Monday, 2nd October 2023

AFCON 2021 – The shame and the pride 

By Segun Odegbami
15 January 2022   |   3:32 am
Can you believe that some National Federation Presidents in Africa were part of a plot behind the scenes to have the African Cup of Nations Championship, AFCON, cancelled for no reason at all beyond obeying their ‘master’s’ bidding?

Super Eagles

The Shame
Can you believe that some National Federation Presidents in Africa were part of a plot behind the scenes to have the African Cup of Nations Championship, AFCON, cancelled for no reason at all beyond obeying their ‘master’s’ bidding?

The first week of AFCON 2021 must have been a big disappointment for all those that wanted to see Africa’s most prestigious football championship either cancelled or postponed. Citing very untenable reasons that could not stand any integrity test, they wanted to diminish the importance of Africa in the global scene, even in a game that continues to fight back at bigotry, discrimination and racism in the world.

On the eve of AFCON 2021, at the instigation of some powerful club owners/managers in Europe, FIFA President, Giovani Infantino, led a campaign to have the African version of the most revered football championship in Europe, cancelled. His reason was that the absence of African footballers from their European clubs during the period of the championship (four weeks) would adversely affect the European clubs. What balderdash.

Even though attempting to diminish the importance of the African championship is not new (it has been happening from one championship to the other in various forms through the past decades), what is different this time around is the role of the FIFA President and his collaborators in the Confederation of African Football, CAF, in the saga.

Many observers have been worried about how the continent’s national football presidents have become powerful tools of the FIFA president, in global football politics, since he used their large number and almost robotic followership to become president. Since then, they had mortgaged their independence on the Altar of Baal. For six months, FIFA actually took over the administration of football in Africa when its general secretary moved office to Cairo and took over the CAF secretariat.

In the Camerouns, it was a great shock and shame to learn of the activities of some African national federation presidents playing the clandestine role of trying to convince many of their colleagues in CAF, without any justifiable reason, to support their ‘master’s’ call for a cancellation, or postponement, of their most important championship, forgetting that Europe successfully hosted their own championship even at a worse time that COVID-19 was ravaging the region. The world did not end. All that was required was stricter COVID protocols. Why should Africa’s be treated differently now?

The names of all the presidents that backed that anti-African move should be released and made public. Every one of them should be made to face the music and shame of their actions in their different countries. They do not deserve to remain as presidents of their federations for fueling the embers of ‘neo-colonialism’ in African football.
What a shame.

The Pride
The campaigners for cancellation may have succeeded but for the divinely inspired emergence of a powerful and ‘unpolluted’ figure like Eto Samuel Fils as president of Cameroun’s national football federation. He was not going to have any of such shenanigans during his first assignment as president and host of the championship.

He got the support (surprisingly) of the president of CAF, Patrice Motsepe, who was considered a Giovanni Infantino-lacky before then because of the FIFA president’s ‘hand’ that was all over his election to the CAF presidency.

The South African, with Samuel Eto by his side, shunned Infantino’s unpalatable ‘offering’. They were both a pride to Africa.

That was the reason for the relative ‘cold treatment’ meted to Infantino during the opening ceremony of AFCON 2021.

Contrary to the usual practice of sitting him next to the president of the country, he was made some distance away from Mr. Paul Biya, in the State Box. He was also reportedly booed by spectators when his name was announced as one of the international VIPs present.

It was a thing of immense pride to watch the spectacle of the opening ceremony, the dance and drama, the culture and the colours.

The best part has been the displays on the field of play since the championship started with African flair, spectacle, power and athleticism in full display.

AFCON 2021, despite the cloud of COVID-19 hanging menacingly over it, has lived up to expectations in every way, putting up the best of African football in physically bruising matches, relatively poor refereeing that adds spectacular drama to many matches, and the very close encounters and scores of matches between the teams.

So far, two countries have stood out for me in the championship – the host country, Cameroun, and Nigeria’s Super Eagles. After the first round of matches, those two teams have stood out as most likely to get to the finish line.

I watched the Super Eagles render the very mature and talented Pharaohs of Egypt completely harmless in 90 minutes. It crossed my mind that I could be watching the making of the eventual champions. I had not seen such dominance of a game by a team that was very low on possession of the ball, but very high on power, speed, physicality, confidence, spirit, energy, and attempts at goal.

In 90 minutes, and more, of that game, there was not a single moment of anxiety or grave danger of the Eagles conceding a goal. The defensive strategy adopted was so effective that one of the best players in European football, Mohamed Salah, was rendered completely impotent. The Nigerian team played very confidently, like champions would.

So far, the Eagles may have not played the best brand of football, but with the range of talent in the team now, and Augustine Eguavoen’s ability to deploy them the way he did in the first match, it is not difficult to assume that at the ‘tape’, Nigeria and Cameroun are likely to be the two teams still standing to battle it out in a photo-finish.

That is my prediction.

Garba Umoru Passes On
Not many would remember the great football player that donned the Blue and White shirt of Shooting Stars International Football Club, Ibadan. But he was there at some of the great and memorable moments of the club’s shirt in the late 1970s up to the early 1980s.

Garba Umoru was an active player in the team that lost to Rangers International of Enugu in 1977 at the battle, in Kaduna, for the ticket to the finals of that year’s Africa Cup Winners Cup.

He also received a Volkswagen car donated to each member of that squad for their great performance, but eventual loss to Rangers that year.

He was midfield general, who came in from Ghana to provide the long-range ‘bullets’ that settled many of the matches during that campaign. He had terrific shots, so accurate that he was nicknamed ‘35 yarder.’ I was receiving some bad news.

I received a call from Ghana that he died early this week from complications due to diabetes, and has been buried in Accra, where he had been living since his career in football ended many decades ago. He became a farmer and traded in food crops till his passage.

Through the years and up to a few days before his death, Garba and I were in regular communication via WhatsApp.

Sometimes, he would call and we would chat in the Hausa dialect, a habit we cultivated since we were players in the Shooting Stars International FC squad.

I commiserate with his family and friends, and pray that his soul travels back peacefully to his Creator.