Africa’s love affair with Olympic football looks dead on Tokyo arrival

Saturday July 24 2021
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Touch ask. Japanese forward Takefusa Kubo celebrates after scoring the goal that downed South Africa in their Group A opener on Thursday. The Bafana Bafana and Pharaohs are up for a tough challenge at the Games. PHOTO/AFP

By Allan Ssekamatte

Can’t be the sole football fan piqued by methodology applied in distributing medals at Olympic Games. Growing up, we were used to seeing USA and USSR (Soviet Union) topping medal charts, followed by China, Great Britain and Australia; then Cuba which always wins boxing gold. 

Thanks to her athletic prowess, Kenya was traditionally the only sub saharan Africa country among the top ten globally. In recent years, China and USA rule the global roost, with South Africa the continental powerhouse.

When Nigeria won football gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games, I fully expected Africa’s most populous nation to climb up the medal honours list. Imagine my  disappointment not to see the country anywhere among Olympic super powers. 

Why? Because when a squad of 30 - 23 players, coaches and support staff – win an Olympic Games soccer final, they all receive individual gold medals but only one medal is reflected on the country’s overall tally. This can’t be right.

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The Elephant. AC Milan forward Franck Kessie will lead Ivory Coast assault. PHOTO/AFP

If Cuba can receive five gold medals after fielding a team of a dozen boxers, or if China can amass 25 medals of various description from a team of 40 swimmers, the team winning the Olympic Games football final should have a minimum of 23 gold medals reflected on their country’s tally. 

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Cameroon write own history
Another African nation, Cameroon, would have a proud Olympic history if their football gold at the 2000 Sydney Games had seen them awarded 23 medals.

African football fans look forward to Olympic Games because our teams have always punched above their weight. Long before Daniel Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu and Sunday Oliseh mesmerised the football world at the Atalanta Games, Zambian skipper Kalusha Bwalya had illuminated the Games with a dazzling hat trick in a 4-1 victory over Italy at the 1988 Seoul Games. 

That’s how Bwalya ended up at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven - a rarity during the eighties.

The Sydney Games were the turn of Cameroon keeper Carlos Idriss Kameni to enter football folklore. His penalty saving heroics earned him a move to Espanyol in La Liga where he followed into the footsteps of legendary Indomitable Lions custodian Thomas Nkono. 

One of only three former keepers to be named African footballer of the year, Nkono had kept goal for Espanyol for over a decade following heroics of his own at the 1982 World Cup, a tournament at which Cameroon were unbeaten.

Prospects of an African team winning gold at this year’s Tokyo Olympics are slim. None of the continent’s three representatives - Egypt, South Africa and Ivory Coast, has taken a squad strong enough to challenge current title holders Brazil, former winners Argentina and 1992 champions Spain who are fielding a star studded side including several players who featured in the just ended European Championships. 

Getting out of their groups will be an achievement.
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