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Daily Maverick Politics

Africa is not a country: football and nationhood

As submitted to The Daily Maverick.

In the minutes before Ghana took on the USA in the first round of 16 game, a friend and I were discussing where our support lay. She wanted Ghana to win, and I expressed a preference for a USA victory. I wanted the American team to win on grounds of their footballing culture, in that the approach the USA has taken to professional football of late seemed a better example of what the South African team and football administrators should aspire to.

I can understand why South Africans, and Africans in general, like the idea of one of “our” teams doing well. But it doesn’t quite make sense for me, as a football fan, to support teams simply because they represent an African nation, because there is much about Africa that is difficult to support. From female genital mutilation in Egypt and homophobia in Malawi, to assorted human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, there are things about this continent that clearly expose a fundamental divide between Africa as a collective concept, and the sort of world I’d prefer to live in.

As an example of African football, Ghana is of course also a complicated example, given that only one of their squad of 23 actually plays football in Ghana. When the vast majority of the national team lives and works outside of the nation reflected on the covers of their passports, to what extent does it still make sense to think of them as representatives of Africa?