Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yes, Africa Can Unite!

Ghana 10-12 Away Soccer JerseyGhana is the last African team playing in the World Cup, and now enjoys the support of the majority of Africa. This leads me to point out a popular misconception - the one that depicts the idea that African nations that do not support each other and only seek self interests. Whilst no two nations can support each other 100% of the time, African nations are not warring all the time either and do know when its important to support each other ... when it comes to football (soccer). When Ghana qualified in their group and no other African nation went through to the next round, the rest of Africa threw their full support behind the Ghanaian team. In spite of the tendency of Africans substitute the three syllable 'Gha-nai-an' and opt to call their African counterparts four syllable 'Gha-na-ni-an', we all knew that their was no mistaking that it was the people of Ghana that they are now supporting. In an earlier post, Why African Teams Can't Suceed In A World Cup, I commented on an American sports commentator's view that part of the reasons African teams fail is due to ethnic, or in his words, 'tribal' fighting. I went on to dispute that, since from a sociological perspective, in inter group relations theories, when groups band together in a common goal, they tend to unite. Similarly, we can see the same thing happening in the World Cup.

Generally speaking, in sports, African people will tend to support the next African team before any other team in sign of solidarity, albeit being staunch fans of the English Premier League and other nations like Brazil. It is also interesting to note, that we do not see North Americans (USA and Canada) similarly throw their full support behind Mexico which is the last team representing that region. Now that USA is out, we see no massive support of U.S citizens for their neighbors. For South Africa, it has meant seeing the now generation of white South Africans, throw their support for Ghana as well, hence identifying themselves with Africa according to Alexandra Hudson's article 'World Cup fires African identity of young whites'. This is a significant shift because it shows the transition in self-identity in South Africa amongst South Africans of all shades. Many white South Africans are descendants of the Dutch, Portuguese, Greek and Italians and identify with this heritage. Whereas in the past they correctly, identified themselves with their rich multiple heritage, now it seems like the order in which they do is shifting. They see themselves as South Africans first, Africans second, and their ancestry third. This is the same trend we see for hyphenated-Americans in the U.S that see themselves as Americans first.

On a soccer report on Al Jeezera News channel a few days ago, I saw them interviewing what they called young 'Italian' fans in South Africa whom they asked to do a soccer cheer. These Caucasian boys were dressed in their Italian fan gear for the Italian match, but when asked to sing to show their Italian team spirit, they sang 'shosholoza' (A South African/Zimbabwean call and response song made popular by migrant workers) and it occurred to me that these were in fact, Italian-South Africans. Not to say that the World Cup had performed miracles in South Africa and that everyone is singing Kumbayaa, but we need to recognise that African identity is also taking shape in Africa. All Africans whether white, east or south asian, black, western, eastern, southern, or northern African can feel a part of this inclusive continent. Yes, we can all unite -- well, at least around a little white Jabulani ball.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why Hasn't Asia Won A World Cup?

The World Cup: The Complete HistoryIt is understandable that since the World Cup 2010 is in Africa this year, there is a greater focus on the record achievements of Africa teams. This focus though is not unique to this year's cup. Every four years we anxiously place our bets on which country will realistically win the cup this year, and then place out bets idealistically to see which African team may bring home the trophy for the first time. Yet, World Cup after World Cup  we see repeated performances with familiar conversations about why an African country has not won the cup. Year after year, African teams are analyzed, individual players assessed whilst Asian teams rarely get mentioned and virtually go unnoticed. It is as if no one expects Asians to excel in soccer but everyone expects Africans to excel in soccer. One can examine how preconception may be a contributing factor to this particular question.

Albeit athleticism being a positive stereotype, it is a double edged sword for Africa- on one hand it speaks volumes that a continent that reveres soccer and produces top class players, has yet to win a tournament. So we do need to inquire about the lack of a cup on the continent. At the same time, it speaks volumes of the low expectations of Asian players, who are largely overlooked in terms of competitive sports like soccer, football, basketball, and are not expected to do well which is a stereotype that they have the burden of carrying.  African players, in contrast, are viewed as athletic, and natural athletes who can play the game, but lack the 'discipline', and mental focus to translate that talent to a win.

