Africa Cup of Nations – Africa Sports Con or Confidence in African Sports?

{This article is taken from an earlier edition published in the Marketing Africa magazine – July 2019 edition}.

“Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, soccer for watching. And that spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organized
not for play but rather to impede it. The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy
and outlaws daring. Luckily, on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire
opposing side, the referee, and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.” Eduardo Galeano – Soccer in Sun and Shadow

At inception in 1957, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), started with an ambitious plan seeking to ‘unite emerging African nations’ through football. Ethiopia’s Yidnekatchew Tessema – one of CAF’s founding fathers during a CAF Congress in 1974 gave a rallying call by noting
the following;

“I’m issuing a call to our general assembly that it affirms that Africa is one and indivisible, that we work towards the unity of Africa together… That we condemn superstition, tribalism, all forms of discrimination within our football and in all domains of life. We do not accept the division of Africa into Francophone, Anglophone, and Arabophone. Arabs from north Africa and Zulus from South Africa, we are all authentic Africans. Those who try to divide us by way of football are not our friends.”

The wave of independence was sweeping across African states, this one sport that was thought to be a unifier of the masses. This saw the inception of Africa Cup of Nations as a flagship of CAF. There was borne a tournament of continental proportions which has had its rough and tumble as well as memorable and historic moments.
Gradually the tournament has grown to be one of the biggest sports extravaganzas on the continent. It has also managed to attract interests among major corporate brands. In July 2016, Total has secured an eight-year sponsorship package from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to support 10 of its principal competitions.

The tournament has also been expanded from the 16 to 24 teams with the aim of attracting wider interest across the continent. It is also hoped to speed up growing the various national football leagues.

“Throughout the tournament (2010 World Cup), one could see that African soccer had conserved its agility but lost its inventiveness and daring, lots of running but little dancing. There are those who believe the managers, nearly all of them from Europe, cast a chilling effect. If true, they did scant favor for a soccer that promised so much exuberance. Africa sacrificed its flair in the name of efficacy, and efficacy shone by its absence. Many African players worthy of their heritage of good soccer live and play on the continent that enslaved their ancestors.” Eduaro Galeano

With rapid growth of the Africa Cup of Nations, comes the vagaries of keeping up with the pace of expansion and growing across the different regions of the continent. A couple of premises and developments have been observed and here’s a preview;

Frequency

First the frequency of the tournament is bound to stretch even the richest of resource-rich countries. While the last couple of host nations have enjoyed a fair share of economic growth, the possibility and prospects of hosting such a tournament have been largely the work of their political and national leaders. It is also where national federations can bring together corporate
and local support for the game.
However, there are a few cases where the federations are not able to get the necessary support – and funding for that matter – to host the tournament. That initial hosts Cameroon for the 2019 edifice could not get their act together was not a wonder. Egypt did manage a fair value as the substitute but only with the infrastructure and the logistics of hosting such an event.
While it maybe argued that CAF is hoping to grow the game faster to catch up with the continental counterparts in Europe and South America, it will do a great disservice to its national teams not getting enough time to recover from one tournament to the next.

The headache of hosting the tournament will also continue haunting the CAF honchos in the interim with only a select few countries able to turn around the tournament within the 3 years from one to the next. It will also keep the divide between ‘emerging nations’ in the game – the likes of Madagascar,Rwanda and Ethiopia wider instead of creating competitiveness with established footballing nations such as Egypt, Nigeria and Cote de ’Ivoire.

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Fans
While Egypt was able to host the tournament, the worrying state has been the missing fans from the stadia. African audiences are known to love their football and are still hungry for some live action. This has not been the case in Egypt and this was exacerbated by the departure of the Pharaohs in the second round.
The ‘empty seat syndrome’ has been prevalent with the average fan attendance being between 5000 – 7000 even for traditional rivalries such as Nigeria v/s Cameroon among others. The argument has been for football fans voting with eyes and not their feet – the power of TV and
viewing. Having the necessary infrastructure to enable travelling fans is another consideration that must be made for future hosts nations. Egypt is a mixed basket for visitors as is most African nations.
The recently signed trade pact needs to explore such challenges as visas for travellers, be they business, entrepreneurs, leisure, or sports fans.
Europe and South American fans are known to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to catch their national teams. The recent Copa America is testimony to this. Look too at not just the European Nations Cup but also club championships, there is provision and ease of travel across borders.

