The much-loved and scintillating Sadio Mane is one referred player home and abroad. Controversial or not, his 2019 CAF African Player of the Year title is well-deserved.
The Senegalese edged Liverpool teammate Mohammed Salah – who won the award for the last two years – and Algerian attacker Riyad Mahrez to the prestigious honor.
On the other hand, not so long ago, African sports was a tool for China’s aggressive global soft-power agenda. The Angola 2010 AFCON had 4 venues built by China, inclusive in a USD 600 Mn aid package. The diplomacy is no coincidence, as Angola is now China’s largest oil supplier.
If anything, this proves that there’s potential in African sports, but not just in the way imagined. While we celebrate African stars on the green playing field, there are few things to be uncovered.
Sadio Mane performed to a ridiculous high in 2019, but apart from that he had a lot more going for him than the numbers. The international took four tries, the UEFA Champions League trophy, a runner-up finish at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the Premier League Golden Boot and a next-to-perfect first half of the 2019/2020 season for the football star to ascend Africa’s football throne.
The bar needed to be that high for him to finally make good on his three years of nomination for the award. Thats says a lot about the caliber of competition that stood in his way.
Mahrez and Salah, who took the last three gongs home, held their baubles aloft while Sadio Mane played the role of the conscientious bridesmaid. Well, he was toothsome, but had the underlying determination to finally catch the African Footballer of the Year bouquet.
Of all the obstacles he had to surmount, the one telling enough for home was his performance at AFCON. Sadio Mane did quite well in the Egypt-hosted competition last year, but much of his do-great-stuff that landed him the award came from outside the continent. It is no new topic that African talents are under-recognized, but it’s hotter now more than ever.
The struggle and scuffle to gain recognition in Africa isn’t sports-dominant. The industry could suffer the most, but the same conundrum exists in the continent’s tech space. African talent is on the rise, but most people have a hard time believing it. At least, until such talent lifts a crown in an innovation showdown organized in San Francisco.
It is not far-fetched to say that more people in Nigeria did not know Dara Oladosu before he got a job offer from Twitter. Even after building Quoted Replies, making it easy for Tweeps to find quoted replies of a particular tweet, it still took Jack Dorsey’s invitation to the Twitter family for the Nigerian to really becoming a person of sensation. Of course, the media did its best to carry his super idea, but more than half the people still asked: “Who is Dara?”
The case here, is that Africans seem to need to make it to the global stage before they are recognized. Beliefs here are other football stars on the continent that are unknown because of media representations of African sports.
Joseph Ameh, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Arsenal Newspaper – a Nigeria-based Arsenal-focused publication – confirms the deficit. In an interview with WeeTracker, he compared the African sports industry with that of the global and maintained that the former is less represented.
“Sports in Africa is far behind when placed side by side with that of continents like Europe and South America. It’s commonplace that public attention plays a big role in the advancement of any venture, which is why it seems like athletes from the black soil end up less successful than their counterparts from the Western world. Media recognition on its own is a form of motivation”.
A look at local dailies and blogs will help discover that more attention is given to players that are not of African descent. In contrast, English tabloids keep on heaping praise on their own products, some of who we all know are not as skilled as many of ours. How then do we gain wide-range recognition when we do not glorify what we have?
Definitely not. Talent, when given the avenue to shine under favorable conditions, would no doubt go lengths to dazzle. In lieu of more opportunities – whether local or international – the better the talent becomes.
Unfortunately, the growing African sports space seems to not have broken even when it comes to giving talent the needed attention to flourish. On a general scope, the chances become much thinner for international recognition. One may have to go tooth and nail, like Sadio Mane, before that has a chance happening.
Societies who give room for their talents to thrive do that for a number of reasons. One of them is to make them become better players that can be reckoned with at any level.
As earlier stated, the more chances they are given, the more advanced they become. You will definitely become rusty as a sportsman if you do not get the avenue to constantly do what you are good at.
These talents, in turn, bring honour to the countries they represent when they must have made their names a household one. Let us take a look at the case of someone like Gabriel Martinelli.
At age 18, his praise is already being sung by football fans and pundits and what is the secret behind that? He is a Brazilian. Brazil is one of the top nations on the log when it comes to discovering and grooming talents for the greater floor and Martinelli is so lucky to hail from such a place.
“He currently plays for Arsenal in England but before this time, he had plied his trade locally at Corinthians and Ituano. His exploits at home caused top European clubs to beam their searchlight on him.
The skilled forward would most likely not have made it this far if he grew up on the black continent. Who knows what would have become of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi if they were from countries that care less about their talents,” explains Joseph, a sports analyst.
The sports industry is growing faster than China’s national economy and the rate of sports employment has been growing at a faster rate than total employment in the European Union (EU).
The role of sports in Africa’s economic development, however, is yet to be completely realized. In the continent, the gains of sport have been majorly limited to the socio-cultural spectacle, it unifying and happiness factors.
More so, the occasional hosting of international competitions has not been met with the needed commercialization of the standard infrastructures, leaving under-utilized sporting infrastructures from Abuja4 Cape Town.
At the other end of the continent, South Africa is to become the first ever African nation host to an American NBA game, which is impressive.
Many studies of the global sport industry tends to suggest just how far behind the rest of the world Africa is. On this evidence, there is little to suggest that Africa’s sport industry is on the verge of becoming a global force.
Sadio Mane may have only placed fourth in the Ballon D’Or voting, but it was telling that even that finish was widely considered an injustice. No less than Lionel Messi, who claimed his sixth, was on board the Senegal international’s bandwagon, voting Mane to win ahead of his Liverpool team mate Virgil Van Dijk and, most tellingly, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Recognizing local talent and adequately representing them in the media is one way to push the African sports industries forwards. The sensational story of the Kenyan marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge, is proof. There are tons of local football clubs and leagues in different places in the continent, but most of them are underrepresented due to an array of factors.
Joseph concludes: “We need to step up our sports to the maximum standard so for our players to become independent of international appearances to make it far. Once talents playing in the African League begin winning the African Best Player Awards, then I will be convinced that we can boast of matching the standards of international leagues”.
Featured Image; Eurosport
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