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SA 2010 – Not truly African World Cup

Nigeria 2010 – killing many birds with one stone! I remember sitting in front of Mr. Sepp Blatter, The President of FIFA, in the company…

Nigeria 2010 – killing many birds with one stone!
I remember sitting in front of Mr. Sepp Blatter, The President of FIFA, in the company of late Steven Akiga and Gboyega Okegbenro, in Zurich, 7 years ago, and discussing my vision of a truly African World Cup, one that will serve as a tool of integration, infrastructural development, empowerment, celebration of humanity and the promotion of peace and friendship amongst the peoples of Africa.  It is clear that we cannot have an African World Cup where every country in the continent is involved, but surely we can have a World Cup that involves and includes a sizeable number in such a manner that it can qualify as an authentic pan-African event. I recall how his eyes lit up at my idea of a unique organisation of a World Cup in Africa considering the continent’s peculiar political, social and economic circumstances to be jointly hosted by a few countries pulling their resources together. He was excited, very excited about the idea to integrate many African countries into one event, to make them share the costs as well as enjoy the benefits. That way many birds will be killed with one stone. 
I still find the idea of a regional World Cup very attractive. I believe that in the very near future, perhaps after Sepp Blatter must have surrendered the FIFA Presidency to Michel Platini in 8 or more years’ time, the idea would surely be resurrected again. It is so simple that Sepp Blatter must have thought it was too good to be true and backed out of it after he had initially described it as absolutely brilliant and unofficially endorsed it. With this encouragement Nigeria decided to bid to host the world’s first regional World Cup. It was a simple idea. To start with, an African World Cup can not be approved by FIFA on the basis of economic capacity alone. Were this to be so, outside of South Africa, no other country in the continent can compete with the other continents and hope to win the rights to host the world’s most prestigious single event for decades to come! There are other factors that definitely come into play including political, geographical, zoning, the desire to take the championship to all parts of the world, and so on! 
Let’s examine the issues still running through my mind even now!     
I am looking again at the map of Africa. I am looking at the geographical space occupied by South Africa (the country) and I am comparing it to West Africa (the region). Easily, 5 West African neighbouring countries will fit into the geographical land space of South Africa. The distance between the two nearest venues of the 2010 World Cup matches (probably Durban to Johannesburg) is about twice the distance from Lagos to Accra. The distance from Cape Town to Johannesburg is about the distance between Yaoundé in Cameroon and Accra in Ghana. Between the two cities there are 5 countries – Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana!  You can swap Cameroon to the east with Cote d’Ivoire to the west and the result will remain the same – 5 countries in West Africa the size of South Africa. In short, in the simplistic consideration of geography and travel logistics, 5 countries in West Africa can come together to host the World Cup!  The 5 countries, between them will have a population of almost 200 million people to play with- a huge economic army that cannot be discountenanced compared to South Africa’s 30 or so million people! The languages, peoples and cultures that would come together between the 5 countries would be a better representation and presentation of Africa than any one country in the continent! In my plan, there will be a group leader in the West regional hosting arrangement. Nigeria will be that leader and will provide 4 of the 8 or 10 venues required to host the championship. The 4 venues shall be Lagos (a new stadium), Port Harcourt (a renovated stadium), Kano (a new stadium) and Abuja (improved stadium)! The opening ceremony and final match shall take place in Lagos and Abuja respectively! The other 4 countries will provide one venue each (Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire may provide two each) for some of the group and second round matches. Just imagine what one venue in each of Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire would do to the psyche of the people and the economies of these countries. Ordinarily, none of the four other countries apart from Nigeria would have dreamt of hosting the World Cup in the next 100 years! Hosting 3 World Cup matches in these countries for the people would be a miracle, an almost impossible dream becoming reality! The countries would accept these gifts offered to them on a platter of Gold, and will be challenged and motivated to provide everything to make it happen without too much sweat and blood. It will still take a lot of hard work but when the social, political and economic benefits are added up, each of those countries will live up to the challenge and provide the basic infrastructure and facilities to be great hosts of 3 or 4 matches of the World Cup. I guarantee that the atmosphere around these countries will be incomparable to anything the world has seen so far, venues will be super charged with colour and festivity, and the terraces will be packed full no matter the cost of tickets. The local population, the touring army of supporters of the participating teams, and the band of tourists that will descend heavily on the host city will ensure that no space in the football grounds is left unfilled! The economic impact on these host city communities is better imagined! Each country will find it relatively easier and feasible to provide the essential ingredients to make the event possible in their country – security, transportation, medical facilities, accommodation, transportation and other logistical needs!  I leave to readers’ imagination what the social impact of this unexpected gift from heaven from these communities would be.
The greatest challenge in this kind of arrangement, which is what Sepp Blatter considered following the failure of the co-hosting arrangement between Korea and Japan in 2002, is that of co-ordinating the arrangements between different countries. It was a nightmare in Korea/Japan. FIFA feared it would be worse amongst African countries where their poor records of management of major events. The truth is that the lessons from the failure of the Korea/Japan experiment should have been the tool to fine-tune the West African idea rather than outrightly discarding the concept. True, co-ordinating organisational arrangements between countries poses a great challenge, particularly in the areas of law, immigration, visa, currency, cross border arrangements, tariffs, and regulatory controls that differ from country to country, but the Korea/Japan experiment should have been built upon, used as a learning curve to improve on the system of joint hosting rather than outright abandonment of a concept that could transform the World Cup into a powerful tool of human integration through regional hosting in some parts of the world of the World Cup.
In the particular case of West Africa, led by Nigeria, there already existed an ECOWAS treaty which could have served as an anchor for the World Cup organisational requirements. The 5 countries would have had to open their borders for free movement between them. A visa obtained for any of the countries would allow for free movement through the region. A common currency for the region that has been in the pipeline for sometime would have been accelerated to fruition. The West African Super highway project along the West African coast would have been completed with each country responsible for completing its own portion. Nigeria is the only country of the 5 still years behind in completing its own. Incidentally, Governor Babatunde Fashola, as part of his vision for the Lagos Mega City project, has commenced the Lagos-Badagry part of the super highway. So important and vital are these developments to the economic growth of the region that completing them would have been some of the measurable and visible legacies of the championship hosted in West Africa! Until the ‘1-Goal – Education For All’  global campaign came into the picture and FIFA adopted it as the legacy project of the South African World Cup, there was nothing outside South Africa for the rest of Africa to benefit from the 2010 event.  The legacies would have been all over the West African coast for all to see.
As I think of it even now, I am pained by the missed opportunity of 7 years ago.
As we all now prepare to go to South Africa for what would undoubtedly be a South African World Cup (whatever that would turn out to be), I cannot but wish that things were different, that a few more people who understood the concept had believed in it and defended it. Having said all of that, however, South Africa would still provide a treat for the world, except that it won’t truly be representative of Africa, just a small part.

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