Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
COSAFA President analyses African football.
After South Africa won the right to host the World Cup, there might not have been a region that buzzed with euphoria as much as Southern Africa. Its people anticipated a trickle-down effect on economies, a tourism boost, infrastructural development and most importantly a turn around of fortunes on the pitch.
However, Southern Africans only had one representative, South Africa, by virtue of hosting of the tournament. With only three matches summarising their participation, with a draw, a loss and a win, South Africa have been eliminated. They have become the first World Cup hosts not to progress past the group stages. But Suketu Patel, the President of the region’s football body, COSAFA, is not entirely disappointed by what he has seen on pitch.
“Without a doubt the performance has been disappointing. South Africa played fairly well in the first match,” says the Seychellois. “But the expectations of the South African team playing at home were far higher than they performed.”
Patel thinks that in as much as it was disappointing, it was also not surprising that African teams failed to progress to higher levels in the competition. Giving the 1974 World Cup as an example, when Africa’s first and sole representative Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire) were pummelled 9-0 by Yugoslavia, Patel says Africa has improved over the years.
He argues that for countries like Cameroon and Senegal to have previously qualified for the quarter-finals of the competition, shows that the continent is progressing. “We are still in a developing stage in African football and you can’t entirely blame the players or the coaches,” he says.
Patel, an accountant, projects that it might take another three decades for African football to catch up with Europe and North America: “We have to be fair and appreciate that the resources in Africa are not the same as Europe,” adds Patel. “Africa is building; we don’t have the infrastructure yet. We need to create infrastructure, we need to create an educated people and the national associations need stability. But all these things go with the economic performance of African countries. We need to attain a certain level of economic development as a continent to match with Europe in terms of football.”
Patel knows and admits that the performance of African players when called for national duty is not the same as when they turn out for their clubs. The multi-million dollar stars put on half-hearted performances and sometimes look lost on the pitch. That, too, according to Patel, has an economic link: “The question of playing for their country hasn’t got the same kind of importance for some of these players as playing for their club does. And that is also because of economic factors,” Patel notes. “At the end of the day, the wages are coming from their clubs.”
Despite the embarrassment Southern Africa has suffered on the pitch, Patel is confident the tournament will leave a good legacy outside the stadiums. He points to infrastructure and a surge in the sale of television rights as some of the positives that tournament will leave: “The image of African football has become a lot better and that will lead to increased revenues through the sale of television rights,” Patel said.