African Soccerscapes

By | February 28, 2015

Peter Alegi’s book African Soccerscapes offers a careful account of the place of football in colonial Africa and the important role in played in the process of decolonization. Alegi, a Professor at Michigan State University, also maintains a blog called Football is Coming Home, and recently wrote about the first African Nations Cup.

This post is an invitation for you to share your thoughts and responses to Alegi’s work. What do we learn from this book? What are the most interesting or arresting stories he tells? How does the work help us understand the place of Africa in contemporary global football?


Category: Africa African Cup of Nations

About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

33 thoughts on “African Soccerscapes

  1. James Peek

    I think the most interesting part of Alegi’s piece was the part about colonialization. To me what was interesting was the fact that African countries adopted the game so swiftly to try and rival the British Colonial power. In a way they were almost trying to seek and assert their independence by proving their strength. This was aided by the infrastructure that colonialization brought about, such as roads, railways and stadiums. The imperialists seeked to push their “Europeanism” onto the African’s whom embraced the sport and began to flourish. Essentially Africa has creolized the game into their own morph and one which the continent is united for at their inaugural Cup of Nations.

    Nowadays African Soccer Powerhouses such as Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast have established an eternal European link. However, this effectively inhibits the further extrapolation of the African game as they’re seen as feeder countries to the wealthy markets of the West. Their top players flourish in the European Leagues but without a solid foundation on African soil it’s an impossible task to keep them on African Soil. It’s not without it’s benefits however, as clubs such as the Orlando pirates have began similar systems and academies which will hopefully one day prosper. They already display the raw passion and love for the sport. Now, they just need to transition from the feeder stage to an attractive prospect for their homebred players.

  2. Andrew Istler

    I really enjoyed reading Alegi’s “African SoccerScapes” because it really demonstrated how closely linked politics and sports are. The part that really stuck out to me was the section about the unequal wealth and unequal balance of competition in African Leagues (chapter 6). This really interested me because I believe this unequal share in wealth occurs in many different sporting environments. Take Major League baseball for example, the Los Angeles Dodgers have an estimated payroll of approximately $272,000,000; they have the highest in the league. On the other hand, the Miami Marlins have an estimated payroll of $60,000,000 (see all teams in link below). This difference obviously allows one team to potentially get better players (thinking you can pay more for better players) and thus increasing their chances of winning. However, money doesn’t always lead to winning. There have been many occasions a team with a low salary cap was successful (if you have ever seen the movie Moneyball). With the current situation in sports and how it has become big business, I feel that in any league whether it is Major League Baseball or African Soccer leagues there is always going to be some variation among wealth between teams.

  3. Raya

    Alegi’s “African Soccerscapes” showed me an interesting perspective on the spread of soccer in a region of the world that is often slightly disregarded in the shadow of European soccer. This shadow is portrayed in the fact that soccer used to only be played by European soldiers and related roles, but was then brought into Africa and loved by the people.

    I thought Alegi’s discussion on the Algerian team was interesting to read about since the topic has been discussed in class twice. Knowing the background from class made Alegi’s readings on this subject more interesting. Being such a dramatic event, I admired Alegi’s concise, yet fulfilling description of the events that unfolded. “The Disappearing Act” of the Algerians leaving the French team really highlighted the nationalism the Algerians felt for their culture, turning down fortunes to stick to their roots. When Alegi told the story of perseverance, he pointed out the ability for soccer to have a political impact, a reoccurring theme in this course.

    Another part that interests me was the part on females in soccer. Being a female soccer player myself, I noticed there were always much few guys than girls involved. With the rise of academies scouting young boys, it seems as if women’s football gets left behind. In his discussions in chapter 6, Alegi talks about the ups and downs of women’s football. After failed attempts, such as the Orlando Pirates Women’s Football Club, there were still a few success stories. The Suga Babes of Nigeria really interested me and reminded me of the Dick Kerr ladies with their playing of men’s teams due to lack of competition and showcase style. Although organizations were pretty late to bring women into soccer like this, the presence of women in soccer is increasing at a high rate. The story of Akide really interested me because of her persistence with the sport. She didn’t let the fact that she only had boys around her discourage her growing up, and she “put African women on the global soccer map.” In relation to society, Alegi additionally notes that infrastructure of Africa needs to develop on order to support women’s football, a point I never would have applied to women’s soccer in Africa.

