Issa Hayatou has just been re-elected to head the Confederation of Africa Football, CAF, for another four-year term and probably his last. Standing for the post unchallenged, Hayatou ‘s low-key re-election is not what most African football aficionados want, but drastic reforms for the game that has lost its yesteryear flair.
Starting with the African Cup of Nations, the tournament that puts Africa on world map seems to have lost its yesteryear‘s panache just as its fans and TV audiences. What used to be christened African football where locally groomed talents entertain and thrill football fans with little tactics and techniques, but stylish, attacking football – more power and passion to challenge renowned teams and win big, is today living in its own shadow.
Most national teams seem to select only professional players or rely wholly on these professionals to bring in the winning magic. Unfortunately, some of these players were born abroad and know nothing about African football. Worse still, some of them are finding it really hard to play under a scorching sun or highly humid weather, against opponents or as partners to teammates who are local heroes. While some of these professionals offer their utmost for their respective national sides, others are simply using the tournament as a break from their crowded and highly demanding professional leagues.
For anyone who watched this year’s tournament in South Africa, the evident is clear. Apart from the stadiums being nearly empty except for the games of host team Bafana Bafana, the football played on the pitch was abysmal, lacklustre and far-off of the African football that Cameroon, Senegal and recently Ghana put up to reach the quarter’s finals of the FIFA world cup. While the football powerhouse nations of the likes of Cameroon (four times winners), Egypt (seven times champs) and Senegal (2002 runners-up) could barely make it beyond the eliminatory phase of the competition, little-know countries such as Equatorial Guinea, that co-hosted the last edition alongside Gabon, Cape Verde, Niger and Ethiopia (making a comeback after 31 years) all newcomers struggled to fascinate fans with style and vivacity.
What went wrong?
The overexposure to European football; poor policies by CAF; the need for innovations, inadequate marketing and advertising drives; economic hardship across the continent, and the absence of great football nations and African legends are some of the blames for the falling standards.
According to Abel Akara Ticha, a communication specialist in Yaoundé, Cameroon, the overexposure and overindulgence to European leagues on TV have ‘killed’- waned Africans’ enthusiasm for their own football. A point that, David Akana a US based media practitioner backed up, but added that the timing of the event has another impact since it clashed with European leagues.
“I think that this year’s transition has sucked up some of the flair that goes with the completion,” said Akana.
“But I think the profound problems have to do with the major European leagues going on at the same time with the African Cup of Nations.”
“It’s hard for CAF, which is already dealing with severe financial challenges to compete at the same level with the English Premier League for instance.”
Taking a rather keen look at the way the African football is being managed by CAF, Akara Ticha pointed out that this was another reason why African football was losing its grip and admirers.
“Too much politicking in African football, seen to be tolerated and sustained by CAF is making people slack in following CAF competitions,” he said.
As to why the stadiums in the 2013 Nation Cup were almost empty, Akara Ticha remarked that with the general hardship across Africa, people barely have time for entertainment, watching football as they were instead working hard to earn bread. However, Prue Jinka, a Johannesburg based Media Specialist instead believed that the advertising and marketing of the event in South Africa and across the entire continent was inadequately done.
“The stadiums are empty because the games weren’t properly advertised, especially among the youths” she said.
“There wasn’t a real PR, public relations drive behind the whole event.”
The absence of great stars from the tournament is seen as another deterring factor. On this factor, Gracielia Lily a fan that followed the event from the US said their nonparticipation has opened the door to young talents to rise to stardom, even if their football was yet to be thrilling and entertaining as that of the olden days when Mboma and Eto’o from Cameroon, Okocha, Kanu, Oliseh, Taribo West, all from Nigeria, and Zuma from South Africa played.
Stopping the storm
Although the management of Hayatou would definitely argue that the low turnouts of fans and the poor performances on the pitch cannot be blamed on them, lots still has to be done if the African Cup of Nations has to reflect its heydays. Here, Akara Ticha pointed out that Africans seemed to be waiting for innovations at the tournament. According to him, there has been already so much déjà vu in the competition. To Akana David, the African football governing body, CAF need to reschedule the tournament to avoid clashes with European leagues. As for winning back more fans and financial supports, Prue Jinka urged CAF to approach professional advertisers that could create ideas that would attract, especially the young audiences to the games. According to her, using advertisers that could use a Pan-African drive to ensure that all the regions of Africa were vested with the tournament would bring in more fans as well as funds.