Africa has a come a long way in football

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Africa undoubtedly has great passion for football.
Football lovers are to be found in all sections of African society and in all walks of life on the continent.
Football is played in streets, paths, fields, sandy and rocky grounds as well as in stadia in Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg, Tunis, Yaounde, Abidjan and Nairobi with proper footballs or with discarded rags tied together to resemble the round ball.
However, the game of football, born in English universities around 1865, came to Africa belatedly.
The recent independence of African countries (most of them became independent in the 1960s) and the absence of television, contributed to the delay in the popularisation of football on the continent.
Contrary to basketball, which entered Africa through Egypt, football came to the continent simultaneously in Egypt and in black Africa.
In 1903 a Briton, a Jamaican-born sports teacher sent by the British Crown to teach cricket to government school students, founded the first Ghanaian Football Association.
But the introduction of the game was faster in Egypt with British sailors.
Africa's first football club, Olympic Alexandria, was set up in the late 19th century, a few years after football was invented by the English.
As early as 1920, an Egyptian football team, including Greek immigrants, took part in the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium.
However, in the early days, football in Africa was the preserve of the European elite.
The initial clubs set up in Ghana, Tunisia and Algeria excluded black Africans.
English and French colonisers were reluctant to play the sport with local people due to racism.
Initially banned from football, the natives were later authorised to play the game in schools and Catholic missions under the responsibility of teachers and missionaries.
This led to the emergence of small school teams.
But there was a massive boom shortly afterwards, as the passion for football overwhelmed any colonial bans.
Clubs such as Esperance Tunis, Club Africain Tunis and Zamalek of Cairo were founded in reaction to the colonisers' attitude and were fertile breeding grounds for nationalism.
Egypt were the first African country to become a member of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) in 1921, played in the 1924 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, and in the 1934 World Cup in Italy.
In the 1930s, many clubs were set up across the African continent.
However, it was not until the end of the Second World War that organised football really took root in Africa.
In French West Africa (AOF), the AOF Cup was set up in 1947 and regarded as a major sports competition in the French Union.
At a time when most of Africa was still colonised, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia founded the African Football Confederation (CAF) in 1956 and the African Cup of Nations (CAN) in 1957.
Following independence, emerging African countries became members of CAF and took part in the first continental competition.
Between 1956 and 1972, the African Cup of Nations, a major showcase for sporting prestige, contributed to speeding up the construction of stadia in African capitals and opened up the competition.
The earlier competitions were dominated by the national teams of Ghana, the former Congo-Kinshasa or Zaire, Guinea and Cameroon, and their clubs (Asante Kotoko, Tout-Puissant Mazembe, Hafia de Conakry and Canon Yaounde).
With the first television broadcast of the World Cup in 1974 in Germany, football became even more popular across Africa.
Over the past 15 years, there has been a change in African football supremacy, with the best talents from Black Africa (Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal) emigrating to seek greener pastures in European clubs.
North Africa then took over (Zamalek and El Ahly in Egypt, Esperance and Club Africain in Tunisia, WAC and Raja in Morocco), with better organised clubs capable of keeping their players at home.
Only ASEC and Africa in Cote d'Ivoire, and South Africa's Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs managed to keep up with North African clubs fostering professional talent at home.
The result today is that, at country level, national teams from sub-Saharan Africa are at with their northern counterparts.
African football is now up with the best, following excellent performances by African teams and players on the global stage.
Africa's footballing ambassadors include Mozambican Eusebio Dasilva Ferreira, Salif Keita of Mali, Algeria's Rabah Madjer, Lakhdar Belloumi and Salah Assad, Cameroon's Roger Milla and Francois Omam Biyik, and Liberian George Weah (European player of the year in 1996).
The number of teams in the finals of the African Cup of Nations has now been extended to 16, and the continent has introduced its own Champions League, similar to the one in Europe.
Since 1998, the number of African representatives to the World Cup finals has been raised to five.
This represents a quantum leap for African football in a space of a half-century.

14 december 2001 21:11:00

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