Africa News blog

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A tournament too far?

By Mark Gleeson
February 26, 2009

A new soccer tournament is being played out in Ivory Coast this week to indifference from most of the continent. The African Nations Championship is proving to be the damp squib it always looked in danger of becoming.

The CHAN, keeping up the rich tradition of abbreviations for African sporting events, is a tournament designed to give more international competition to players based on the continent.

Quasi-national teams, but only made up of players from domestic leagues, are competing in Abidjan and Bouake over the next fortnight – eight countries having come through a brief qualifying phase.

Although the public will come to watch countries like the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, the supposed national teams are in effect not much more than the best domestic league selections.

African league football these days rarely has any real talent left.

The best players long left for greener pastures overseas. There are now more than 600 Africans plying their trade at clubs in Asia, Europe, north America and in better-paid African leagues.

To dress up the rest in national colours and pretend they are actually representing their respective countries is seen as an insult by many supporters. Fans don’t want to see a supposed national side for which the likes of Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and the like are ineligible to play.

This is why Egypt shunned the competition all together. The African champions did not even bother enter.

South Africa, who host the next World Cup finals, played in the preliminaries with a representative side made up only of players from the second division. Occasionally they threw in a few first division competitors but only if their clubs did not need them.

There was an equally ambivalent approach from other continental heavyweights such as Cameroon, Morocco and Tunisia. None qualified for the eight-team finals in Ivory Coast.

The Confederation of African Football risk undermining the concept of international football and are likely to find it hard to get legs for this event. As it was, the Ivorians had their own doubts about its validity and at one stage looked set to withdraw as hosts.

Ironically, their supposed national side has been effectively eliminated after the first two group matches, which will clear the stadiums of supporters for the business end of the tournament.

Should this tournament be quietly retired from future calendars?

Picture: Eric of Ivory coast fights for ball with Tanzania’s Alfani during soccer tournament in Abidjan. Luc Gnago/Reuters

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