  4. Connie Cai

    Numerous individuals have commented on Alegi’s work in Chapter 6, “The Privatization of Football, 1980s to Recent Times,” and there certainly is plenty of high quality information buried within this chapter. Like Justin, I greatly appreciated the section about Women’s Football – but specifically, the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their assistance in African women’s football is very powerful. On page 124, Alegi describes the role of these NGOs, as they “step in as providers of basic needs and services, including sport and physical education.” Some of the example NGOs listed by Alegi include the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) and Moving the Goalposts (MTG), both of which are based out of Kenya. By supporting women’s football specifically in Kenya and more broadly throughout Africa, NGOs have stepped in where official governments are slacking, even in areas not related to football and athletics. After looking into MYSA, MTG, and their accompanying programs, it’s clear that these organizations are aimed at not only just inspiring female football athletes in Africa, but also providing an immense amount of other social resources, such as programs to inform and prevent HIV/AIDS, protect the environment, prevent child labor, practice safe sex, and encourage receiving educations. By coupling women’s football with these other meaningful and significant programs, parents are more willing to let their daughters play football, because it becomes about more than just football. These NGOs are slowly wearing down the stigma surrounding women’s football and over time it will hopefully be more socially acceptable for African girls to play football, beginning at a young age. It’s fascinating and incredible how NGOs like MYSA and MTG have found a way to both encourage football and spread awareness about critical information, and greater appreciation and support of these NGOs should definitely continue.

    This section of Alegi’s book also drew parallels from what we heard in class from Carla Overbeck and Cindy Parlow, as well as what we viewed in the ESPN documentary, “The 99ers.” On page 124, Alegi discusses the need for well-managed institutions for female football players in Africa, stating that the “political commitment to gender equity is crucial to put the women’s game on firm institutional footing.” Even back in 1999, the United States lacked major infrastructure and control over women’s football, to the point that players like Carla and Cindy had to fight for major rights for female football players (such as the right to be paid properly or receive the required insurance and health benefits). Because African governments have recently “rolled back” their support of female football, the importance of these NGOs is even more important, as they provide support to still push these movements forward. There definitely was no type of support of this magnitude from NGOs in the United States back in 1999, so hopefully this type of non-governmental assistance can make a true difference in gender equality in African women’s football.

  5. Justin Fu

    Peter Alegi’s discussion of women’s football in Chapter 6 was a refreshing contrast to the lack of female representation in most other sports texts. Alegi is very self aware of this dearth of resources as he prefaces the “Women’s Football” subsection by noting that, “Scholarly analysis of the history and culture of the female game on the continent is greatly complicated by a lack of documentary sources and publications” (Alegi 119). Nevertheless, his remarks on the major chronological events of African women’s football sheds light on several parallels that we have also observed in class with regards to the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies F.C. and the rise of the women’s game in the United States.

    Similar to the tours of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies F.C., the women’s club, the Sugar Babes Ladies F.C., also toured in Lagos and the rest of Nigeria. Although the scope of these tours was significantly smaller than the international tours of the Dick,Kerr’s Ladies, the Sugar Babes helped spawn new women’s teams in Nigeria and by 1989, “there were twenty-eight women’s clubs active in Nigeria, … as well as a Nigerian Female Football Organizers Association” (Alegi 121). The major advances in the early stages of women’s football in Nigeria clearly were not from established associations such as the Nigerian Football Association. Similar opposition in the Western development of women’s football can be observed in with the FA’s ban of the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies in 1921.

    In South Africa, the rise and subsequent integration of the women’s game provides another avenue of comparison to the Dick,Kerr’s Ladies. According to Alegi, the “apartheid afforded affluent young white women opportunities to play football while denying “balck” women the chance to do so” (Alegi 121). Through football, women of the South African Women’s Football Association (SAWFA) were able to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations. However, when the apartheid ended the demographics of the sport underwent a significant change. Specifically, the South African Football Association, which is run by males, absorbed the women’s association in the mid-1990s, thus, “relegating it to second-class status” (Alegi 122). Similar to how the FA ban was in response to a perceived threat to the popularity of the men’s game from the rising Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, the South African Football Association’s absorption of the female association demonstrates a controlled measure exerted by males over the female game. Alegi’s description of the history of the women’s game in Africa helps to contextualize a more global perspective of the female game, which has largely been from a Western lens.

