25 January 2013

Rwanda: Why Are We Not in South Africa?

THESE ARE exciting times. Africa Cup of Nations is here. Some families will celebrate getting to see dads home early and regularly so, for about a month. The unifying power of football!

Africa Cup of Nations or Afcon, as it is popularly known, is the premier football showcase for African nations. It dates back to June 1956 when the creation of the Confederation of African Football was proposed during the third FIFA congress in Lisbon.

Some interesting things have happened since then; in February 1957, the first African Cup of Nations took place in Khartoum, Sudan. There was no qualification for this tournament, the field being made up of the four founding nations of CAF (Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa). But South Africa's insistence on selecting only Caucasian players for their squad due to that nation's apartheid policy led to its disqualification. Hence, only two matches were played, with Egypt being crowned the first continental champion after defeating hosts Sudan in the semi-final and Ethiopia in the final.

The field grew to include nine teams for the third ANC in 1962 in Addis Ababa, and, for the first time, there was a qualification round to determine which four teams would play for the title. Ethiopia emerged as victors, after first beating Tunisia and then downing Egypt in extra time.

And the story goes on... there is just one problem; none of the five East African states have ever won it. Worse, this year, just like last year, we did not even show up! The tourney is dominated by West and North Africans.

This has happened for so long that we have almost accepted this as a given. 'Almost' because our football crazy minds have not quite fathomed why we keep missing out time and again.

We have no footballers? This is the knee jerk reaction to this issue. That East Africans are just as good as anyone in football as proven by the players from the region on the international arena. England's Newcastle United have Rwandan-Burundian Gael Bigirimana in their squad. Kenya's Wanyama brothers; Victor Mugabe, and Macdonald Mariga play for top clubs in Europe. Indeed Mugabe was only recently instrumental in leading his Celtic side to victory over the mighty Barcelona. Our players are just as talented as any other.

We don't have systems that guarantee success: this is probably one of our issues. Countries that have been successful in sports have put in place good youth development systems from which young players mature. In our case, right now players will have to grow and flourish in spite of the system. We need to change this and have better support mechanism.

Sports management: We see sport from a purely leisurely perspective. We hardly hear of the business community, for example, investing in it in the long-term. Management of our sport (and other issues) ranges from pedestrian to downright corrupt. This is seen in what we call 'the excuse method'. This will be reflected in the number of coaches who will be fired when their teams lose. No analysis will be done to determine why the team lost. More often than not the problem is normally elsewhere.

The players and the fans: Perhaps the fact that we do not have professional leagues affect out players discipline. Sometimes when I jog at the national stadium I encounter footballers coming from work ours. The lack of passion is quite telling. They come and sit down as others come and later push the ball for a few hours and that's it.

You are unlikely to fill up our stadia consistently in important matches as opposed to elsewhere in the world. We blame it on poverty but the truth might be different.

We need to be passionate in all that we do. It will breed excellence; and excellence is a habit.

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