Why the World Cup will not be won by an African team

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Declan Hill, an investigative journalist passionate about football, paints an uncompromising portrait of the massively popular sport.

The following commentary was authored by Declan Hill.

"It is a wonderful thing that FIFA gave the World Cup to Africa. They should be congratulated for their courageous stance. But it is very, very unlikely that an African team will win the World Cup. This is because there are two, largely unnamed phenomena that stifle the development of African football: racism and corruption.

During the last World Cup in Germany, I sat with two officials from the Ghanaian delegation, Sam Arday and Cecil Jones Attuquayefio. They were immensely successful coaches both domestically and internationally. They had won an Under-17 Africa Cup, an Under-17 World Cup, and an Olympic medal.

However, the coach of the Ghana team was Serbian. The Serbian national team had been a disaster at the tournament, even losing one match 6-0. The coach of the Serbian team had just announced his retirement. I told Arday and Jones that they should fax in their resumes to the Serbian Football Association. They laughed.

But there was a painful side to their laughter. It is considered a joke that an African coach should submit his resume to a European team even when they have the credentials and medals of an Arday or Attuquayefio. The current, but unstated assumption, in world soccer is that: 'Yes, there is a generation of fantastic African players. Yes, they are blessed with abundant natural talent. But really their talent is not developed properly until they meet the wise, practiced care of a serious, white coach'.

In this Barbar-the-Elephant world view, the question of how so many good young players could have developed is sidestepped. It is this racism that still afflicts the sport in Africa. It is part of the reason why all the sub-Saharan African teams at this World Cup have coaches from outside the continent.

There is a second, also largely unspoken problem that inflicts African football: corruption. It is genuinely difficult to overstate how corrupt the sport is in Africa. The great Cameroonian goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell once said, 'in French football you might expect 10% of the money to disappear – in Africa 90% disappears'. Just about everything that can go on, does go on in African football: rampant match-fixing, corruption in transfers, rigged national football elections…

Many players, even at the top of the game, have two different ages: their real age and their 'football age', which is several years younger.

When I was in Kenya, several national football executives had been beaten up, allegedly, by thugs hired by their rival football executives. Three other officials were on trial for stealing 55 million KS from the association. Kenya is not alone in this kind of problem. It stretches across the continent.

In Tanzania and South Africa football referees have been investigated by the police for bribery.

The Cameroon Football Association has been suspended several times by FIFA. The list could go on and on. Corruption is, in the words of George Weah, 'a cancer that eats away at the sport'. Until this essential problem is solved then unfortunately we will not see an African team lift the trophy."

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