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African Football reflects the Politics and Corruption

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As a teenager in Nigeria, I watched the great Roger Milla and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun stun the world at the Italia 1990 world cup by beating the defending champions Argentina with Diego Maradona on the pitch. On the opening game of that competition the 'hand of god' with his cohorts Caniggia and Burruchaga witnessed the legs and heads of Africa with the likes of Oman-Biyik, Kana-Biyik (brothers) and Emmanuel Kunde. Cameroun became the first African team to reach the quarter finals of the mundial. These leather tappers from Africa were on their way to the semi-finals but for questionable FIFA officiating that gave the match to England.

At the USA 1994 world cup twenty years ago, the Indomitable Lions with the old pros Roger Milla, the Biyik brothers, and new players like Rigobert Song were forced to announce to the world that they lacked the minimum equipment to compete. The Cameroun government, the football federation, and the officials had decided to leave the team to fend for themselves. This awful limbo ensured a less-than-stellar outing and a quicker exist from the competition. I have often wondered why the Cameroonian government headed by Mr. Paul Biya then and now, left the team in such a state. The team with the glorious history of beating Argentina with nine men was left to wither.

As a teenager I was tempted to blame the Cameroonian players for contributing to their disastrous outing but in hindsight and with the eyes of manhood, my varying thoughts are no longer. I am firmly of the opinion that when individuals are called upon to put their lives and livelihood on the line for their nation they should be catered for by their respective administrative agencies and governments. This should be paramount especially when there are undeserving politicians and officials siphoning the allocated resources. We cannot expect these men with families and obligations to lay it all out on the field when they are not provided adequate medical and accidental insurance.

For crying out loud! the late Marc-Vivien Foe of Cameroun's Indomitable Lions slumped on the pitch and died while playing at the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup for his country. Is Cameroun or FIFA taking care of his next of kin? On August 12, 1989 our skipper the late Sam Okwaraji collapsed and died at the national stadium in Lagos during a world cup qualification match against Angola. How do we expect these heroes to put their all in the stadium but not compensate them for sacrifices and services rendered to their nations? Those African men that play for France, Belgium, Portugal, and German never have to worry about these factors; instead they are focused on the games.

Interestingly, I saw a Facebook posting that observed the dissimilarities between the Boateng brothers with one playing for Germany and the other for Ghana at the world cup. This was before Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari were kicked out of the Ghanaian team which resulted in the stupid loss to Portugal and a missed opportunity to reach the round of 16. Ghana seemed to have put behind them the strife from the 1990's that prevented the likes of Abedi Pele Ayew and James Kwesi Appiah from playing on the world cup stage. Abedi Pele, who is as beloved as Roger Milla and the Zambian Kalusha Bwalya, is the father of three players on the 2014 squad and Kwesi Appiah is their coach.

Sadly, during the Brazil 2014 world cup there have been issues of financial disputes in the Cameroonian, Ghanaian, and Nigerian camps. In my humble view this situation is somewhat analogous to the situation of sending out young men to fight terrorists without making adequate arrangements for their injuries and untimely demise. At some point these young heroes ask themselves why they are laying their lives on the line for governments that do not care. As a side note it begs mentioning that African rulers went all the way to Paris to hold a conference on Boko Haram, therein lies some of the problems in Africa. Our local football leagues are in shambles and people support European clubs.

Ironically, this type of mindset is what allows us to have petroleum without refining capacities and to plant cocoa without having chocolate factories. Our corrupt rulers remain in bed with their foreign cronies. The French are in charge of the cocoa plantations in Cote d'Ivoire, the British, Dutch, Americans, and French are in control of petroleum production and refining on the continent. The Jews, Lebanese, and Indians are the largest stakeholders in our diamond and gold sectors. Any wonder how the indiscipline of the Cameroonian footballers at the 2014 world cup reflects the character of a defeated people. They lashed out on themselves and echoed the impotence of the African masses.

Nnamdi F. Akwada MSW, BA is a Social Justice Activist

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Articles by Nnamdi Frank Akwada