A blog about arts and societies around the world

A quick glimpse at African football history

As I was passing by Paris, I noticed that the National Museum of Sport was offering an exhibition on African football. As illustrated by the 2010 World Cup, football has been in constant development in Africa for the past decades. A brief reflection on the sport’s historical context had therefore become necessary before everyone loses interest after the World Cup.

African football has marked sport’s history, and most notably in Europe. African footballers play for the biggest clubs in the world. The influence of Africa has also been felt in most Western countries’ national teams, as numerous players have African origins.

Born during the colonial era, football was brought to Africa for civilisation and expansion purposes. The exhibition presents old relics from this period, such as an old leather ball, or the infamous comic book for children, “Poum chez les sauvages” (Poum visits the savages), where young Poum dreams of being eaten by an African tribe. Old clichés of an ancient period some would argue. However these types of images are still present in the minds of many Westerners nowadays.

Scraves, flags are displayed all over the museum’s walls, which would likely please many fans. So would the shirts of glorious players like Didier Drogba, George Weah and Roger Milla, who went through such prestigious clubs as AC Milan or Paris Saint Germain. Small biographies show the exceptional career paths of these players.

Part of African football is also the story of these European managers who came to work for African teams, those who go by the name of white sorcerers. If their original purpose was to revive their career, these white sorcerers now come with far bigger ambitions, demonstrating the evolution of football on African soil. Their names are Philippe Troussier, Claude Le Roy or more recently Paul Le Guen and Sven Goran Eriksson, respectively managers of Cameroon and Ivory Coast during the 2010 World Cup.

A shadow however hangs over the world of African sport. Far from the success of Michael Essien or Samuel Eto’o, some young players, like Moussa, 15, are cheated by unscrupulous agents who promise them prestigious careers in exchange for large sums of money. Sometimes pushed by their families who see the financial benefits, they end up in European cities penniless, homeless and illegal.

The museum thus presents a series of documentaries explaining this phenomenon, but also the various campaigns that have been carried out to prevent such situations. This human trafficking, which is reminiscent of the slave trade, echoes the darkest age of Africa, and brings up the whole issue of poverty in the region.

Even though the exhibition ultimately shows only a small number of objects, it’s a good tribute to African sport, as well as an information point of what’s going on behind the scenes. Football in Africa emerged at a horrendous age, but its role has since proved to be more and more prominent.

Running at the Musée National du Sport till 02 January 2011

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