South Africa 2010

After 76 years of failed attempts to reach the World Cup, Ghana finally made history after a famous 3-0 victory against South Africa to enter the most prestigious tournament in the world in May 2006. That day, so many dreams came true.  There was so much joy and jubilation in the crowded streets of Accra. I had never been more proud to be a Ghanaian that day.

There have been some great moments in African football, including Ghana’s youth squad winning the Under-17 World Cup in 2009. The fact that the 2010 World Cup will be hosted in South Africa is also groundbreaking even though it has been past due.

Despite the great achievements, there are still some problems I think need to be addressed or at least pointed out.

In Ghana, football is more than just a sport. Like baseball in America, football is Ghana’s past time; it is passion that flows through every Ghanaian’s veins. It spreads infectiously; No matter where you are, you are exposed to it. It becomes a part of you.

“Nobody can deny football. Passion for football is among the children, everybody from the schools to the streets, even the blind man, they want to play football,” Ghana Football Association President Kwesi Nyantakyi said.

I remember growing up in Accra, any game between Hearts of Oak and Kotoko FC on a Sunday is the most exciting time of your life. You sit with your friends and debate which team is the best, then you go and play football right afterwards.

Football also gives hope, not only in Ghana but in Africa too. There is a big, untapped pool of talent. Millions of African children are looking for an opportunity to succeed in life through football.

Since poverty hits hard in most African countries, including Ghana, football is the strong and persistent belief that it is the only way to escape poverty.

“I like football so much, I’m looking forward to playing in Europe, to play in any part of the world,” Kofi Asamoah said, wearing a LA galaxy shirt. He plays in a local league hoping he will be picked up by a scout from the other side of the world.

“If I can sign a professional contract, I can give money to my parents so that they will use it to take care of my sick sister,” 9-year-old Evans Mensah said,

I admire the fact the African youth are chasing their dreams and trying to better lives for themselves. But should trying to be a footballer the only thing that they should aspire to?

 Their dreams to become footballers become ultimately unrealistic given the state of African football. Sadly, some children give up education because they believe they will be picked up by scouts from Europe.

Football in Africa is not in the best state. It needs to improve and it needs to be utilized to its maximum potential and other opportunities should be available to the African children other than football.

One major problem some countries such as Sierra Leone is that the local leagues are dwindling. There is lack of revenue coming in due to corruption by the organizers and supervisors. African footballers are only seen as cheap commodities. They do not get paid and cannot provide for their families. So there is no incentive to stay and play in Africa. As a result, there is an exodus of African players trying to get into Europe and the local game is constantly robbed of quality talent.  In addition to that, African football is seen as completely inferior to the forces of powerful foreign leagues such as the English Premier League (EPL) and the Italian Serie A.

Resources in most African countries are allocated to cable and coverage of these foreign leagues. Local villagers are all about the craze of the foreign football and spend most of their money via pay-per-view especially to watch the EPL. All that money goes to back the EPL, they get bigger and the support or structure behind the local leagues gets smaller.

I’m not saying ban the EPL from being shown in Africa. It is very popular and is a great league to watch. I just think African governments and African football associations should focus resources on developing our own local leagues. We should cut off the corruption that is preventing African football from thriving

South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) is a structured and commercialized league that is broadcasted all over Africa and even several other countries. Players are paid well, treated fairly and are treated like heroes the way English fans treat Wayne Rooney.

Countries like Ghana and Nigeria should follow suit because I believe it is in the general interest if we all want African football to be on the same level of that England, Spain or Italy

Most importantly, we also need to educate people that football is not the only way out of poverty. We have to show the children that they can be doctors, teachers, pastors, lawyers and so on by encouraging them to go to school. I am certain if we commit to these beliefs, African football will thrive and prosper even more in addition to the recent achievements. Who knows maybe Ghana will win the 2010 World Cup.

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