Football is not just another sport. There are a lot of sports, and Africans appear to excel at sports even with the slightest of efforts.
Some reckon we have genetic advantages in physicality that predispose us to success in sports. It’s a taboo area to explore, and genetic scientists have generally avoided getting involved in it – because the results are almost guaranteed to be career-ending in today’s politically-correct world.
But while Africans love their sport, football is something else. We absolutely adore the sport. Everywhere in Africa, little boys and girls learn to kick and throw a ball almost from when they can first walk.
Lack of resources doesn’t matter, ingenuity abounds, and footballs made of polythene bags stuffed with bits of cloth and then sewn together into a ball using sisal string are the in-thing up and down the continent.
All of which begs the question: with such enthusiasm for the sport across the continent, why are African teams so hopeless at football? At the ongoing Football World Cup in Russia, Africa’s five representatives were all sent packing in the first round of matches.
Only Senegal put up a performance worth mentioning. Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Nigeria were all whipping boys, lurching from one thrashing to the next like punch-drunk boxers way out of their depth. What ails African football?
Surprisingly – or not, depending on how cynical you are – Africa’s footballing inadequacies are down to that old adversary on the continent: our chronic inability to prepare.
Lack of organisation is a by-word for pretty much everything in Africa, and the resultant chaos and incompetence have become a by-word for Africa on the global scene.
The African delights in outward shows of “having arrived”, but is unwilling to put in the slog that would make that label true.
Take Nigeria. In the build-up to the World Cup, Nigeria dominated sports shows around the world – not for their football, nor for their preparations, but because they had the most beautiful kit.
The green and white jerseys and shorts sold out in record time, netting the Nigerian Football Association a tidy sum. But this good news obscured a critical failing: as usual, Nigeria had prepared poorly for the tournament.
Wrangles over money and team selection ensured that the squad to play in Russia was finalised just 10 days before the tournament began. Allowances to be paid to the players weren’t agreed upon, overseas players were not paid back their travel expenses... the litany of woes continues.
At the bottom of this incompetence is, of course, corruption – the real cause of Africa’s woes, be they sporting or developmental.
The same story of national uselessness is repeated across Africa, regardless of the discipline – be it sports or governance.
Kenya recently witnessed a particularly embarrassing impasse involving our popular rugby sevens team, Shujaa, whose team allowances mysteriously disappeared.
The players protested by covering up the logo of one of their sponsors, resulting in their coach being summoned to the Ministry of Sports to give and explanation.
When the coach defended his players, he was sacked on the spot – but his players then went on strike and refused to play, forcing the ministry to rescind the dismissal. But coach Innocent Simiyu now knows he’s a marked man. Little surprise African teams don’t amount to much on the global stage!