South African Soccer NGO in the Spotlight

By | October 24th, 2017 | No Comments

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Kabelo “KB” Mashinini, Thabiso “Boyzzz” Khumalo and Thabang “Cosmos” Matsoko are the heart and soul of the Umhlaba Vision Foundation (UVF) in South Africa. In a recent piece published in the Huffington Post, the three men discuss their nonprofit organization that since 2007 has provided local boys with overseas educational experiences through soccer.

“Hailing from the Meadowlands section of Soweto, Mashinini, Khumalo and Matsoko have impacted their community and country significantly over the last decade,” the article states.  “What we’re doing,” says Michigan-based Khumalo, “is bringing talented student-athletes here to go to school and then when they do good in soccer and in school, they get two opportunities.”

“Because most of these kids are like me, where I only depended on soccer, and if soccer didn’t work, I hadn’t considered what else I’d do,” Khumalo said, “I decided to create the foundation to help the kids of South Africa and make my contribution to society using something I love and am passionate about.”

UVF has important Michigan connections through Khumalo and sponsors such as Madonna University Athletics, AFC Ann Arbor, Concordia Ann Arbor Athletics, Northville Rush, and Michigan ODP.

Read the full article here.

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Sport and Social Justice in South Africa

By | October 4th, 2017 | No Comments

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Nelson Mandela would have been proud of Colin Kaepernick and the black (as well as a few white) U.S. athletes involved in the national anthem demonstrations against police violence and systemic racism. “Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela believed. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

 

This weekend I am presenting a paper that puts some of these issues in historical perspective at the 14th North Eastern Workshop on Southern Africa.

 

Using a mix of primary and secondary sources, “Sport and Social Justice in South Africa: Historical Reflections” shows how soccer, rugby, cricket and other sports carved out spaces in which to contest white power and raise awareness among athletes, coaches, officials, and fans of the evils of racism. It explores how black (and some white) sportsmen and women, South African and not, over the course of the 20th century worked hard to connect sport to advocacy for equal rights, citizenship, and the reduction (or elimination) of unjust inequalities.

 

After the rise of apartheid in 1948, a number of sports activists overtly challenged segregation, mainly by launching a global boycott of white South African sport. Sports sanctions, beginning with a FIFA suspension in 1961 and continuing with expulsion from the Olympics in 1970 and eventually from nearly every major sport, propelled the Anti-Apartheid Movement and contributed to the struggle for national liberation.

 

In the final section, the paper grapples with the impact of the commercialization of sport in the 1980s and 1990s and its changing social and political role during the transition from apartheid to democracy. In doing so, it notes the increasing marginalization of social justice initiatives and discourses in sports. Since the end of the boycott in 1992, the lion’s share of the medals, money, glory, and career opportunities has gone to a few historically advantaged white men and some members of the new black upper-middle class.

 

For just about everyone else, the pride elicited by Olympic and world champions Caster Semenya and Wayde Van Niekerk sits alongside sport’s fading willingness to meaningfully address inequality and injustice in the age of Jacob Zuma, Marikana, and #FeesMustFall.

Filed under: Fútbology

Pan-African Sports Studies

By | July 27th, 2017 | No Comments

Group photo of participants at the 11th Sports Africa conference, University of the Free State, April 2017

The University of Zambia will host the 12th Sports Africa conference on March 26-28, 2018. The theme of the conference is: “Pan-African Sports Studies: Beyond Physical Education.”

The conference in Lusaka will bring together sports scholars and practitioners from African, North American, and European Universities working on a diversity of topics in a wide range of disciplines.

The event builds on the April 2017 conference hosted by The Institute of Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State in South Africa.  I joined scholars from around the continent and the world for three days of presentations, workshops, and discussions in Bloemfontein around the theme of “Sporting Subalternities and Social Justice” (see photo above). In my keynote address, “Black Sport Matters: A History of Sporting Subalterns’ Quest for Social Justice in Africa,” I told stories about African athletes, administrators, and fans who used their visibility and influence to make powerful claims for equal rights and to advance a variety of social justice causes. Ranging from the colonial era to the contemporary period, I looked at the factors that motivated African sports activism, strategies and tactics, successes and failures, and connected this history with struggles against racism, sexism, and homophobia waged by black athletes today.

At next year’s conference I may present a co-authored paper with Liz Timbs, which examines aspects of youth sports development in South Africa through a history of the Izichwe Youth Football Academy in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. More on this project as things develop, of course.

