Friday, January 25, 2008

African Football Can Shine

As the action progresses in Ghana and the infrastructure settles into place in South Africa, there's more talk about the state of African football.

Gabriele Marcotti is one of the world's preeminent football journalists. He's an Italian sports journalist and presenter who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of world football. He has also written two books.

In Monday's London Times, Marcotti wrote a small piece about African football that's a very good read. Basically, he talks about how passionate Africans are for the game and how far they could go if the playing field was level.

Below, a small excerpt. Please click here to read the rest of the article.

There is a passion for national teams in Africa that easily surpasses most of Europe. Part of this is because most top African players are based abroad, which leaves the domestic leagues to serve as perennial feeder clubs. They know not to fall too deeply in love with their clubs because, if they do well, they will be raided by European teams.

At the same time, satellite television brings football from all over the world into African homes. And with domestic football often on the periphery, African viewers soak it up, to the point that they are easily as knowledgeable as, and usually far less parochial than, their European counterparts.

The other big factor is socio-historical. Forget the facile stereotypes, Africa is easily the most heterogeneous continent on earth, a place where more than 1,000 languages are spoken, where Islam and Christianity share the stage with hundreds of indigenous faiths and where, until recently, mass migration was limited, which meant that local communities tended to grow and endure independent of each other.

With all this passion comes pride. Pride that football is one of the few areas where Africa can go head-to-head with anyone in the world. Stripped to its essence, the game consists of men in boots kicking a ball. It is about as level a playing field as you can get in any pursuit, with the possible exception of athletics. And, with African teams coming close to matching the best in the world, you have to wonder what the continent could achieve if the fields were level in other areas as well.

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