The quote “It is time for Africa” captured the feelings of most Nigerians and indeed Africans during the just concluded football fiesta FlFA World Cup 2022 held in Qatar,a tiny gulf country in the Arab world from 20th November to 18 December.
That comment was made after Morocco qualified to go beyond the quarterfinals by beating Spain on Tuesday,6 December.
And those words of exhortation quoted above are credited to the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP flag bearer for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023,Waziri Atiku Abubakar who was inspired to make the tweet because Africa had never gone as far as featuring beyond the quarter finals of any FIFA World Cup match.
And the comment took on a new meaning when on December 14,although France the defending champion defeated Morocco in a very gallantly fought contest, it did so with Africans as significant members of the squad.
So,whereas Morocco,the African team could not advance further or proceed beyond the semi finals having been beaten by France,Africa remains a winner as earlier observed by the PDP presidential standard bearer,Atiku Abubakar.
That is simply because members of the black race featured prominently in the finals held on Sunday 18 December which Argentina eventually won by defeating the hard fighting France powered by Africans.
For obvious reasons,a lot of Africans were cheering France because although the French are supposed to be Europeans,the team comprised of more Africans/blacks than the Moroccan team which is supposed to be an African country,but dominated by players that did not have black color skin/pigmentation.
That is why victory for France in the World Cup earlier played in Russia in 2018 that also involved significant number of blacks in the contestation on the side of France was already deemed as victory for Africa.
Even though it was just mere symbolism,the affirmation of the African fusion or influence on the French team got consolidated with its emergence in the finals with Argentina in Qatar 2022.
In fact,any which way one looks at it,Africa is somehow winners of Qatar 2022 FlFA World Cup,simply because Africans/blacks were predominantly featured in all the major countries teams from France to England,Spain,Germany, Switzerland, Brazil ,Portugal to USA and even Qatar the host country.
It is therefore unsurprising that in a tournament that has been full of surprises,the African /Arab nation,Morocco carried the hope of estimated 1.2 million Africans and about 400 million members of the Arab world.
That is a total of roughly 1.6 billion people on planet earth.
Given that the world currently has a human population of about eight (8) billion,Morocco during the game became the only African/Arab country carrying the hope of at least twenty percent (20%) of members of the human race in the 2022 Football World Cup.
Hence the defeat of Portugal by Morocco in the quarter finals was an African marvel or miracle.More so because the success was achieved even when the obviously biased referee from the Western world issued Walid Cheddira a second yellow card in quick succession that added up to a red card which compelled him to leave the field of play with only ten(10)Moroccan players left to play against Portugal’s eleven (11) men.
Despite the rigging of the game against Morocco by the referee who maliciously issued the unwarranted yellow cards to the Moroccan player in the usual manner that the Western world constantly seeks to repress Africans,the hard fighting African country prevailed over the almighty Portugal featuring the super stars Ronaldo and Pepe in action against the underdog Moroccan team in the mundial.
It is remarkable that the competition that commenced with thirty (32) countries teams comprising of super power or heavy weight football countries like Brazil, Germany,Portugal ended up having underdog countries teams like Croatia and Morocco playing in the semi finals against France and Argentina respectively.
Given how how Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina with a defeat and Japan stung Germany by winning the duel with her and Cameroon wrecked Brazil by also beating that superpower country in their opening games in Qatar 2022,the world was put on notice that anything can happen in football as the erstwhile super power football countries no more have bragging rights.
Personally,l was not surprised that an African team-Atlas Lions of Morocco ,which is one of the five that represented the continent- South Africa,Senegal,Ghana and Cameroon ,in the tournament became part of the final four(4)
In my assessment,the success achieved by Morocco is somehow due to
home advantage of also being an Arab country playing in Arab land,Qatar.
It is a demonstration of how local home support by fans can boost the confidence of a team and drive it to victory.
That is also why supporters clubs are so very critical to the success of any sporting event – ranging from boxing ,wrestling to basketball and football including track and field sports.
A cheering crowd is always an asset, hence football in particular is always played both at home and away to evenly boost the confidence of the competing teams on equal basis.
For example,if Nigeria is playing in qualifying matches for World Cup or Olympics against Ghana,it is required that the matches are played both in Nigeria and Ghana (home and away) before the finals are played in the host country.
That is owing to the fact that sporting aficionados have figured out the psychological boost that home support could engender for athletes.
And hence the farther away from our home base that we Africans and Arabs go to play in the World Cup like in Russia which hosted the last FIFA World Cup in 2018 before the Qatar tournament,the less likely the chances of our countries teams going far in the contest.
As a testimony to the logic above,in 1996 Nigeria clinched the trophy in football during the Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia which has one of the highest black population in the United States of America,USA.
Apart from the superb talent of our players,with so many black people cheering them,the Sunday Oliseh led Nigerian team was definitively buoyed up,hence it was able to beat the whole world to emerge tops by being the winner of the Olympic cup in football in 1996.
