What you need to know:
- I don’t see how this tournaments can produce the next El Hadji Diouf
Such has been the underwhelming appeal of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in recent years that it is hard to imagine that the current version is already a week old. Could it be that the empty stands, patchy pitches, and catnapping dignitaries have all conspired to make Afcon a boring side show to be rushed through, just so everyone can quickly get on with the rest of their lives?
To be fair to this one, the pandemic pushed it a year forward. So please understand that staleness is not a matter of choice. The pandemic spared no one. For instance, the Tokyo Olympics which boasts of more clout also came to us a year later and its soul was just as empty. And even if Euro 2020 was a better spectacle to the extent that it had fans and was billed as the one that brought us out of the pandemic limbo, it too arrived a year late.
These challenges that the pandemic placed upon sports is perhaps what drove many to doubt the ability of Caf to run a tournament during a pandemic. Nonetheless, Afcon is happening, and I guess we are all almost resigned to the fact that the coronavirus will live with us for a while.
Still the patronising noises from further up north have the overall effect of knocking out the excitement associated with a proper tournament - a clout that might be hard to re-discover.
But maybe it is easy to speak negatively of Afcon if, like Uganda, you are not at the tournament. But I refer not to sour grapes here. I am talking about overall apathy from fans as demonstrated by falling attendance figures and from the big cats high up in VIP and their bleached companions who give the impression, they would rather be somewhere counting their money. The amount of disregard is shocking whichever way you spin it!
And such matters aren’t helped, neither by the conflicts that pop up between Country and the European clubs that have Africans on their books, nor by the shocking refereeing standards such as those Janny Sikazwe delivered last Wednesday.
While I do appreciate that clubs are business entities that are duty bound to optimise returns on their investments, I will never come to terms with what the man from Zambia was trying to achieve.
Either way, it appears there is little love left for the motherland and its flagship showpiece. The romance of the yesteryears during which teams like Senegal, Zambia, Algeria, Egypt, and Cameroun charmed us all seems to have given way to tournaments at which the pre-determined host absconds from their responsibilities and benevolent dictators return to sanitize their legacies.
In the circumstances, and if this trend continues, I don’t see how this and subsequent tournaments can produce the next El Hadji Diouf. I don’t see how any team will light up the current versions like Algeria did in 1990 or Senegal in 2002 or Egypt in 2008.
Heck, even the West Africans’ storming power of old is missing.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that a tournament’s character is defined as much by its football as well as by how much value we attach to it.
Drama, skill, and sheer entertainment alone will not be enough if we feel Afcon is only a pastime set up to fill the emptiness between the World Cup, European Championship, and the Champions League.
The Europeans and the rest of the world may see it this way but we Africans don’t have to be accomplices.