Wednesday, May 31, 2006

World Cup on a Tilted Field

Soccer/football is the world's sport? Rubbish. It's dominated by an elite club of Europe, Brazil, and a handful of other lands that invest heavily in the game. If you're an African nation, forget about it. Individual players there may rise to the top echelons of the game, but it's practically a colonial situation. And national teams from Africa don't stand a chance. They never have.

In many ways it is naive to expect that it should. Who has the motive to invest in the facilities that can ensure the long-lasting success of African football? African governments tend to have more important things to worry about. When they have some spare cash, they are not usually thanked by their impoverished peoples for sinking it into fancy new stadiums. The European teams that cream off the best African talent are not in the business of developing the infrastructure of the game either: what most of them care about is their sell-on fee, which is why so many young African players are picked up by lower-league teams who then dangle them in front of the big clubs in the hope of striking it rich.

Then there are the players themselves. Many African stars have seen it as their obligation to give something back to the countries of their birth. But why should they give it back to football? Some, such as the great Liberian player of the 1990s George Weah, have gone into politics; others have put their money into hospitals, schools or private businesses where it might do some immediate good. We don't expect pampered British players on £100,000 a week to invest in the roots of the game in this country. Why should we expect it of players from places whose banking systems are often in chaos and whose football associations are invariably corrupt?

Personally, politics and economics aside, I think it's kind of stupid to have the official game of the human race be one that essentially denies us the use of the one physical quality -- the miracles we can work with our hands -- that most distinguishes us from every other species.