The duplication of African Nations tournaments, and the ends it serves

25Jan 2021
Michael Eneza
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
The duplication of African Nations tournaments, and the ends it serves

SOME old fashioned onlookers in Tanzanian soccer have lately been wondering what national team has been playing first friendlies and then competitive matches recently, where a single name is being used, Taifa Stars.

Senior national soccer team 'Taifa Stars' players participate in training in Limbe, Cameroon recently to shape up for Group D games of the 2021 African Nations Championship (CHAN) finals. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TFF

First there was an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Tunisia, where the reference was to Taifa Stars, and since this is the proper national side including professional players abroad, it was in tradition the right reference.

Then came the other competitive games and the name tag remained the same.

The competition is being held in Cameroon, this time it is the African Nations Championship (CHAN), but it has a sub-title, ‘for home –based players.’

That means there is a competition where countries send a shadow of their proper national teams, as usually there are professional players in most or really all national teams, even if it is just a couple of them playing in a neighborhood country.

It is still a bit complicated why the Confederation of African Football (CAF) opted to come up with this competition, what it seeks to prove.

It is evident that in a proper CAF tournament, the countries having excellent players abroad make a better impression than in home-based players, which adds a ‘normalisation’ factor which appears to be pivotal in the design of the competition.

It also appears to be imbued with a minimum of radicalism, in the kind of feeling it brings about, that an African Nations championship without professionals is possible – and in that case the professionals are seen vaguely as mercenaries, instead of flag bearers of African soccer.

It is a bit of confusion which underlies an apparent gap to be filled, holding a self-reliant continental tourney.

What is unclear is whether this same spirit underlines the dropping of other names for national team sides which are not the full list, for instance we used to have Kilimanjaro Stars for the East and Central African Challenge Cup, where Zanzibar plays on its own.

In that case the fact that Zanzibar does not appear on its own in CHAN makes it a national side like in the full competition, and thus the name Taifa Stars properly applies as there is just a diminution of a few key players.

Still the psychological impact of the missing players is profound for the fans, as the CAF wisdom of cultural affinity with playing at home is irrelevant.

What is noticeable about the home-based players competition is that it is another layer of continental contest whereas there is insufficient contest beneath this layer, for instance a home and away regional competition.

Indeed, CECAFA member countries are scarcely able to hold single venue tournaments lasting say two weeks, while at club level the situation is worse, whereas it is at club tournaments that the spirit of the game is cultivated, not by starting with national teams.

The problem appears to be one of the scaling of responsibility, that lower level competitions are held via a CAF umbrella, not organizing them.

In exactly that same outlook, CAF appears to have a plethora of youth competitions, from U-17 to U-20 and in the past there was an U-23 tourney that has since been scrapped.

While youth competitions are technically helpful to raise the level of the game, it is really competition at the grassroots and then at club level that builds the game, not some contests used to select a national team, as by definition there is really nothing collectively energizing on who gets selected to the national youth squad, etc.

Even the manner it performs does not pointedly affect national sentiments on the game; only the senior national soccer side.

One explanation for this hiatus is that there is a discrepancy between financing CAF tournaments and regional tournaments, as both groups depend on similar sources of funds, which have definite sorts of conditionality.

Thus FIFA appears to encourage CAF to focus on continental competitions and similarly encourages national federations to focus on youth competitions – thus tying up at the CAF level as plethora of continental competition on the one hand, and disproportionate youth focus on the other hand.

In between it is club football which suffers, and at a higher level, more involving regional tournaments.

There will be no easy solution to this situation as it is globally modeled on European football, where one does not hear of Balkan championships, Scandinavian tournament, thus no Arab zone or North African club championship, etc...read more on https://epaper.ippmedia.com

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