The History Of Soccer In Africa
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
We are in the final days before the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. And although it is the first World Cup played on African soil, soccer's history in Africa is documented as far back as 1862.
Peter Alegi teaches African history at Michigan State. He's written a new book about soccer in Africa. He's now a Fulbright Fellow in South Africa at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Welcome to the program.
Professor PETER ALEGI (African History, Michigan State University): Thank you.
BLOCK: And explain how soccer first - at least the organized game - first came to Africa.
Prof. ALEGI: Well, the game came with European imperialism and first with the British, of course. And it was the soldiers, it was the traders, the missionaries who really pushed the game. And they were the ones who played that first game in 1862, almost 150 years ago. But the game spread very quickly through the mission schools, through the military forces and through the railways. And it was quickly embraced by Africans.
BLOCK: And how quickly did that come about?
Prof. ALEGI: Within the first two decades or so, we already have documents showing that there were African teams and Indian teams in Southern Africa. So already by the 1880s, 1890s. So, very early on.
BLOCK: And it would spread eventually beyond South Africa; how long did that take?
Prof. ALEGI: In different regions it spread at different paces. So, for example, in Algeria, the French already had some clubs set up in the late 19th century, early 20th century. In Ghana, also, we have the oldest surviving club in Africa, Cape Coast Excelsior founded in 1903.
So, you know, at the coast, the clubs were formed quite early on. And then by the 1920s, 1930s, the game had spread into the interior of the continent as well.
BLOCK: Now, the name of your book, the title is "African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World's Game." What are some examples of that, how it changed the world's game?
Prof. ALEGI: Well, first of all, Africans democratized world soccer. The game was largely in the hands of Europeans and South Americans, to some extent, until the 1960s. So when African countries became independent, they completely changed the character of FIFA, world soccer's governing body. And the great example of that, I think, is the sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Thanks to the pressure of African nations and their allies, that white South Africa was excluded for 30 years from international soccer. And so that's a very important moment in the democratization of the game.
And also by bringing more African teams into the World Cup finals. There were no guaranteed spaces until 1970. And now there are five guaranteed places for African teams in the World Cup. And the World Cup itself is being hosted by South Africa.
BLOCK: You have pointed out in your writing, Professor Alegi, one fact, which is that more than 80 percent of Africa's World Cup players play club soccer on teams that are based in Europe. It's called the brawn drain, not the brain drain, but the brawn drain. How does that drain affect the tradition of soccer in Africa, do you think?
Prof. ALEGI: I think the most direct impact is a deterioration in domestic soccer with the only exception, really, of South Africa, whose league is very well endowed and among the top ten richest leagues in the world. Everywhere else local soccer is suffering at the professional level and at the grassroots level.
During the last African Nation's Cup played in Angola, many people who were there visiting, watching the matches noticed how when they exited the games, which were sparsely attended for the most part, they would walk into a pub and most of the local Angolans would be watching, guess what? European soccer and particularly the English premier league. So there's a kind of almost electronic colonialism that goes on with the brawn drain as well.
Now it is true that you get the Didier Drogbas and the Michael Essien superstars in Europe, and they do come back home and help local soccer in some cases. But, remember, this is a very, very tiny percentage of all of the African players. And so, once again, Europe seems to benefit disproportionately at the expense of Africa. And there's a long history of that.
BLOCK: Well, Professor Alegi, enjoy the World Cup. I know you will.
Prof. ALEGI: Thank you. You do that same.
BLOCK: Peter Alegi is a Fulbright Scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He spoke with us from Pietermaritzburg. He also teaches African history at Michigan State University.
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