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Posted on Thursday, 08 July 2010 11:35

FIFA in Africa

By Bernard Marcout

The international federation has been contributing to the development of African football for 25 years. The nomination of South Africa for the 2010 World Cup is one of the strongest signs of this.


?Much has happened between 1934, when Egypt was the first African team to be invited to take part in the World Cup, and 2010, with the tournament played for the first time on the African continent with Africa represented by six nations including South Africa, the organiser. Robert Guérin, the first president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), was born in 1904. His successors put in a lot of work over the next 70 years, despite many problems in consolidating its structure which has 208 affiliated federations today. ?


Two FIFA Presidents: Joao Havelange and Joseph Blatter. Photo: Guo Yong/Xinhua-Ntx/AFP Africa may have felt somewhat abandoned at times during this long period, despite its efforts to develop an organisational structure.?


The creation of the Confederation of African Football in 1957 and the predominant role of Ethiopian ?Ydnekatchew Tessema – its president between 1972 and 1987 – is proof of these efforts. Ydnekatchew Tessema was succeeded by Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, one of FIFA’s current vice-presidents.?


Absent from the World Cup between 1934 and 1970, African football had to show great patience before being guaranteed a small ?place in the tournament’s final phase. ?


In the lead-up to the qualifying matches for 1966, 16 African countries withdrew in protest against new regulations drawn up in 1964 by FIFA, then headed by Englishman Stanley Rous. The regulations stipulated that the winner of the Africa zone had to play the winner of the Asia or Oceania zone in order to qualify. In other words, there was only one ticket for three continents.?


This controversial rule was to be withdrawn four years later in Africa’s favour and allowed Morocco to take the first steps to Mexico in 1970. Zaire and Tunisia followed in 1974 and 1978 after 50-match qualifier marathons. ?




?The real globalisation of football took place under the presidency of Brazilian João Havelange, elected in 1974 and convinced of football’s importance as a vehicle for economic, social, cultural and even ?political development in the world. This was welcomed by the African and Asian continents who had previously received little attention. ?


Between 1982 and 1998, FIFA president Havelange, with the collaboration of his future successor Joseph Blatter (director of development at FIFA from 1975 to 1981, before becoming secretary-general), doubled the number of countries qualifying for the World Cup from 16 to 32. ?


Tessema in the service of Sport


Co-founder of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), of which he was president from 1972 to 1987, Ydnekatchew Tessema had a passion for the sport. He had a particular love of football, which he played at the highest level in the national Ethiopian team as captain on 15 occasions before becoming a trainer and winning the African Cup of Nations in 1962.?


Also keen on athletics and boxing, at 46 he became president of the Ethiopian National Confederation of Sports, which transformed itself a year later into the Ethiopian Olympic Committee. ?


In 1971 he was the first Ethiopian to be elected as member of the International Olympic Committee. This post, as well as his place at the heart of FIFA’s executive committee from 1966 to 1972, allowed this African activist to fight energetically against South African apartheid.


?During his four terms as head of the CAF, he strove to negotiate televised broadcast rights and sports marketing in order to give African football financial and political autonomy. ?He rallied African countries to support Brazilian João Havelange’s candidacy for the presidency of FIFA in 1974.?


Struck by cancer in 1984, Tessema continued his work for almost three years before passing away in August 1987 at the age of 66. He was replaced by the Cameroonian Issa Hayatou.

Blatter considers this to be the event’s real turning point since its creation 24 years previously. In any case, it was a great help in getting Africa started – its representation went from one (1970) to two (1982) to three in 1994 in recognition of Cameroon’s achievement in 1990, and to five after 1998.?


This year six African countries including South Africa were at the finals, and it is without any doubt Joseph Blatter (Havelange’s successor on the eve of the World Cup in France in 1998) to whom the African continent is indebted. “For the 34 years I’ve been at FIFA, there has nearly always been an African candidate for the organisation of the World Cup,” he said at a press conference in Johannesburg. “But they lose every time. Something had to be done and that’s why we implemented the continental rotation. Without that, Africa would never have got the World Cup. Too many people don’t trust it. I don’t know why. ?This continent has given us so much, we have to give something back. Our economic partners believe in it, and the televised media too – they will be there in 2010. It’s about justice. I think it was a moral responsibility to give the World Cup to Africa.”


?At the beginning of 2009, ?Blatter confided: “It’s a project I’ve been thinking about since 1976, when I started my career at FIFA as development manager. Back then I went to Addis Ababa, and it’s there that I understood what football ?represents in Africa.” ?


According to the principle of intercontinental rotation, Brazil has been chosen to host the next World Cup in 2014.?


Opposing Apartheid


?João Havelange, president of the Brazilian Confederation of Sports (CBD) for 25 years before managing FIFA, says he is proud that the organisation played an important role in the struggle against South African apartheid. “A Brazilian team went to South Africa and was prevented from disembarking because it ?included black players. At the time this caused me a great deal of sadness and left a bitter taste that lasted several years,” he recalls. “I made the team return to Brazil immediately, and for as long as I was president of the CBD I never let any athlete from my country participate in any competition in South Africa.”?


In 1976, João Havelange went further and excluded the South African Football Federation from FIFA. It had already been suspended since 1964 for its segregationist policies and was was only reintegrated in 1992 when the segregationist legislation was broken up. ?


“I went to Johannesburg where I had a very important interview with Nelson Mandela. FIFA immediately took the decision to recognise the country’s Football ?Federation,” he reminisces.


?Nobody seems to have forgotten this, not just in South Africa but throughout the whole continent.


This article was first published in The Africa Report's World Cup 2010 edition in May. 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 July 2012 15:17

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