The continent's 'talented' players are scattered all around the world - it is the one time that visas pursue Africa instead of the other way around. There is an expectation for African players not only to be good at  soccer, but to excel in it, and when this doesn't happen, the world tends to ask, 'why hasn't Africa ever won a World Cup?" to this, I will respond, "well, why hasn't Asia ever won a World Cup?"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

US Resturant Owner Serving Lion Meat Burgers As A Tribute to the World Cup

"Arizona restaurant serving lion meat burgers"
Associated Press: 6/23/2010
PHOENIX — An Arizona restaurant owner dreamed up a novelty meal to give customers a South African experience during the World Cup 2012 being held in South Africa. Serving burgers made with African lion meat has generated protests from animal rights activists.

Cameron Selogie says his Il Vinaio restaurant in Mesa has received a bomb threat and more than 150 e-mails from protesters. He says African lions are on the protected list, but not endangered.
The restaurant ordered 10 pounds of African lion meat from a USDA-regulated, free-range farm in Illinois, which Selogie says he researched to make sure they were humane. It's mixed with ground beef, and the restaurant says it's serving about 15 burgers a day
USDA spokesman Jim Brownlee says lion meat is an uncommon dish, but he knew of no prohibitions against it (Information from: The Arizona Republic,


I remember reading about Uganda and the famous stories of Idi Amin eating Lion heart for virility and strength. Those particular aspects of Amin’s unique and outlandish habits travelled amongst Ugandans and the British because it was not the norm in Uganda to eat any Lion part. Similarly, in African Folklore and traditional tales about Africa, one always heard the brave young hunter or warriors had killed a Lion, and that they made clothes or jewelry from the body parts, but it was never followed by ‘and the village had a feast and ate for days’. I have never heard of Africans eating Lions as a common practice. If this happens, it is certainly not as widely known as this unfounded belief or claim about the way we eat. So without any witnesses to this meat eating habit or any traceable names of ethnic groups that eats Lion meat, the basis of such a statements derive from where exactly? The restaurant owners statements seems to be an illogical series of assumptions, ‘oh, the must eat Lions in Africa, since Africans eat anything and Lions are in Africa”. I have yet to hear of a specific ethnic group in Africa that does this as a practice.

I searched my memory files, I Googled it, I asked my friends from Uganda and Kenya and no, not even the hunter-gather ethnic group, the Masai's who are most famous for their feats in hunting kill Lion as a source of meat. According to the Masai Association, Masai's kill the lions for the mane, tail and claws but never for the meat. The Mane and tail are beaded and returned to the hunter to wear on special occasions. The claw is used in a similar manner. Killing of the Lion is usually done as a rite of passage (not so much in present day culture since Lions are now in a ‘protected’ class – not ‘endangered’ class). I would imagine that they would prefer to leverage their energy on the domesticated cows that they herd, rather than running around the hot Savannah in summer trying to catch a huge, fast and dangerous Lion. Even catching game that’s easier to catch like rabbits, kudos, antelopes, quail, etc is rarely practiced amongst the Masai's. If none of the brave hunters of one of the most infamous hunter–gatherers ethnic groups does not kill Lions for meat, then I doubt that the burly politicians in the African cities and towns or the sedentary villagers that trade in the market have acquired a taste for this meat either over the years. There are some restaurants in Africa like Carnival in Kenya, and Game in South Africa, that are specialty restaurants that serve uncommon game meats but Lion is not even on their menus. I have heard that the South African one serves Zebra, Giraffe (which is considered Kosher by the Jewish Rabbi's) and Alligator, but there is little difference with that practice and a restaurant in the US in the South that may serve crocodile, or the real-life restaurant in Chicago that does serve Lion meat ribs. So, even if someone finds and isolated case of Lion meat being served (and please comment below, if this is the case), one cant apply this to any whole ethnic group, country or, even worse, continent.

According to the UK Telegraph's Article , the restaurant owner, Selogie, also points out that, "In Africa they do eat lions, so I assume if it's OK for Africans to eat lions then it should be OK for us." "ooh say it again.. Mufasa! Ooh say it again" -- to suggest that eating Lion is a common practice in Africa or any African country sends shivers down my spine. It’s not like you go to the market and order a pound of lion meat, or come home to find a lion paw sticking out of mama's pot. Can you imagine the uproar if during the Olympics held in China, a US restaurant began to serve Dog or Cat patties? How furious would the Chinese Americans and Chinese people be over that move if they do not largley consume these animal.s? While animal rights groups are taking notice of this move, they seemed to have glanced over Selogie’s justification for serving meat – and yes, I will say it again, "In Africa they do eat lions, so I assume if it's OK for Africans to eat lions then it should be OK for us." To them this argument is a lesser point because the belief that Africans eat Lions has just been internalized (if it wasn’t lingering at the back of their minds already) as fact and their main concern is the animal rights aspect of this.

