Africans home and in diasporas were overwhelmed with joy when FIFA announced in May 2004 that South Africa has been nominated to host the 19th edition of the World Championship football in 2010. It became a topical issue in bars, schools, work places, and between groups of friends for over a period of time. It was an exciting moment for Africans and friends of South Africa. This is because, in spite of the pride and economic benefits that are associated with hosting the championship, it is of historical importance to Africa and South Africa in particular.
South Africa was for decades divided along racial and colour classification of the apartheid. That brought with it restrictions, political and socio-economic inequality, and denial of basic human rights. But by 1990 the dismantling of apartheid cum discrimination began. And in 1994 the nation had it first multi-racial election - Nelson Mandela became the first black African President of South Africa. Thus, is it not remarkable and historical that within twenty years of its new political and socio-economic dispensation, the “new South Africa” is hosting one of the most prestigious tournaments? It is a period many of South Africans thought they would never live to experience - a time when black, white and coloured host the entire world as one people and one nation.
So, South Africans have a cause to celebrate and gladden their hearts with some glasses of “Umqombothi” beer and the sound of Kwaito music. Remember also that their national team, Bufana Bufana (qualifying to play in the world cup for the second time), will be vying for honours on their own soil and in front of about fifty million South Africans. Furthermore, it is in South Africa 2010 that continent will have the privilege and honour of six national teams in a FIFA world championship for the first time.
In order to digest this, it will be necessary to have a peep into the history of FIFA world championship and African participation. History has it that the median edition of FIFA championship football was in Uruguay in 1930. No African team participated in that year. But in 1934 the continent had one team, Egypt (North Africa). In 1974 Zaire national team became the first black African team to qualify for the world cup. It was in 1982 that two African national teams could qualify for FIFA world cup. But in 1994 it was increased to three after Cameroon reached quarter finals in 1990. And from 1998 till 2006 Africa had but five chances. Interestingly, in South Africa 2010 Africans will have the opportunity to watch six of their teams compete with others. For an average African, it is a historical achievement and a testimony that Africa is a historical part of the world in all ramifications. It also proves that Africa and Africans can attain any height given equal opportunity. If your question is what I mean, just take your cup of tea or coffee and relax.
Africa has been part of the championship since its second edition in 1934. Morocco reached last 16 in 1986, Cameroon played quarter final in 1990, Nigeria was among the last 16 teams in 1994 and 1998, Senegal was knocked out at the quarter final stage in 2002, and Ghana (in its first time in the championship) reached the last 16 in 2006. Is it not a great achievement, considering the fact that majority of African nations had their independent from European Colonial Masters from the 1950’s? Do not forget too, that African professional footballers are among the best in the world and are playing in the best Football Clubs in the world. George Weah (Liberia) won the 1995 FIFA World Player of the year. He came second the following year. Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) has been twice the runner-up. Didier Drogba is one of the best strikers in world. And the likes of Kanu Nwankwo and J.J.Okocha are still fresh in our memories.
Therefore, while all Africans rally behind South Africa to make the championship a success, African teams are also expected to make a difference this time. As the saying goes, “to whom much is given, much is expected”. With the quality of players in the African teams, history is not far to be made.
Furthermore, I think Africans owe FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, a lot for his role in making this a reality. He has fulfilled his promise. Therefore, all that is needed from South Africa is the continued maintenance of the facilities at the end of the championship. Lack of standard football pitches and sports facilities affect the standard of the game in the continent. Spectators need to be attracted to continually come to watch matches. It is discouraging that in most professional football matches in Africa, only handful of spectator are often seen watching the game. Sports administrators in South Africa and Africa in general should endeavour to make football game what it is all over the world.
Finally, as lovers of football, Nelson Mandela, and Africa, gather in South Africa to watch the football matches, to enjoy the sight of the wild life and the rich diverse cultures, I wish them and all the participating teams the best world cup tournament of all time. Welcome to Africa!