Why has an African nation failed to win a World Cup to date? Read on and let me know what you think.
I’m covering the 2010 FIFA South Africa World Cup for CBC-TV, along with reporter Kim Brunhuber and camera/editor Richard Agecoutay. Kim lived here five years ago and had lots of ideas and contacts before we came over from Canada.
Kim noted that Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) were the only African nations to reach the quarter-finals in World Cup action. Despite Pele’s bold prediction that an African nation would win by 2000, those results remain the best ever. The way this tournament has started, it doesn’t look like things are going to change now.
As Kim had connections to permit us a visit to the Masiphumelelee township outside of Cape Town, he pitched the idea of visiting a shebeen (tavern) to find out from some of the locals about why Africa has not been able to succeed on the FIFA pitch.
The shebeen was surreal for someone like me. First off, the outside of the building was totally non-descript, almost hidden from the road, but still sporting a natty sign indicating that it’s a tavern.
The plain picnic tables on bare floors inside, mixed with the dim lighting that cuts slashes through the smokey air, give the tavern a surprisingly comforting feel – even if foreign to this visitor.
Zwai Mzwandile acted as our host, and he made sure a number of his friends were on hand to talk about their favorite sport. Once a few beers were opened, the conversation became quite animated. Most of it I missed, because much of it was in a regional dialect, and the English was heavily accented. Zwai, however, was easily understood and he served as a translator.
This is what they had to say:
-African soccer suffers from a lack of money. Training facilities aren’t at the level of European ones, and top players are drawn off the continent to play.
-The quality of coaching, and ultimately the tactics utilized by African teams. This is a problem not far removed from the problem of financing.
-Too many Africans play as individuals, and are not dedicated enough to the team concept. This view is borne out by newspaper articles over the weekend that too many decisions around the South African team have been based on getting a player exposed to international scouts, and potentially lucrative contracts.
Despite the acknowledgement of these problems, the folks in the shebeen spoke with a fierce pride of African soccer. They spontaneously broke out into song celebrating Bafana Bafana – their beloved South African team – even with the knowledge that getting past the first round was unlikely (and that turned out to be true).
For more on our visit, watch for Kim Brunhuber’s report on CBC TV’s coverage of the World Cup.