So why aren’t Africans as a community dispelling this or calling for boycotts of that restaurant? The African tendency seems to lean towards sitting quietly in the home and laughing at the ignorance of our less travelled neighbors, shrugging it off because there are bigger battles to fight, complaining to each other (preaching to the choir), or yelling at the wall that doesn’t talk back. Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of Arizona, a burger-loving brave young American warrior is honoring Africans by eating a Lion burger and perhaps, toasting us with a bottle of JC Leroux.

Monday, June 21, 2010

African Countries Losing On 'Home Soil' During World Cup South Africa 2010

Zakumi the Leopard, the official mascot for th...
Zakumi the Leopard, the official mascot for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is a lot of pressure on African teams this year to do well in the World Cup since its on African soil for the first time. Some commentators have noted that since its on 'home soil', the African teams should have an advantage. One thing to note is how all African teams, regardless of nationality, seem to be playing on 'home soil'. Let us not forget that Africa is not one homogeneous country, and whilst South Africa proudly is hailing an African flag for all of Africa, it is also representing South Africa as a nation and brand.

This idea that Africa is one homogeneous country is pervasive and can be seen in the assumption that African teams have an advantage because they are all playing on 'home' ground. When the World Cup was in Germany, were African teams proclaiming that somehow France or Italy had a 'home advantage' because they are playing on 'home' soil in Germany? A French citizen would think one was absurd for making that inference. As mentioned in an earlier post, in terms of the weather alone, South Africa's weather is closer to that of the European teams in terms of the winter weather the teams are currently playing in. Additionally, one can argue that FIFA rulings specifically banned the joint hosting of World Cup Tournaments after Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the games in Asia a few years ago so this is not a jointly hosted event.

There are other factors that makes that claim loaded with the pervasive imagery of Africa being one country, but ask any Ghanaian, Cameroonian, Algerian or Zimbabwean that has experiences xenophobia from South Africans in the last few months, and they will tell you that the World Cup is not in Ghana, or Cameroon, Algeria, or Zimbabwe - its in South Africa and they too, will need to hop on a plane or get a visa to go there.

Why African Teams Cant Suceed In The World Cup

There are many reasons why African teams have not won the world cup. It has been hard to pinpoint the main reason but one commentator attempts to explain 8 main reasons why this is the case.
Fox Sports commentator, Nick Webster, notes that African teams continue to struggle in their own World Cup due to the following:
  1. They don't have the infrastructure in terms of domestic leagues.
  2. Their players are scattered over the globe.
  3. There can be too many differences within the squad based on tribal allegiances.
  4. There are examples of money squabbles diminishing the World Cup challenge of an African team (Cameroon in 1994, et al).
  5. Coaches come and go at whim, and are usually foreign and usually overpaid.
  6. Pele predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup by the end of the 20th century (and anyone who knows anything about Pele's World Cup predictions would know that they are the kiss of death).
  7. There is a lack of competition at international level (the African Cup of Nations, while taking place every two years, does not provide enough experience for African national teams, whereas European national teams have tough qualifying campaigns for the European Championships and the World Cup).
  8. There appears to be an individual mentality rather a team mentality.
Now, I like to be realistic when it comes to the prospects of African teams in the World Cup. Yes, the prestigious trophy has not been brought to the continent yet for a winning team and yes, we do need to explore the reasons for this in order to correct them. However, are the reasons sited above legitimate reasons or do we also see undertones of popular images (stereotypes) of Africa propagated? I will touch on a few of the points that were mentioned that need to be redressed:

Reason 1. Africa lacks Infrastructure and organization. Does this include the host nation South Africa, in whose fields seem to meet infrastructural guidelines, and who's leagues play in those fields. During the friendlies, I saw fields in Zimbabwe and Tanzania that could have been a field in any country. These fields are used in domestic leagues. I don't think this is a good enough reason. This is like saying that a basketball player from a low income neighborhood can not make the NBA because the hoop, they practice in is in the inner city.

Reason 3. Inter ethnic Fighting (Tribalism). Now, I'm not one to speculate here, but I have never heard of inter-ethnic rivalry disrupting an African soccer teams ability to play a game. Particularly since, from the sociological perspective of  intergroup relationship, participation in common activities to achieve a common task, unifies member of a group, not divide them.  Sports teams are no exception, and they should display a tendancy towards unification of disparate ethnic groups not widening divisions. It may be that in the regular league games inter ethnic rivalries may surface but when playing for the national teams, I sincerely doubt that this is a factor in all countries when one is chosen to play for their country. Thus the reason that many differences in the squad due to tribal allegiance plagues African teams is a fallacy, and reminds us of the stereotype of tribalism and ethnic groups that just cant get along.

