“I’m wandering downtown in the rain searching for words to describe what I’m feeling right now. Something, anything to make sense of the loss,” is all the prose I could muster when I heard the sad news. Fortunately, many other more capable, more productive authors, activists, and scholars posted lovely tributes, although only a few highlighted Galeano’s art of fútbol writing (e.g. click here to read Dave Zirin’s eulogy in The Nation).
As I searched for the appropriate, any!, words to articulate my grief and gratitude, I thought back to when I translated a chunk of the Italian edition of Soccer in Sun and Shadow into English for Joe McGinniss, the American journalist and writer with whom I was corresponding from South Africa as he finished his book The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.
By the time I had returned to Boston to write up my PhD dissertation, the English edition had finally been published (brilliantly translated by Mark Fried) and I took to opening and closing class meetings in my Soccer and Imperialism course (sic!) with a reading from what I called “the Gospel according to Galeano.”
It’s now been four days since our fútbol bard’s passing and I’ve completely failed to find the just-exactly-right words to share with you.
So I returned to the source. Below is my favorite reading from Fútbology’s Sacred Text. Ciao Eduardo!
Zambia won the African Nations Cup in 2012. It is a recognized regional football powerhouse. As in most African countries, Zambians are fiercely passionate and knowledgeable about the game.
Yet to this day no academic history of soccer in Zambia exists. Hikabwa Decius Chipande, a native of Zambia currently completing his PhD in history at Michigan State University, is determined to eliminate this inexcusable oversight.
On March 26, the Football Scholars Forum, a fútbol think tank based in the MSU History Department, hosted an online discussion of Chipande’s paper titled “Mining for Goals: Football and Social Change on the Zambian Copperbelt, 1940s to 1960s.” This paper is part of Chipande’s larger doctoral dissertation in African history, which I am supervising at MSU.
The paper was precirculated on the FSF website and then, following the group’s tradition, the author was invited to make brief introductory remarks about the project before ably taking questions from the audience for 90 minutes.
Participants from three continents engaged in a discussion about the changing structure of clubs on the Zambian Copperbelt; sport in Africanist scholarship; the place of Zambia in wider south-central and southern African histories; local fan culture; and the importance of print media and oral interviews to represent multiple local voices and perspectives on the past.
The audio recording of the full session can be downloaded here.
Foreign white coaches’ involvement in African football dates back to the earliest days of colonialism. Beginning in the 1960s, independent African states continued to hire many Europeans (especially from the Eastern bloc and West Germany) and South Americans to manage national teams and player development programs.
This funny BBC video raises serious questions about this long-standing trend, noting the disproportionately high number of overseas coaches at the 2015 African Nations Cup. In a field of sixteen teams in Equatorial Guinea, the only local coaches on the sidelines were Honour Janza (Zambia), Florent Ibengé (DR Congo) and Shakes Mashaba (South Africa).
How does football shape national narratives in Latin America? Why is the game so closely tied to masculinity and femininity? How can studying fútbol advance our understanding of Latin American history? These and other questions were part of the Football Scholars Forum recent discussion of Joshua Nadel’s Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America.
The author, an assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University, shared his experience of writing a book that the publisher expected to have cross-over appeal. In addition to tackling questions from the thirteen participants online, Nadel also suggested future directions for research on Latin American fútbol.
An audio recording of the event can be downloaded here.
The next gathering of the Football Scholars Forum will be on March 26 for a paper on Zambian football by Hikabwa Chipande, a PhD candidate in African history at Michigan State University. For more information about this event, please contact Alex Galarza.
This year’s Africa Cup of Nations is underway in Equatorial Guinea. RFI talks about African football and media coverage with Peter Alegi, an authority on the game in Africa and Professor of History at Michigan State University in the United States. [full text here.]
Click below to listen to the interview. (iOS users click here.)
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.
The prominence of the women’s game in the sport-media-industrial complex happens so rarely, and tends to be so fleeting, that the Football Scholars Forum, the online fútbol think tank based at Michigan State University, decided to devote its final event before the holiday break to a thorough discussion of the state of the women’s game internationally, both on the pitch and in the scholarly literature.
This veritable intellectual pelada (pickup game) takes place on Thursday, December 11, at 2pm Eastern U.S. Time (-5 GMT). To jumpstart the Skype discussion, eminent scholars of the game have written pre-circulated blog posts on the FSF website.
Click here to read “When Two Elephants Fight, It is the Grass That Suffers” by Jean Williams (DeMontfort University, @JeanMWilliams).
Click here to read “Marimachos: On Women’s Football in Latin America” by Brenda Elsey (Hofstra University, @politicultura) and Joshua Nadel (North Carolina Central University, @jhnadel).
This is not the first time that FSF has delved into aspects of the study and play of women’s football. In 2011, just before the last Women’s World Cup, Cynthia Pelak and Jennifer Doyle facilitated a vigorous session (click here for details and audio). A second gathering a year later pivoted around Jun Stinson’s short documentary film, The 90th Minute (click here to listen to my interview with the filmmaker), and featured an intervention by Gwen Oxenham, author of Finding the Game (click here for audio).
To participate in the December 11 FSF event via Skype, please contact Alex Galarza on Twitter (@galarzaalex) or by email at galarza.alex AT gmail. See you on the virtual pitch!