For more information about the 2018 Lusaka conference visit: http://sportinafrica.org/conference2018/

Filed under: Fútbology

Why Nigerians Love Arsenal . . . and the EPL

By | May 23rd, 2017 | No Comments

The author at home with Spurs fans in Lagos

The English Premier League is an obsession for millions of African fans. Author and fútbologist David Goldblatt recently traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, to find out what this cultural phenomenon looks like and why there is such deep reverence for Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs, and . . . Bournemouth.

In a newly released piece for Bleacher Report, Goldblatt hears from Emeka Onyenufuro, founder of Arsenal Nigeria, who tells him that “Monday to Friday lunchtime, I’m working in my job [as a manager in the power industry], but from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, it is all Arsenal.”

The quality of EPL play and the excitement of watching some of the world’s best players, including N’Golo Kanté, Victor Moses, Yaya Touré, and many other African superstars, partly explains the intensity of local passion for and dedication to the EPL. But another explanation is that the middle-class Nigerian men at the heart of this piece have willingly capitulated to the EPL’s “attention merchants” (Tim Wu docet): “It’s the branding. . . it’s just so professional,” a fan explains.

The author takes us into various public viewing spaces where the South African-owned satellite provider DSTV beams in live games, highlights, and talk shows that collectively stoke the obsessive compulsions of the Nigerian EPL fan. When not watching matches (and praying that frequent power cuts don’t ruin crucial moments in the broadcast), the lads follow their favorite clubs on social media for several hours a day.

The piece also features a fascinating description of the Socialiga, a football and basketball league and “social space to network with their peers, flirt and raise some money for charity.” It left me wanting to know even more about this astonishing kind of grassroots social entrepreneurship.

The Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo’s images complement the prose quite beautifully. And Esiebo’s camera does not lie: David Godlblatt seemed most at home in Lagos among his Spurs Nation mates (see photo above).

Read the full article here.

Racial Bias in U.S. Soccer Culture?

By | January 26th, 2017 | 2 Comments

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Is there an implicit racial bias in Major League Soccer and other U.S. leagues?

A piercing SB Nation story this week grappled with the implications of a recent study‘s disturbing findings “that black players are 14 percent more likely to be called for cautions than their non-black counterparts.” The study by Paste magazine also found that “black players are [. . .] more than twice as likely to receive red card ejections.”

In the article, I share my thoughts on this important issue with the SB Nation reporter, Tyler Tynes. I point out that “while finding empirical data is difficult, there’s plenty of soft and hard discrimination to believe that bias can take hold in refereeing. American soccer is not excused.” In fact, officiating bias can be understood as part of a broader pattern of racism in soccer, in the U.S. and internationally, one characterized by the practice of “stacking,” the presence of very few black coaches on the sidelines, and multiple forms of racist fan behavior.

“It can’t be denied,” I say in the piece. “Racism in soccer, in Europe certainly, is very real. And, regrettably, despite all the progress that’s been made in terms of messaging and tolerance in local football culture, it’s still there. And everybody knows it.”

But don’t take my word for it, click here to read the full story.

Football and Politics in Africa: A Not-To-Be-Missed BBC Radio Documentary

By | January 11th, 2017 | No Comments

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“Beyond the Pitch” is a riveting BBC World Service radio documentary that explores the close links between the “beautiful game” of football and the “dirty game” of politics in multiple African countries.

Produced by Farayi Mungazi and Penny Dale, the 50-minute feature aired on the eve of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon, which marks the 60th anniversary of the continent’s most prestigious sporting event.

The documentary opens with Nigeria’s boycott of AFCON 1996 in South Africa. The last-minute withdrawal of the Super Eagles came in retaliation for President Nelson Mandela’s scathing criticism of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s regime, which in November 1995 had executed author Ken Saro Wiwa and eight more Ogoni environmental activists in a sham trial.

The next segment is captivating and among the most historically significant. It tells the story of how football helped Algeria’s struggle for independence from France through mesmerizing interviews with Mohamed and Khadidja Maouche. He was a young professional footballer in France in the late 1950s, but the newlyweds were also members of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the main Algerian liberation movement. The couple reveals how they secretly worked together to facilitate an exodus of Algerian-born footballers from their French clubs to play for the FLN “national” team. “No-one knew I was married to Maouche,” Khadidja says. “They would just be told a FLN activist wanted to speak to them. I would talk to them individually to say: ‘It’s an order, that’s it,’ and they all agreed.” In 1960 Mohamed Maouche eventually joined the FLN team, which played matches in front of large crowds in North Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, and Eastern Europe. “We were the first ambassadors of the revolution and the Algerian people,” he recalls with profound emotion half a century later.