Reason 5.  Africans Cant Coach - Are Foreign Coaches the Best alternative? A lot of the teams spend millions of dollars to get a top world class coach but for the most part, we see little results from that coaching. Today, ESPN commentators noted that African teams have not seen much success with European coaches because the coaches have little time to understand the dynamics of the players who play for many disparate leagues abroad and domestically. Only one African team, Algeria, has an African coach in this years tournament. Whilst Algeria's performance was not super ordinary, their coach did not come with a price tag of $2M for one months coaching. Cameroon paid its coach $2M to coach for one month prior to the game and we have not seen a better performance come from them. So is it better for their teams to seek African coaches, who understand the dynamics of African players and those of African players that play abroad?

In the case of Argentina, we see Maradonna, successfully transition from a player to a coach. Why can we not see the likes of Roger Milla of Cameroon, be offered such an honour? He is surely someone whom a win for Cameroon would meet both a professional goal and an emotional goal as a Cameroonian. What about all the other soccer players Africa has produced? This is not to undermine career coaches because yes, not all players can coach, but these players understand the dynamics of international competition and their home countries and may stand the best chance of bringing home a cup. At this stage, African teams have nothing to lose from making the move. We saw Malawi in the African Cup of nations, led by a Malawian coach and former soccer player successfully beat Algeria, a team that qualified for the world cup. This is not to say however, that only African coaches can coach African teams or that coaches need to meet a nationality requirement, but that these former players, at minimum, need to be considered for the job alongside foreign coaches.

Reason 7. Lack of Experience. Lack of international competition may be a factor if the majority of the players in some teams were not playing abroad. Most of Cameroons player play abroad and many players in other teams play with the same players they are playing against during the World Cup. There needs to be another factor that comes to play other than this other than the old 'inexperienced' excuse.

Reason 8. Africans think about themselves. Individual mentality is perhaps, a factor that African teams really need to focus on. Its not simply because players are inherently selfish and don't want to play as a team, but, when being recruited by a league is at the back of the mind of most players, tendency to want to be the star will creep in for some players. We should see less and less of this though from teams that have many of their players that already play abroad and are not seeking their big break.

So Pele has predicted that no African team will win a World Cup until the end of the century. Maybe so, but maybe not. As we have already seen in this World Cup, There seems to be a shift in the World Cup that we are seeing. The once dominant European teams that have a 'tough' qualifying competition at the European Championship that Webster writes about, do not seem so dominant anymore. New teams are arising, and the playing field seems to be following the same route as the their economies, more equitable.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Cup Commentary - Hot African Weather

This stereotype of Africa being sweltering hot all year round is a hard one for Africa to shake. At the beginning of the World Cup 2010 - South Africa, many of the ESPN commentators were focused on the heat in Africa even as goosebumps grew on their skin.  They became overly concerned with how the heat was going to affect the non-African teams that were not used to the hot African weather. In fact many of the teams came early so that they could practice playing in the African heat. Africa is hot yes, but the problem is that this is winter in South Africa, which means temperatures in South Africa are cold. The irony is that these comments were being made as fans were bundled up in warm clothes, and teams were wearing long sleeved jackets. In fact, the weather was so cold that it snowed in the Western Cape region during the World Cup. They are also predicting snow in Cape Town. I took the liberty of researching ski resorts in Africa, and found that several countries including South Africa and Algeria, have ski resorts (move over Jamaican Bobsledders!) which is a sporting activity that is not usually associated with Africa. There are snow peaked mountains in Kenya, Tanzania and Algeria as well.

Albeit not having snow, Malawi's Mt Mulanje mountains has seen temperature so cold, that one can develop hypothermia. In the non-mountain areas, cities like Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre also experience cold weather in Malawi. Yes, Africa has the benefit of warm weather almost year round but many countries do have a legitimate winter although some may argue that there is no winter in Africa.

It looks like the sports commentators got a dose of African reality after spending a few days there since I no longer hear comments about how teams are getting acclimated with the heat. In today's Japan vs Holland (Netherlands) game, I simply heard the comment that its is a  "Sunny winter day in Durban, South Africa"