Broadcasting
While the tournament may not hold a candle among other continental championships across the world, it would still claim a fair share of its broadcast audience compared to other such continental championships.

One of the main reasons for moving it from the first quarter of the calendar year was to not only reduce the interruption of players plying their trade in Europe but also to reduce the competition for audiences. A survey by GeoPoll carried out in June 2019 indicated that the African Cup of Nations attracts great interest across African audiences only second to the World Cup. The survey covered 6 nations fairly spread from East, West, Southern and North Africa.

The findings indicated 83% of the respondents would follow the tournament in some form or other. TV emerged as by far the most favoured form of media to follow the tournament – 85% while mobile and online trailed at 30% and 18% respectively. This shows the potent of this form of
media in this part of the world.

On social media platforms, Facebook was the favoured option as 65% of the respondents indicating using it to follow the tournament. Does this support their entreaties into the world of live sports and specifically football?

Remember Facebook will be screening select games of the English Premier League live in the coming 2019/20 season…The crux of matters media is the challenge of broadcast rights. As of April 2019, there had not been a clear summary of the broadcasting partners. While some of the Pay TVs on the continent had already grabbed a sizeable amount of rights to screen the games, it was left late for most national broadcasters. They put in a last-minute bid for select games (as was the case in Kenya and perhaps most of the nations especially those that did not qualify).

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Competing Tournaments
Concurrent to the Africa Cup of Nations at some point were the Women’s World Cup which was quite a marvel compared the men’s game…no faking fouls, no diving, lots of goals and controversies surrounding the VAR ‘animal’… In there too was the Copa America for the South American nations and two guest nations invited from across seas – Qatar and Japan gracing the 12-nation display.
That these two would run during the Africa Cup of Nations meant there were competing audiences and shift of attention even for the media covering the tournaments. While it may not be in CAF’s power, they can make a compelling case to have some exclusivity in having the
tournament with none of a similar magnitude held at the same time.
It can also help CAF’s Organizing Team to secure globally competitive sponsors who would find value for money in sponsoring the tourney. The sponsors would also be safe in find ad spots competitive and favourable the continental and global targets.
Corruption – Real or Suspected
It was a spectacle to behold that CAF’s President would be hauled to the courts even before managing his first Africa Cup of Nations. It was press – and bad press for that for the tournament organizers.
As the tourney ends, the charges may have been swept under the carpet for now but may re-emerge once the trophy is lifted by the new champions.

It is not in my place to cast aspersions in the conduct of the CAF President and other CAF officials. Surely this is not the sort of coverage they would have hoped for. To mitigate against such incidences, the body must constitute a transparent approach and officials be above
reproach in their dealings on behalf of CAF. Africa’s football federations maybe mired in challenges up to and including corruption, but this
can be the turning point of the game. There are myriad opportunities to generate revenue and funds not only to grow the game but also to be reward for a job well done. Daydreaming or snowball’s chance in hell?
Technology
Related to the broadcast media above, is the role of technology. We must acknowledge we’re in an era where I can log on to some social media platform or other and get live updates of the games.
Well, these must be considered for future tournaments for both pre-tournament and during the games. They can be used effectively to hype and build attention and interest. Technology can also be used to ease the way we consume sports – from improved stadium infrastructure – what with the soaring temperatures of some of the venues, to supporting evolving transport infrastructure.
Adaptability of technology is a major positive for developing economies and more so in Africa. I cannot emphasize the need for sports administrators and football in running sports as both vibrant brand and business propositions. Goodwill must be built at political and economic levels
and a collective approach from stakeholders in each of these. Upgraded infrastructure, training areas as well as competitive leagues with attractive packages for our players, why can’t African football retain its own best talent as an alternative of exporting to Europe and other continents?

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