Ann Louw and reserve goalkeeper Roxanne Barker stayed in the United States due to study commitments, while midfielder Nompumelelo Nyandeni remained with her club in Russia. “Losing a player of Nyandeni’s talent and experience will always be a setback to any team,” said Mkhonza. Another factor to consider has to do with oil-rich Equatorial Guinea’s “willingness to hand out passports to players who agree to play for them without any period of residency,” as Ian Malcolm of goal.com put it. “Almost the entire squad selected for the African Women’s Championship were born outside Equatorial Guinea, most in Brazil, but also in other African states.” While not illegal according to FIFA rules, the ethics of this all-star team formation are questionable.

The buzz about Banyana from South Africans on social media was overwhelmingly positive. “You did South Africa proud, the whole team deserves a heroes welcome. You passed all expectation and showed your greatness,” @RhandzuOptimus wrote in a tweet that captured the general tenor of South Africans’ reactions. The government chimed in too. Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said that “Although they did not win the (African) Championships, Banyana Banyana have proven that they are an ever improving team that has shown progress over the last year.”

Now that the tournament is over what will happen to the “Banyana Bandwagon”? Practitioners and fans know that women’s football in South Africa needs much more investment and support. Even at the elite level there is no season-long national league. And as Thabo Dladla, founding director of Izichwe Youth Football in Pietermaritzburg, explains in a comment to my previous Banyana post: “There are no competitions for girls junior teams. Our girls only start playing football at the university level. These issues have nothing to do with money. SAFA should play the role in terms of promoting the game.” The road ahead is long and tortuous. We’ll be following developments closely.

Suggested Reading

Prishani Naidoo and Zanele Muholi, “Women’s bodies and the world of football in South Africa,” in Ashwin Desai, ed., Race to Transform: Sport in Post-Apartheid South Africa (HSRC Press, 2010).

Cynthia Fabrizio Pelak, “Women and gender in South African soccer: a brief history,” Soccer and Society 11, 1/2 (2010); 63-78.

Martha Saavedra, “Football Feminine—Development of the African Game: Senegal, Nigeria, and South Africa,” Soccer and Society 4, 2/3 (2003): 225-253.

An Armchair Geography (and Preview?) of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations

By | January 15th, 2012 | 8 Comments



Guest Post by Andrew Guest (drewguest AT hotmail DOT com)

It’s that time again; the biennial opportunity for Africa’s best national teams to compete for the continental championship, and European club management to complain about the audacity of former colonies holding a tournament smack in the middle of the league season — extracting labor in a reverse flow that might promote some useful self-reflection, if not for the blinders fused on most of the professional football world.

It always good fun to watch the machinations, even from a distance — the actual football starts January 21 in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, and ends with the final on February 12 in Libreville, the capital of co-host Gabon. As in 2010 in Angola, most of us will be watching from a distance: the oil-rich states that CAF has recently favored in its hosting decisions are note easy places to get to.
(more…)

Heartbreak for South Africa

By | November 11th, 2010 | 3 Comments



The biggest day in South African women’s football history ended in heartbreak as Equatorial Guinea defeated Banyana Banyana 3-1 after extra time on Thursday at a packed Sinaba stadium in Daveyton outside Johannesburg. After 90 minutes the score was 0-0.

The decisive moment came in the 103rd minute. Salimata Simpore capitalized on a defensive mistake by Van Wyk with a simple finish from just inside the box to give the defending champions a 1-0 lead they did not relinquish.

Psychologically shaken and physically tired, the hosts collapsed. In the 109th minute, a Banyana corner led to a breakaway by Equatorial Guinea that ended with a Jade cross being clumsily deflected by Dludlu inside the far post for an own goal that put the game away. As the deflated home crowd filed out of the stadium, Salimata collected a cross, and in one smooth move faked out a Banyana defender and the goalkeeper to slot home a third goal. Amanda Dlamini saved South Africa’s honor with a delicate chip over the keeper two minutes from time. Final score: 3-1 Equatorial Guinea.

The game had started with the defending champions in control, a fact reflected in their 60 per cent possession of the ball in the first twenty minutes. But the first chance fell to South Africa in the 14th minute when in-form striker Amanda Dlamini squandered the easiest of chances, shooting right at the goalkeeper from close range. Banyana gained confidence and territory in the latter part of the first half, largely thanks to Jafta’s domination of the midfield. Just before the break, Van Wyk’s free kick missile from 40 meters out (!) was tipped over the bar by Miriam. On the ensuing corner, Jafta turned and struck a wonderful shot from near the penalty spot, which forced a miraculous diving save from the Equatorial Guinea keeper. No score after a bruising first half. South Africa would come to rue the missed chances.

The second half was more guarded, neither side wanting to risk making a costly mistake. The Togolese referee seemed far too tolerant of rough tackling, with several players on both sides suffering injuries that required bandaging of heads as well as “holy water” treatment. Despite notching 56 percent of possession, Banyana were unable to penetrate, or seriously threaten the Equatorial Guinea defense anchored by Carolina. Then a turning point in the match: Augustine Makalakalane, South Africa’s coach, replaced Jafta with Makhabane, hoping to gain in creativity and attacking force. Instead the move backfired as Equatorial Guinea asserted control of the midfield. The best chances in the final twenty minutes fell to Chinasa Okoro and Salimata, with goalkeeper Mndaweni doing well to stop them in one-on-one situations.

Dlamini almost won it for South Africa on the stroke of 90 minutes with a high shot to the near post that Miriam parried away for a corner. As we readied ourselves for extra time, Salimata broke away from her marker down the right side but failed to deliver an easy pass to Chinasa for the simplest of tap-in goals. It was a sign of things to come.

Earlier in the day, news reports in South Africa had criticized Equatorial Guinea for quickly giving citizenship to players from Brazil, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Senegal. According to kickoff.com, Salimata even played in the AWC qualifiers for Ivory Coast! Cameroon lodged an official protest about Salimata in the group stage, but CAF appears uninterested in pursuing the case.

So Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria — 5-1 winners over Cameroon in the other semifinal — will represent Africa at 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. The African champion will be determined on Sunday.

Can Anyone Stop Nigeria?

By | November 10th, 2010 | 4 Comments



Three victories by a combined score of 10-1 so far in the 2010 African Women’s Championship make Nigeria’s Super Falcons heavy favorites to claim the continental crown.

Led by superstar striker Perpetua Nkwocha’s seven goals, the Super Falcons face Cameroon in tomorrow’s first semifinal. (This match kicks off at 10am. Brunch at Sinaba stadium anyone?). These two West African rivals — in men’s and women’s football — have met in each of the last three AWC tournaments, with Cameroon losing three times (once on penalties) and drawing once. In the 2004 final in South Africa, Cameroon were humiliated by Nigeria 5-0, with Nkwocha scoring four goals. Not a good omen for The Indomitable Lionesses.

South Africa and Equatorial Guinea meet in the second semifinal (3:30pm start, thankfully). This is a rematch of the 2008 title game won by the small oil-rich nation by a score of 2-1. Neither team has played their best football yet so this is likely going to be a riveting contest. Local media have been giving Banyana Banyana unprecedented coverage. The sportive nationalism of the crowds at Sinaba stadium has boosted the confidence, if not the performance, of the South Africans and may well prove decisive against the defending champions.

Prediction: South Africa and Nigeria meet in the final on Sunday.

 

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