  6. Nakul Karnik

    I found Alegi’s book on soccer in Africa to be extremely interesting. Like many others, I was especially drawn to Chapter 6 and the privatization of soccer. I found the argument about the African Nation’s Cup being “top-heavy” with Egypt and Cameroon winning the tournament to serve as an interesting discussion about the wealth gap in Africa as an entire nation. The economic / political corruption within the game also struck me as many nations such as Kenya and Ethiopia who got suspended from FIFA all together. I believe that soccer and economic corruption have a direct tie within the African community. Furthermore, I think the rise of academies and the mergence with European academies is particularly interesting because it represents Africa’s possible shift to the west. I really liked the conclusion of the book as well, as it stated that the nation, though it experienced all sorts of turmoil, corruption, etc is always connected by the sport of football. The sport evokes a sense of national pride, something I don’t think we as Americans get to experience. We love sports such as football and basketball; however, we know we are the real major player / creator of those sports in contrast to football. The African community symbolizes transition, hope, and modernization through the sport of football. Overall, this was a great read!

  7. Anthony Russo

    I found Peter Alegi’s African Soccerscapes to be an incredibly informative and enjoyable read that provided me with a ton of insight into the social and political framework that encompassed soccer from the era of European colonization to the early 2000s. Although we currently may take soccer for granted as just a “sport,” accounts like Alegri prove that soccer exists as something much more than simply a leisure sport. Chapter 1 and 2 do a great job of placing soccer in a framework that allows us to better understand it in a social and political context. I think that no better quote summarizes the two chapters this: if the Europeans initially brought soccer as a means of “proping up their self proclaiming civilizing mission in Africa, they unwittingly created new opportunities for forms of African resistance, not only against colonialism but against social inequalities within African communities.”

    It is certainly interesting to see the complex relationship that colonization had with the spread of soccer. Things such as the development of railroad system served as a massive colonial undertaking, but also served as a critical way in which soccer was able to expand across the country. In a weird way, I think that soccer’s current popularity in Africa is a direct ramification of colonialism itself. Colonialism fragmented communities in racial and cultural ways. For Africans, soccer served as a way to connect with communities and form a distinct African identity in lieu of a European one. Anecdotes such as the one from the Orlando Pirates team members crying after losing games certainly puts into perspective the power that soccer had in uniting -and eventually Africanizing- the African continent.

    In my opinion, I found that the most interesting chapter was the one on football migration to Europe. As a big Italian national team supporter, I have always observed the massive presence of African soccer players in Europe, but from afar. I have always wondered if Europeans realize how tremendous of an impact Africans have had on European soccer, both at a domestic and international level. Obviously with the rampant racism, it never seemed as if Europeans did appreciate the African presence. Unfortunately enough, my initial assumption seemed to be cemented after reading this chapter. Europeans seem to only have an “appetite for African talent,” rather then any sort of concern about the well-being of the individual. I also found it incredibly interesting to see how much of Africa’s young talent leave for Europe in order to pursue to soccer at the highest level. In the MLS, we have an incredibly similar problem of talent choosing to play overseas rather to groom domestic leagues. It would be great to have established domestic leagues in both Africa and the US, but I believe that the European upperhand in established domestic leagues is far too great for a minute change to happen without requiring a complete system overhaul

  8. Ben Taylor

    I found it very interesting how quickly many African people adopted the sport of soccer after it was introduced. According to Alegi, the British saw soccer as a form of imperialism, “pivotal in the European ‘civilizing mission’ in Africa” (p.1). Africans had many pre-colonial sports, but all were quickly abandoned in favor of soccer. I found it surprising that as early as the 1920s, African natives so quickly embraced the sport, to the extent that Orlando Pirates players, a team of mixed races, “used to weep if they lost” (p. 14). They fact that so many Africans abandoned their sports so quickly in favor in soccer demonstrates both the power of soccer and the absolute influence the European powers had on much of Africa.

    The fact that soccer then was used in decolonization efforts is especially interesting, and somewhat ironic. Alegi states that “stadiums and clubhouses became arenas in which workers, intellectuals, business owners, and the unemployed challenged colonial power” (p. 36). Alegi gives specific examples but it is more the general idea that interests me. All of this opposition coming from a sport that the British wanted to push upon Africans to Europeanize them. It makes me wonder whether this decolonization effort would have been this strong regardless of soccer, whether Africans would have found another place to challenge colonial power, or if there is actually something special about soccer. I at first was of the mindset that this would have resulted from any sport; however, the mixing of classes and different types of people that play the sport is largely independent to soccer due to the lack of expensive equipment in addition to its popularity. I think if there was another popular sport that had similar qualities it could have taken soccer’s place, but the combination of the popularity, acceptance by the colonizers, and mixing of different groups is crucial to the sport’s political importance.

