Africa’s Failure At The World Cup: A Reflection Of The Political Systems And Governance Structures?


There has been growing concern about the performance of African teams at major global sporting events especially the FIFA World Football Cup. With the premature exit of all five contending African teams, some Africans have argued that the poor performance of these teams is a clear reflection of the poor system of governance coupled with an undemocratic march in most cases which only nurses avenues for bloody conflicts.

With the tragic exit of Senegal, the last hope of the entire continent was dashed. Even though some have given a microscopic interpretation to Africa’s poor show at the Russia 2018 event to referee error, many have preferred a more macroscopic view. To this second group of people, Senegal’s exit could not be advanced as reasons for the poor show exhibited by the other four teams and even Africa’s participation in past events. This group of Africans holds that this poor performance reflects the undemocratic march in Africa.

In their arguments, they stated that most teams which have performed very well or won the competition are from very powerful economies and stable democracies. Germany is the best economy in Europe, 4th in the world and one of the most stable democracies in the world, and it has won the competition 5 times. Brazil stands out as the 8th economy in the world and Latin America’s giant in almost every aspect of national life and it is fondly called the land of soccer. England is a model for parliamentary democracy, 5th economy in the world, and has always been a favourite at the competition. Moreover, rising economies like South Korea have suddenly become a football nation from scratch. Since China became the second most powerful economy, it has become a football destination with some top class players sojourning there.

Cameroon was the first African country to reach the quarter finals at the world cup (1990) and many have argued that this was the glorious days of the country with high standards of living, rising employment and less corruption. Taking a critical look at the African team which participated at the competition, it is evident that all of them are sourced from West and North Africa (Senegal, Nigeria-West Africa; Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt-North Africa). Evidently, these two zones are the most prosperous in Africa economically and they also harbor some of the most stable and progressive democracies. However, it can also be argued that democratic and economic stability may not also signify success in sports in general and football in particular as Brazil won some of its trophies during the era of brutal military dictatorship (1958, 1962 and 1970).

Nigeria is Africa’s No. 1 economy while the Northern African region is home to the most developed centres in Africa. In fact, apart from South Africa, the only African country that has nursed ambitions of hosting the world football cup is Morocco found in North Africa. In democracy, Ghana in West Africa has distinguished itself as the best in Africa with elections where the losers are always proud to congratulate the winners. In reality, in all Africa’s participation, most of its representatives have come from these two zones, but for rare examples outside these zones like South Africa and Zaire (now DR Congo).

Undemocratic moves have seriously thwarted Africa’s development in general as well as sporting progress. Autocratic regimes have imposed their cohorts to football associations and these persons merely serve the regime rather than develop football. Most FA executives are members of the ruling party and regime stalwarts and have moved on with the corruption within the regime into the game of football.

It is neither the caliber of coaches recruited, nor the experience of the referee that would enhance Africa’s progress in football, but a cleanup in its governance and democratic systems which would be reflected in the management of the game. This would also ensure that talents don’t leave the continent for other continents.