Expectations are high for the six African participants in the first International Soccer Federation (FIFA) World Cup to be played on the continent – in South Africa – next year.
However, leading soccer journalist, Simon Kuper, says Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and host country South Africa are going to be hard-pressed to fulfill the lofty hopes. The task became more difficult following last week’s draw.
The Ivory Coast is in the same group with five-time winners Brazil, Portugal and North Korea; the Cameroon is placed with the Netherlands, Japan and Denmark; Ghana has to contend with three-time winners Germany, Australia and Serbia; Algeria will oppose England, the United States and Slovenia in the first round; Nigeria will compete with two-time winners Argentina, South Korea and Greece and South Africa will entertain Mexico, France and Uruguay which won the first Cup in 1930.
“Africa is far removed from the best soccer ‘know-how’ networks and it does not have the wealth,” Ugandan-born Kuper told Share while in Toronto last week for a global soccer conference at York University. “I don’t think the problem is talent because Africa has many talented players. For soccer today, you have to know what to do with the talent and that’s about getting to Europe where there is this enormous collection of soccer ‘know-how’ from all of the continents that is being constantly polished, and learning from each other.
“If you are in the Cameroon, it’s very hard for you to access that and to know what you should be doing. So, in that way, I think that wealth and distance are a big problem for Africa…Of course, there will be expectations on African teams with the World Cup being in South Africa, but I am afraid they are not going to live up to that.”
Zaire was the first African country to qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) are the only two countries to have reached the quarter-finals. Ghana was the only African side to get past the first round in the last tournament in Germany three years ago.
Kuper, whose parents were born in South Africa, has spent a lot time in the republic, assessing preparations for the largest sports event to be staged in Africa.
“The in-stadium experience will be fine, but I foresee transportation problems,” he said. “Security will also be an issue away from the stadiums. Things will be much policed in the grounds, but what are fans going to do on days off? There is really no place to hang around in Johannesburg and the place is empty by 9 p.m. You go to the wrong place or you get unlucky, there are going to be incidents and people will get hurt. That could damage South Africa’s reputation.”
Kuper spent nearly a year in Jamaica with his parents in the early 1970s when his father – anthropologist Dr. Adam Kuper – did field work while on attachment to the National Planning Agency in the Office of the Prime Minister.
The Caribbean is not represented at next year’s World Cup and Kuper suggests the region needs to export its players at a young age to Western Europe.
“I know this may sound like a sort of colonialist project, but you need to get them in there learning Western European soccer “know-how and buying into it”, he said. “The best soccer knowledge is there and you need to buy their coaches and send them your players. When that exchange happens, the Caribbean countries can do well. I also recommend this approach for Canada and the United States.”
Jamaica was the first English-speaking Caribbean country to participate in the World Cup in France in 1998 and Trinidad & Tobago followed in 2006. Canada last participated in the World Cup in 1986.