Burundi’s current President Pierre Nkurunziza, a qualified football coach and owner of Hallelujah FC, is mentioned as a bridge to a terrific interview with Dr. Hikabwa Chipande, an historian and Michigan State University alumnus (PhD, 2015). Now a lecturer in African history at the University of Zambia, Chipande brings the BBC reporter through the archives in Lusaka where he conducted doctoral research on the history of Zambian football. As they look at sources documenting former president Kenneth Kaunda’s passion for and involvement in the game, Chipande points to a 1974 photograph of Kaunda serving food to the national team—quite an endearing, populist image. Mungazi then travels to Luanshya, on the Copperbelt, to talk football and politics with Dickson Makwaza, one of the players served by Kaunda in 1974, and with 91-year-old Tom Mtine, a legendary football administrator.

In the second half of the documentary we leap ahead to AFCON 2010 in Angola. The Togo national team bus was targeted by armed separatists from the enclave of Cabinda at the border with the Republic of Congo: “probably the most dramatic moment ‘off the pitch’ in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations,” Mungazi says. The armed attack killed two men and wounded several others: “one of the worst experiences I’ve had in my life,” said Togolese striker and English Premier League veteran, Emmanuel Adebayor.

The last time Uganda qualified for AFCON was in 1978 when the infamous Idi Amin was still in power. A local academic and former national team players explain how Amin, a keen boxer himself, bankrolled sports during his dictatorship (1971-79) to boost nationalism and also as a weapon of mass distraction. But we also hear of the traumatic experiences of John Ntensibe and Mama Baker. The former was imprisoned and forced to load bodies onto trucks after scoring the winning goal for Express FC against the army team, Simba, while Baker, a devoted Express supporter, was arrested twice for little more than being Uganda’s biggest soccer fan.

Fast forward again to the 21st century: we hear about George Weah, Africa’s only World Player of the Year (1995), who launched a career in politics in Liberia after retiring from the game. Weah lost a presidential election in 2004 (to future Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Sirleaf Johnson), but recently won a Senate seat and may run again for his country’s highest office.

The final chapter in the story of the links between politics and football focuses on Ghana. There, top clubs Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko have long been entangled in party politics and presidential contests. Veteran Ghanaian reporter Kwabena Yeboah also describes the emergence of Real Republikans, a super club of the 1960s closely connected to President Kwame Nkrumah. Subsequent regimes in Ghana, it is noted, used the men’s national team, the Black Stars, to strengthen their popularity and “perpetuate their reign.”

As a scholar who has been writing about African football history, culture, and politics for a long time, I found Farayi Mungazi and Penny Dale’s “Beyond the Pitch” documentary to be finely researched and evocatively presented through African voices. The producers did well to carefully bring out the game’s contradictory capacity to be a force for empowerment and disempowerment. What a great way to get ready for the upcoming 2017 AFCON in Gabon. And what a wonderful resource for teaching and research.

Click here to listen and download the podcast version of the documentary.

Ciudad Deportiva–Historical Documentary on Boca Juniors and Urban Development in Buenos Aires

By | December 7th, 2016 | No Comments



The new documentary film Ciudad Deportiva tells the little-known story of the “Sport City” of Boca Juniors, Argentina’s most popular soccer team.

The sport and leisure park was conceived by Alberto J. Armando, the president of Boca in the late 1950s and 1960s. At the time, it was one of the most ambitious architectural projects in Argentine history. Construction began in 1965 on seven islands on the Rio de la Plata, with plans for a 140,000-capacity stadium, swimming pools, tennis courts, and ample spaces for recreation.

An international team worked on the film for more than three years. Alex Galarza, a PhD student in Latin American history at Michigan State University, shared his doctoral research with four Argentine journalists: Lucas Taskar, Maximiliano Acosta, Nicolás Franciulli and Micael Franciulli. The group conducted on-camera interviews with Boca “elders” and experts, complementing these with rare archival footage, music, and documents unearthed in libraries and archives.

The Spanish language film (with English subtitles) evocatively shows how and why the “Ciudad Deportiva” urban renaissance construction project failed. In doing so, it sheds new light on the vital role of soccer clubs in Buenos Aires’ urban planning, politics, and everyday life. The documentary is freely available on YouTube where it will likely find a warm reception not only among scholars of Latin America and urban life but also among intellectually curious soccer fans.

Filed under: Video

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