When in 2018 during the World Cup in Russia,Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 football World Cup,it seemed like an anathema.But FIFA World Cup
2022 to the surprise of those who thought it was a mistake turned out to be one of the best in recent history.
At least that is the view of FIFA president,Gianni lnfantino and a critical mass of football commentators and spectators who share the excitement of being thoroughly thrilled by the matches in the tournament especially the final duel
between France and Argentina.
From the get-go,the gulf country that hosted the championship had promised to make it a memorable experience despite the concerns of its opponents,particularly the Western world and especially the US which was on cue to be the next host,having vigorously pitched for it.
But it was to its greatest shock that it got supplanted by Qatar which is a country of a mere three (3m) million number of people and not a significant force in football compared to the US whose population is in excess of three hundred and thirty two (332) million and the richest and most powerful country in the world.
It is even more striking that it is the first time that FIFA World Cup would be staged in an Arab country and in winter.
In 2010,it had been the turn of Africa when South Africa became the first and only African country so far to host the global football fiesta that has its origins in Europe and Britain to be specific in the 19th century.
Jonathan Guyer,a Vox news organization correspondent in the gulf reckons that Qatar spent an estimated three hundred ($300b) on stadium and ground work in hosting 2022 FIFA World Cup.
He enthused in a recent report that:
“That money totaled more than all previous World Cups and Olympics combined.”
In light of the huge success that it has turned out to be,the investment of $300 billion to make the tournament happen and which is just about thirty five ($35b) less than the sovereign wealth fund of the country estimated at about ($335b),has been well worth it.
That is given the fact that the global football fiesta has helped Qatar,a relatively small country covering a just 11,536 square meters of land space compared to its much bigger neighbors, Saudi Arabia (35.8m) and United Arab Emirates,UAE,(10m) to consolidate her preeminence in the gulf region in addition to the country’s cultural diplomacy which is quite notable.
With a population of Qatari Arabs being only about 330,000 or a little over 11% of the population of the country of about three(3) million and spending an estimated one ($1b) billion dollars annually on museum and art,Qatar which is certainly punching far above its weight,has obviously gotten a lot of mileage from hosting 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Even if Morocco did not eventually end up bringing the coveted trophy back home to Africa,in any case,the black race,in the reckoning of most football enthusiasts won.
Which is basically because the black players that constitute a significant part of the French national squad with Kyliane Mbappe as the arrow head gave a good account of themselves before the loss to Argentina after the match Initially ended up in a 3-3 draw after full time.
But unfortunately,the hard fighting French team finally lost by 4 -2 to Argentina in a penalty shoot out also known as sudden death.
It was curios to me why Argentina that is located in South America like Brazil does not have blacks in its national team in the manner that Brazil features a lot of blacks.
In fact,l was shell shocked to see that there were no blacks in the gallery from where Argentinian fans were cheering.
So,I was determined to figure out why blacks did not feature in both the Argentinian team in the field of play and it’s boisterous supporters cheering from the gallery.
That reality seemed like a mystery to me until a podcast by one Jude ldada resolved the puzzle for me.
Now,the conspiracy theory (since l am yet to verify it) is that there used to be blacks in Argentina before they were systematically killed,eliminated or erased from that country after the obnoxious practice of slave trade ended.
Without going into details,it is alleged that Argentinians compelled their blacks to fight in their war against Paraguay between 1864 to 1870 knowing fully well that the blacks who were ill equipped would be killed in the battle field.And they were indeed killed in large numbers. Then those that survived the atrocities of being sent to war as a death trap were later bunched up in a colony which had outbreaks of diseases that the authorities did nothing to curtail or control simply because it is part of their evil intensions to erase blacks in a race cleansing agenda.
That is something akin to what happened in 1915 to Armenians who were for economic reasons and at the behest of the Rothschilds (French oil rich family in cahoots with the Rockyfellers,American oil merchant family) ‘removed’ by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the modern day Baku region now tagged Armenian genocide during world war l.
It is also a pattern that was repeated in Germany by the Nazis that eliminated the Jews in Europe during world war ll in 1945 now infamously known as Nazi Holocaust or Jewish genocide.
Is it not amazing how Qatar 2022 FlFA World Cup has facilitated the shinning of light on that dastardly act of eliminating blacks in their country by Argentina?
While one would like to encourage Africans/black race to forgive Argentinians of the inhumanity perpetrated by their forbears centuries ago by wishing them well and joining in celebrating their victory,they may never forget the atrocities committed against their forbears,lest it happens again.
At another level,FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has also been very disappointing to the English team and nation at large.
They had adopted the slogan ‘football is coming home’ because they were hopeful that they would clinch the cup and take it home in light of the fact the tournament actually started in Europe in 1930.
Nevertheless,l presume that they must have taken solace in the fact that they are in a similar boat as football greats like Brazil and Germany.
