Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Africa is Not A Country. So Why Would It Vote As One?

From time to time we hear, in response to ignorant comments made by various westerners who are either geographically challenged or lacking in their understanding of the African continent's wide diversity, the quite reasonable rejoinder that Africa is not a country.

The culprits have been numerous, among them reportedly former American Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and current US Vice-President Joe Biden.

And of those who do understand that Africa consists of over 50 distinct countries, many are apparently of the perception that the entire population lives in mud huts while dodging lions, elephants, giraffes and zebras as they go about their daily, ongoing struggle against malaria, ebola and famine.

I cannot recall how many times I read that June is winter in Africa in the comments section on various World Cup 2010 articles on the internet.

For decades we were told every four years by football pundits that Africans lack discipline.

The truth is, of course, that as the second largest in the world, the African continent contains incredible diversity, not only geographically and meteorologically, but also culturally, linguistically, religiously, gastronomically, in fact in regard to just about every adverb you may wish to name. In this it is just like every other continent.

It has a mix of large, medium-sized and small countries (e.g. Algeria, Burkina Faso, Djibouti), intensively populated and sparsely populated countries (e.g. Nigeria, Mauritania), landlocked, coastal and island countries (e.g. Chad, Mozambique, Seychelles), Arabic-speaking, French-speaking and English-speaking countries (e.g. Tunisia, Cote d'Ivoire, Namibia), among hundreds of other languages, dictatorships and democracies (e.g. Zimbabwe, Botswana) and countries that have been very successful at football, moderately successful at football, and generally unsuccessful at football (e.g. Cameroon, Togo, Eritrea).

This is what makes it all the more surprising to me that in matters of football politics, there is a feeling that the CAF members need to vote as a bloc. It is hard to see how in a confederation the size of Africa, what is the right thing for one country is automatically the right thing for another country. Is what is best for Senegal, Morocco or South Africa necessarily what's best for Mauritius, Sierra Leone or Lesotho? Surely each country has different needs and aspirations. Would not the Seychelles have more in common in football terms with the Maldives, or even Fiji or Barbados, than with Egypt, DR Congo or Mali?

I understand that the continent as a whole was delighted and proud when South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup Finals.

I understand that many of the national football leaders have been the happy recipients of FIFA 'development' money or plum postings on various FIFA committees that endow prestige upon the recipients, along with the small matter of US$500 per diems.

But can the various national leaders not be trusted to figure out themselves who or what they want to vote for? What is to say that even more funding and hosting rights cannot come to Africa under another FIFA President than was achieved under Sepp Blatter? Simataa Simataa, a former president of the Zambian FA, certainly saw the downside of the way Blatter won the CAF vote.

It was in 2002 that Lennart Johansson was expected to win the FIFA Presidency, but lost partly because, "He made a mistake to think Africa would vote as one," George Weah of Liberia, the 1995 world soccer player of the year and his country's ambassador for sports, said of Johansson. "There are a lot of different peoples, different cultures."

I wonder what changed.

Each of the leaders of FIFA's 209 members has risen to a position of great power and respect, but also responsibility. It is their duty to use their vote wisely, fo the good of both their own country and the game internationally. I don't understand why they would allow themselves to be told how to cast their votes by a single individual. This is the mentality that resulted in Jack Warner having unchecked power in CONCACAF.

Although I have used Africa is my example, I could equally have used another Confederation such as Asia, CONCACAF or Oceania. Just substitute Jordan, Iran, Tajikistan, Bhutan, Japan, Cambodia and Guam as the list, or the USA, Suriname, Guatemala, Haiti and Montserrat, or New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Tahiti.

It was bad enough when 13 votes secured the hosting of the World Cup Finals. Now that the hosting rights will be decided by the entire FIFA Congress rather than just the Exco members, if voters defer to Confederations and vote as blocs, potentially two or three people's votes will be enough to win the bid. What a sorry state of affairs that would be.

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