Posted on Friday, 10 February 2012 17:41

Football in Africa: More than just a game

William Manful

Departing life when life was fresh and new the great martial artist Bruce Lee lived his life with the aim of sharing the precious values of an ancient art form with people of all races underscoring the inordinate amount of love he had for mankind.

Vincent Van Gogh painted depicting a similar reservoir of love for humanity. As he was portrayed by Kirk Douglas in Vincente Minnelli's epic classic Lust for Life; the penniless painter was inspired by a zest for life sorely missing in his existence but opulently expressed with bright colours in his paintings. Van Gogh's love for mankind drove him to see beauty in common folk sitting at a table to share an evening meal together or country folk toiling away on farms and plantations. The gift of life it seemed was the painter's muse to draw.

Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo's tendencies to pay attention to social rejects inspired novels and masterpieces that withstood the text of time and are now hailed as prime examples of pre-eminent literary works.

Anything and everything that is conceived in love is bound to succeed. The examples highlighted above showcase human endeavors that triumphed because of their conception in love and the attention paid to society's underlings often isolated, marginalized and rejected for their existence in squalour.

A closer look at the teams featured at the African Cup of Nations unveils similar forces of love underlying their efforts in the tournament. With star players like Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, Seydou Keita, Kwadwo Asamoah, Andre Dede Ayew and Jordan Ayew and so many more, the decision to answer the national call to sporting duty is borne out of an insatiable love for the motherland and an inordinate sense of allegiance to their home countries.

The lead striker for Ghana Gyan earns close to 200,000 dollars a week playing for Al-Ain in the Arab world. The hefty paycheck of players such as Drogba and Keita plying their trade in lucrative European leagues is equally assured. One wonders therefore, why these players still possess a passionate desire to don the national colors and sacrifice form and limbs to feature for the home country that is ill-prepared to match the financial incentives of playing abroad.

The fact that they toil away for friends and family as well as the people of Africa cannot be lost on us. Every interview with a player at the AFCON generates a patriotic refrain emphasizing the need to perform for their nation and their expectant fans back home. In the surging runs of these gifted athletes resonates the cries of school children, street vendors, panhandlers, hospitalized patients, minibus drivers given a glimpse of hope and a breath of fresh air, a reprieve from existential hardship by the simmering goals of these committed players.

It is the exploits of national teams that bring the inhabitants of African countries together and the efforts of footballers that bring joy to the peoples of this continent. Unfortunately, the politicians are unable to replicate the efforts of these young men rather filling the hearts of their countrymen with disappointment and chagrin.

The sound of joy coming from the fans at home therefore becomes the battle cry for the sportsman who sacrifices his livelihood to bring cheer to his compatriots.

Like Bruce Lee, Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo the game of African footballers is conceived in love hence the almighty's endorsement of their sporting triumphs particularly in the competitive leagues of Europe.

If only the politicians could be as caring, the joy and ecstasy of the people would have been more lasting and better founded. But as it is they remain as sporadic moments in dark national lives brought to momentary vivacity by the skills of footballers who go beyond themselves to keep their nations happy.

As the Cup of Nations draws to a close let us remember the names that were echoed by commentators, let us not forget, Ba, Cisse, Boye, Diabate, Sow, Zokora, Gyan, Katongo names of true warriors who are ready to sacrifice for a continent. The trophy may end up with one team but the triumph belongs to all the players.

William Manful

William Manful

William Manful is a human rights advocate committed to the democratization of Africa. He has worked as a contributing columnist for afrik- news.com and talkafrique. He holds degrees in french and spanish as well as international relations from the University of Cambridge. Mr manful also writes on philosophy, sports and cinema. He is currently working for the Government of Ghana.


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