Africa would have been equally disappointed since Morocco could not be in the finals.But as earlier stated,the black race is still considered to have been well represented in the finals in of the World Cup played between France and Argentina on Sunday 18 December.
That is by virtue of the sheer number of black players in the the French team which Africa and the Arab would understandably preferred to cheer in the final match that saw France rising from behind twice to equalize with Argentina in goals scoring.
By some account,over 50% of the French squad for Qatar 2022 FlFA World Cup are blacks and notably the super star Mbappe who is originally from the west African country,Cameroon.
That remarkably implies that the continent of Africa won,even if Morocco crashed out in the last four nations stage and France gallantly lost to Argentina after a penalty shoot out and could not make history like Italy and Germany by winning the trophy,back to back.
Incidentally,Paris Saint Germain,PSG the France based football club side where both kyliane Mbappe – French national and Lionel Messi,an Argentinian ply their trade is owned by the state of Qatar.
What Qatar affirms by making that strategic purchase over a decade ago is that investing in sports goes beyond mere recreation or entertainment value. It has proven to be a veritable tool or platform for local development(infrastructure wise) internationalization(in terms of opening up the economy of nations)and opportunity to make a statement of arrival as a global sociopolitical, economic and cultural power house by the host country.
And it is worth pointing out that Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup has been long in coming by virtue of the fact that the project started when the tiny natural gas rich country acquired the high premium European club side,PSG.
Most critics might have likened Qatar’s initiative to host the World Cup to a tiny Cod fish trying to swallow a whale.
And the Arab country might have been accused of nursing a halting ambition, when it first acquired interest in PSG in June 2011 after which it later attained whole ownership in March 2012.
Although Qatar might have initially appeared to have punched above its weight,it has been well worth it.
Is it not instructive that Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup is a dream that took over a decade (2011-2022) to evolve and manifest ? Unlike Nigeria that has been squandering it’s oil/gas wealth by not only subsidizing the pump price of petrol,but also borrowing against future incomes from oil resources to fund the present culture of unbridled consumption.
Football,nay sports is certainly a socioeconomic development catalyst,hence countries around the world aspiring to open up to the global community,often host global sporting events -China,Russia,Qatar and those that are looking to consolidate their global outlook also covet hosting international sporting tournaments-German, USA, Brazil, UK etc.
In fact the power of sports is so socially, politically and economically strategic that the next World Cup in 2026 is to be jointly hosted by some of the most illustrious countries in North America-US,Mexico and Canada with eleven(11) matches scheduled to be played in the US, three (3)in Mexico and two (2)in Canada.
Without a scintilla of doubt,Qatar 2022 is an indisputable testimony to the fact that there is virtue in thinking big and meticulously and patiently implementing the ‘big thinking’.
Arising from the above,l am recommending that Atiku Abubabar who l am projecting to be the next occupant of Aso Rock Villa -Nigeria’s presidential seat of power from May 29,2023 ,should start thinking big like Qatar by planning for Nigeria to host the FIFA World Cup,perhaps in the next decade, regardless of whether his tenure would have expired.
And that is based on the hope that he prevails in the 2023 presidential contest.
One baffling thing about sports and football in particular is the paradox that often springs from it.
For instance,while Argentina that established its supremacy over all other football loving countries of the world is currently in economic dire straights with a heavy debt burden unpaid to the International Monetary Fund,IMF, conversely the rich countries exited Doha,Qata early,having been edged out by the poorer countries that have proven
to be better in the mastery of the game.
These include nations such as Saudi Arabia,the richest in the Arab world alongside the host Qatar that lost during the early stages and exited.So also did the US and Canada,the wealthiest in North America and indeed the world that failed to win and had to depart early.By the same token,China and Japan which are the most prosperous in Asia,also had to go home early.Just as Germany and Uk,the richest in Europe also did not do well enough and had to depart prematurely.Brazil also the wealthiest in Latin America also had an early exit from Qatar.
But Argentina,a country under the yoke of socioeconomic malaise excelled by defeating the whole world,including the richest.
Is it not such an irony that in celebration of the victory,an unprecedented number of the forty five (45)million populace of the financially challenged country,taking advantage of a public holiday declared in commemoration of the victory trooped out into the streets of the capital,Buenos Aires to celebrate their triumphant football team,and by so doing momentarily forgot their worries and the pangs of hunger that had been tormenting them?
In the light of the above reality,an interesting food for thought that is worth pondering is the question: ls football the new opium of the poor,as religion was famously dubbed the opium of the poor by the German sociologist and economist,Karl Marx ?
The FlFA president Gianni Infantino’s poignant statement below seems to answer the question:
“Those fans and the billions watching on TV, they have their own problems. They just want to watch 90 or 120 minutes without having to think about anything, but just enjoying a little moment of pleasure and joy. We have to give them a moment when they can forget about their problems and enjoy football.”
Having highlighted and underscored the salient points,my job is done and l therefore urge readers to draw their own conclusions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos.