The New Times (Kigali)

17 November 2012

Africa Needs to Raise Standards of Local Leagues

opinion

Photo: CAF
African soccer leagues are struggling to turn professional and compete with other world big clubs like Europe clubs.

I watched the friendly game between Amavubi and Namibia at Amahoro national stadium on Wednesday this week with half-filled seats at the stadium.

Police defender Jean Bosco Uwacu battles with Rayon Sport winger Djamar Mwiseneza during a league match at half-empty Amahoro stadium.

Most of the seats at the stadium were empty yet the game was played late in the evening. My impression was that people have not yet picked interest to watch football that involves local players.

Normally, any national football team engagement should be seen as a national event but this happens not to be the case when people do not turn up to support their national football team in an international game.

Such circumstances do not only occur in Rwanda but also in many African countries. Now I think it is the duty of the sports ministry to find ways of how to raise the standard of the game and make our local football league attractive.

Increased competitiveness in the football league will draw the society attention to watch the best players, who turn up for the national team.

The sports ministry together with the football federation should work together to revise means of developing and promoting the local players.

It should be understood that African soccer leagues have suffered unrelenting migration of elite talent to Europe, African soccer leagues have remained in unprecedented proportions.

The loss of talent has lowered the standard of the game in African leagues with attendance, gate receipts and media interest all taking a plunge.

Leagues that flourished in the past have been near decimated by the constant drain of talent, with African stars being recruited at a younger age than ever before.

While the migration has improved the quality of play of European football clubs, the consequences are now proving grave for African soccer leagues and even national teams.

The stadiums that used to be filled with passionate local fans are featuring empty stands with most of the regular fans sitting at home watching European leagues on television.

The lure of European football has remained extremely enticing for African players and many perceive making it in Europe as one of the rare opportunities to escape the harsh economic realities of life back home.

The consequences of the massive influx of African players to Europe have been detrimental to our local football.

African leagues have been left colourless and less competitive because talented players as young as 15 years of age are lured to Europe for professional football where they earn big sums of money.

It would be very colourful to watch the likes of Samuel Eto, Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba on the African soil. The trio is among the best African talents today but has rarely featured on the African soil.

Low football standards have resulted in most African leagues being weak and less attractive to sponsors.

Taking an example of the 1970s and 80s when players like Roger Milla (Cameroon) and Stephen Keshi (Nigeria) played for their home clubs, the leagues in Africa were very competitive and exciting.

Due to the poor state of the game in the continent today, the migration of talent is depriving the local football leagues of quality players to excite and catch the attention of the local soccer fans so to stem the waning nature of the passion for the African game.

Based on the current situation, African football associations should market their leagues and run them equally professionally to keep the players on home soil.

Classical examples of countries whose leagues have suffered most because of this massive influx include Nigeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, among others. However, credit should be given to South Africa and Egypt as countries that have kept faith with their football esteem.

The stagnation of African football is partly due to lack of exposure and poor infrastructure.

Most football associations in Africa are bedeviled by feuds and factions killing the interest of sponsors and spectators.

For example, there are some countries in Africa where feuds and factional parallel leagues have scared away sponsors and driven the local fans and sponsors into despair and hate for their own leagues.

And it is not the leagues alone, African national teams have suffered too and continue to be plagued by difficulties in procuring player releases from European clubs as much as both CAF and FIFA have been trying to remedy the situation.

African Club Champions League was for example established in 1997 to provide top level club competition as well as to create the administrative structures and economic incentives necessary to encourage players to remain within African clubs.

It is argued that such measures are unlikely to prevent European clubs from continuing their recruitment practices. In recent years, a number of the top ones have established training schools and academies in Africa, even acquiring stakes in some clubs.

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InFocus

Africa Needs to Raise Standards of Local Leagues

African soccer leagues are struggling to turn professional and compete with other world big clubs like Europe clubs.

Governments together with football federations should work together to revise means of developing and promoting local clubs and players to improve quality of African soccer ... Read more »