Tuesday June 24 2014

One life lesson from the Fifa World Cup in Brazil

By Nicholas Sengoba

For football fans the world over, the best thing in life, is happening. Looking back as a teenager, the FifaWorld Cup season would bring life to a standstill. Everywhere you went there was a star from the television set. If one was not Paulo Rossi of Italy, he was Karl Heinz Rummennige of Germany or Socrates of Brazil.

The names kept changing with subsequent tournaments. Now as a much older and presumably wiser person, it gives me quite a chuckle when I meet potbellied and bald headed ‘Zico’s’ going about Kampala’s streets like they never run up and down the football field trying to emulate the stars.

It is also sobering to remember all those with whom we enjoyed the game, who have gone to an early grave.
With the passage of time, the Fifa World Cup that comes to us after every four years has become less fascinating as a spectacle and more of an event from which great life lessons can be learnt.

One of the most enduring and overwhelming, of course, is the mediocre performance of teams from the African continent. Making it to the quarter finals has been our greatest moment (Cameroon 1990). To African sides, that is an immense achievement that will warrant a hero’s welcome.
To most of the European and South American sides (the ones who have won the tournament most) anything short of the trophy is viewed as failure.

What follows is where we as Africans need to focus both as nations and at an individual level. It is what we need to bring into our culture and way of life. Harsh criticism and self scrutiny plus the need for change, to cause perfection.

For instance at the 2014 finals in Brazil, the English team put up a despicable performance and after eight days, they were out of the tournament.

Something very ‘unAfrican’ followed. The media called the team ‘clowns and idiots’ who were only ‘happy to be at the party’. Others were unhappy with the football association for giving the manager Roy Hodgson guarantees to keep his job. Many are calling for heads to roll plus a complete overhaul of the game in England.

It has happened before in places like Brazil and Germany. The coach and his staff find themselves jobless if they fail to deliver. No one forgives them. It happens with blue chip companies. It happens in politics and in most spheres of life.

Failure is treated like a plague and most people who hold any form of public office know that there is a risk that comes with failure.
What you notice in Africa even at a personal level, many of us do not fear to under perform, under achieve or even fail because there is no risk that awaits us.

There might be a reward instead. We do not keep time, deliver late because we know or think there is no one who may replace us. A godfather somewhere will stand in for us in the many cases in which people hold jobs without merit.

We console ourselves with ‘at leasts.’ “At least we got there unlike other teams which did not make it to the tournament.’ At least we scored four goals, last time we had only two, so there is progress”.
Any form of harsh criticism is frowned upon as “discouraging and bad manners”. That is why we have sunk so low. Societies and civilisations plus individuals that have made enduring progress are those that question everything with a view to finding out what is wrong and needs to be changed.

They then go ahead in an attempt to impose corrective measures to stem the failure.

That will be the only way out for African teams at the World Cup. It will be the greatest step for Africans as we seek to establish ourselves as respectable members of the universe.

Mr Ssengoba is a commentator on political and social issues