Bitter-But Expected-Disappointment: The Continent's Miserable Performance at the World Cup Finals Is a Direct Consequence of the Way in Which the African Game Continues to Be Mismanaged by Its Administrators, Reports Osasu Obayiuwana, Who Was in South Africa throughout the Month-Long Championship

By Obayiuwana, Osasu | New African, August-September 2010 | Go to article overview

Bitter-But Expected-Disappointment: The Continent's Miserable Performance at the World Cup Finals Is a Direct Consequence of the Way in Which the African Game Continues to Be Mismanaged by Its Administrators, Reports Osasu Obayiuwana, Who Was in South Africa throughout the Month-Long Championship


Obayiuwana, Osasu, New African


While South Africa continues to receive well-deserved applause for the professional manner in which it organised the first World Cup on the continent's soil, there is no way to sugar-coat the bitter truth about the continent's form on the pitch--it was, even with the impressive quarter-final run of Ghana's Black Stars, an utter embarrassment to the African game.

Having five out of the continent's six teams knocked out in the tournament's opening round, as well as South Africa suffering the ignominy of becoming the first host, in the event's 80-year history, not to reach its knockout stages, there is no question that an unpleasant, public price is being paid for our lack of organisation.

"This World Cup will force some people to face reality [about the poor state of African football], because, for me, the best African teams were here in South Africa," says the legendary Cameroonian Roger Milla.

"We hoped to have three or four teams in the last 16 and we only had one, so it's been a failure [for Africa]," he says matter-of-factly. But getting Issa Hayatou, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), who doubles as the chairman of FIFA's 2010 World Cup Organising Committee, to accept the need for a radical change in leadership ethos, in order to take African football to a new plateau of performance, is akin to waiting for Godot.

After being stuck at the quarter-final level for 20 long years, since Cameroon's Indomitable Lions were the first to achieve it at the 1990 finals in Italy--with only Senegal (in 2002) and now Ghana joining Africa's "last eight club"--Hayatou refuses to accept the stark reality that the continent's World Cup story is as stale as crusty old bread.

And the fact that CAF, of all the major confederations making up FIFA, was the only one to have just a single team in the second round at the so-called "African World Cup", was particularly grating.

Asia, supposedly inferior to Africa in the global pecking order, had two, Japan and South Korea, while CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, amazingly had all of its five representatives--Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay--in the knockout stages. For a select group in the football fraternity that praises the "progress" made by the African game, whilst in reality, they make private jest of us, our listless performance in South Africa certainly adds more cruel jokes to their comedic repertoire. Unfortunately, that is lost on the man who has had a vice-like grip on the African game for 22 years and will mark a 25-year milestone, as president of CAF, by the end of his current four-year term in 2013.

"How can you say that African football [at the World Cup] has not made any progress since 1990?" Hayatou asked me, incredibly, when I publicly challenged him on this point at Johannesburg's Sandton Sun Hotel, with just days to the end of the tournament.

"Nigeria reached the second round in 1994 and other teams around the continent have reached knockout stages of the World Cup also, so it is not true that we have not progressed," he continued, obviously forgetting--conveniently and mischievously--that a second round place is a step below the quarter-finals.

"I am not happy, in the same way that you are, that we did not do well. I do regret having five out of [a record] six teams knocked out in the first round. African teams must display professionalism to get results."

But Hayatou's statement is nothing more than a rehash of the old, tired platitudes given at the end of every World Cup by football officials throughout the continent, who fail to acknowledge they are an integral part of the cancer eating away at the African game.

Toothless Lions

Cameroon's Indomitable Lions were the continent's biggest disappointment at the tournament, losing all three group matches to Japan, Denmark and Holland.

It was their worst performance since their first appearance in 1982, when, ironically, they did not lose a single game. …

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