FIFA World Cup – African Representation – New Era

 

FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s recent pronouncement on the need to increase the number of African representatives at future World Cup events is indeed very much welcome.

In addition, UEFA President Michel Platini has already proposed that eight more slots at the World Cup should be shared mainly by countries from Africa and Asia to make a total of 40 teams appearing at the global football showcase.

These recent developments in world football are certainly food for thought to followers of the game worldwide. However, while it is good to hear what other world football leaders are saying pertaining to the state of this truly universal sport, it would have been even more pleasing to hear what our African leaders have to say about this matter.

The deafening silence from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is a cause for concern. It is also not clear whether CAF has made any recent attempts to increase African representation from the current five slots at the FIFA World Cup.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that as per its track-record, CAF does not play a visible and dynamic role in world football. Even the development of the game on the African continent is seriously compromised. If it was not for Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Goal Project, African football would be very much worse off. Much as critics savagely criticise Blatter for his other short-comings, we should also remember that he is only human and very much fallible. 

And as much as football followers appreciate his contribution to the development of world football, we should be doing the same for African football leaders.

The problem is that CAF does not communicate effectively with its stakeholders. The head honchos at CAF should realise that governance in football on the continent extends beyond their executive committee and member football associations.

 Governance also entails communication and engagement of the public, which provides much-needed fans and supporters and corporate sponsors.

Given the recent pronouncements by Blatter and Platini, the CAF leadership should have by now publicly stated their position on the matter and caused their communications department to inform the African public accordingly. Notwithstanding CAF’s silence and sluggish approach to matters of football development on the continent, the prospect of increasing African representation at the FIFA World Cup is indeed a cause for great excitement. 

This excitement is generated by the fact that there is an abundance of raw football talent in Africa, which is not adequately nurtured, developed and promoted.  African representatives have only progressed to the quarter-final stages of the FIFA World Cup in the past. 

Cameroon tried their best in 1990 in Italy, with Senegal and Ghana crashing out at the same stage in Japan/Korea in 2002 and in South Africa in 2010, respectively.

Considering the talent that is at Africa’s disposal, these milestones are actually an illustration of under-achievement by Africa. They are not really a cause for celebration but should be spur the continent to review its participation at this premier global football showcase. This review should be spearheaded by CAF itself, utilising its technical wing to address shortcomings in preparation in order to improve performances.

African countries, should have, at least by now, reached the semi-finals or finals of the FIFA World Cup. However, every time, the favourites from the continent have flattered to deceive and disappoint. 

Maladministration, inadequate or in some instances, shambolic or chaotic preparations for the World Cup are usually the causes of Africa’s undoing.  Basic issues are not attended to and this, more often than not, causes great frustration among the players.

Historically, Africa has been represented by more or less the same countries at the World Cup.  Maybe the increase in available slots will provide better opportunities for exposure and competition at this level, which could help to inspire improvement in performances.

Considering their recent performances at the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, countries such as Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gabon, Ethiopia, Mali and Zambia deserve opportunities to play at the World Cup and enthral the world with their unique brands of fast, creative and free-flowing attacking football.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is definitely set to be an exciting event and defining moment for African football. Hopefully, the best African teams will qualify.

 Judging by the current performances of countries in the region, with the exception of Zambia, no Southern African country deserves to go to the World Cup, even if African was to be given 10 slots ‑ double the number of the current allocation. 

This is because the World Cup is not a stage for trial and error, it is a platform where countries should go with a view to make an impact to tear the form books and topple even the highly ranked and fancied opponents.

Hopefully, the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) will seize this opportunity to continue organising regional competitions at all levels and implementing other meaningful development programmes to build capacity for its member states.

Failure to address past short-comings and implement measures to improve performances will imply that Southern Africa will not be able to effectively take advantage of the prospective increase in slots allocated to Africa at the FIFA World Cup.

Football is definitely the most popular sport on the continent and globally. Improved performances by African countries at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will provide further encouragement and impetus for the younger generations to not only take up the sport but to raise the bar. However, such success has to be planned for.

Without adequate planning and strategic management, it will be always a case of so near but yet very far for African representatives.  The second and deciding legs of the African World Cup qualifiers are sent to be concluded in the next few weeks.  It will be very interesting to know who will be representing the African continent in Brazil.  May the best teams qualify!

November 2013
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