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.)
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.
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.
Last Saturday’s 2015 Women’s World Cup draw in Ottawa briefly took the global media spotlight away from the men’s game. And from the players’ gender discrimination lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association for staging matches on artificial turf rather than natural grass.
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.
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!
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.
This week my senior history seminar “Race and Power in South African Sport” is discussing the gripping story of the Makana Football Association, the league formed by prisoners on Robben Island, apartheid’s most notorious prison. Students read More Than Just a Game: Soccer vs. Apartheid—The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close. We also watched the film by the same title, which preceded the book version of the story.
Students blog weekly about the readings as a way to reflect on the assigned material and spark discussion. “As a soccer player myself,” wrote one blogger, “the true story of what materialized on Robben Island is one of the most thought-provoking and uplifting stories I have ever come across.”
Another student blogger highlighted the role of football in bringing older and younger inmates closer together in the wake of the 1976 Soweto Uprising. The shifting demographics of the prison population sparked tensions, but eventually “The younger generation saw the quality of football that was played on the island and began to appreciate the skill and cunning that had gone into building the MFA. ‘As mutual respect began to grow, the older prisoners would sit in the quarry during lunch breaks, gaze out towards Cape Town and the mainland, and quiz the new inmates about the progress of their favourite clubs. They particularly wanted to hear about the exploits of a new black ‘super club’- the now world-famous Kaizer Chiefs’” (Korr and Close 235).
Finally, another blog post relied on a Soweto-era Robben Islander, “Patrick Lekota, who would eventually become South Africa’s Minister of Defense [. . . to sum] up the game’s importance: “Without it, we would have been so depressed. It took our mind away” (Korr & Close 234). This blog also featured the extraordinary 2010 episode of ESPN “Outside The Lines” on Robben Island football posted above. Watch. Learn. Enjoy. Share.
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For a quarter century Chuck Blazer was the most powerful soccer administrator in the United States and CONCACAF. He was a member of the FIFA Executive Committee from 1996 to 2013. Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings revealed in 2011 that Blazer was under FBI investigation for tax evasion. Thanks to a devastating, detailed report by The New York Daily News published this weekend, we now also know that Blazer became an FBI informant. (Click here for full text.)
In doing so, U.S. authorities sought to gain “a rare window into the shadowy financing of international soccer, a world notorious for its corruption and lavish excess,” the Daily News reports.
Blazer’s debauchery is legendary, as this blog has highlighted in the past. But the Daily News presented new evidence documenting how he “failed to pay income taxes for more than a decade while hauling in tens of millions of dollars, a discovery the feds used to threaten him with prosecution and convert him into a cooperating witness.” The newspaper provides fresh evidence of Blazer’s misallocation of funds and misuse of assets belonging to CONCACAF. He went so far as to run up $29 million in credit card charges. Damning proof, it is alleged, that Blazer was “intoxicated by power and cash.”
The 69-year-old soccer official, now dying of colon cancer, “lived like there was no tomorrow,” emboldened by global football administration’s modus operandi—one that makes “you feel like you’re the king of the world,” one source told the Daily News; “And it’s all for soccer.”
Addendum (11/6/2014): Listen to “Beyond The Pitch” podcast “dissect and tell the story behind the tale that is titled Mister Ten Percent, Chuck Blazer, a lengthy piece that digs deep into his background and explains how a soccer dad from New York rose to the dizzying heights of world football royalty, how he climbed the ladder armed with ambition and ingenuity and what led to his fall as fresh reports in New York media suggest that he is now cooperating with federal authorities.”