  9. James Pierpoint

    I thought that the most interesting section of Alegi’s commentary on African soccer was Chapter Six, where he discusses the commercialization of European soccer in Africa and the resulting blow it has had on domestic African soccer leagues as well as on the overall cultural soccer identity of African nations. According to Alegi, “due to widespread poverty in Africa and the market dominance of European football, African spectators are being transformed into consumers of imported football commodities” (pg. 107-108). He points out that although there remain plenty of fans that support continental teams like Kaiser Chiefs or Orlando Pirates, more and more EPL jerseys or La Liga scarves can be seen in Africa; more people are spending time in bars watching European games on Satellite TV than going out to stadiums to see actual matches. Furthermore, there has been a perpetual “exodus of players overseas” as a result of the overall poorer quality of African soccer clubs as well as their lack of funds. (pg. 111) European clubs are well known for coming down to scout African players and poaching them from their home countries for too much money to turn down. This wave of African players going to Europe has made it nearly impossible for African soccer to develop. I think that the dynamic between Europe and Africa in the soccer-sphere provides an interesting commentary on the political decolonization of Africa. Although African countries broke away from colonizing European governments, the influence of European soccer on African soccer culture represents an undeniable link between the two regions that persists even after decolonization.

  10. Kurt Kessler

    One point in Alegri’s work that really stuck out to me was his extreme support of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and his assurances that it would be a successful one. This world cup was the culmination of football in Africa, the coming together of nearly a century of footballing history and many more of sporting culture. He even states that South Africa meant the world cup to be there introduction onto the world stage as a quasi great power, like South Korea/Japan and Mexico before them (128-129). However, despite the drama of the world cup, the passion of the local fans (the most notable of all time, in my opinion, due to the presence of the absurdly loud vuvuzela), and the success of Ghana as an African team the 2010 World Cup did not live up to the massive expectations heaped upon it as the first African World Cup.

    Part of the blame can be based on the champion, Spain, whose style lent itself extremely well to winning, but not so much to entertainment. It was not just Spain, however. Goals in general went downhill, with the mark of 2.27 goals per game being the lowest since Italia 1990 (another World Cup that is not looked back on all that fondly).

    However, one cannot completely mark the 2010 World Cup as a failure for footballing reasons; those are completely out of the control of the organizers and the country. What really matters is the lack of perspective. Hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars were sunk into the stadiums, and nearly all of them are so called “white elephants” at this point in time.

    In addition, I believe that South Africa was the incorrect choice for the first African World Cup. It should have been given to a country whose main passion was football. South Africa was, and is, simply too divided between cricket, rugby, and football.

  11. Deemer Class IV

    I was fascinated by Peter Alegi’s book because of the vast coverage of issues that Alegi touched on in regards to the links between African politics and it’s history of soccer. Colonialism, imperialism and racial socialization are all touched on, and I was really fascinated by Chapter 6’s discussion of the Qatar Aspire Academy, especially because of my recent blog post on U.S soccer academies. However, Chapter 2 really interested me because of the discussion of social identity and space. Africans identified with urban soccer pitches as “black” places while rugby pitches became symbols of white European spaces. Following this up with the discussions of incorporating different rituals, song and dance and magic and how these became unique in the African soccer game were interesting as well. The example that Spencer pointed out about the Cameroonian goalie being accused of doing “magic” really struck me as well as such a great example of how these rituals and other practices really became incorporated into the African game.

  12. Jake Toffler

    This may be due to the fact that the book is written in order to highlight how soccer and politics go hand-in-hand, but of all the readings we’ve done and of all of the history we’ve learned about, the history of soccer in Africa is far and away the place where soccer and politics are most closely linked. Soccer began its rise to a global sport at the end of the 19th century and by that point, there were few opportunities to truly have soccer unite nations. It can be argued that the two World Wars had moments where sport overshadowed happenings of the time, but that was brief and the effects were not lasting. It wasn’t until a few decades later, when African nations were seeking independence from colonizers, that sport acted as a spark for change. In chapter three (sorry I do not have a page number because my Kindle version doesn’t have it), Alegi describes an article in the “Pilot”, a Nigerian newspaper, depicting a fictional match where Nigeria beat Britain ’10 goals to nil’ and how “this ‘woeful defeat of imperialism’ sparked a raucous stadium celebration with six million spectators singing freedom songs!” In class, we’ve discussed how a stadium atmosphere is a fertile ground for political statements because when the game is over, there’s the classic alibi of “it’s just a game.” Nations like Nigeria and Algeria are perfect examples. But their political statements slowly began to move out of the stadiums and into the streets and once they had enough momentum, they no longer needed an alibi. The way Alegi describes it, soccer precipitated independence.

    1. Danielle Lazarus

      I completely agree with you, Jake. For me, it was extremely interesting as well to look at how soccer not only goes hand-in-hand with colonial independence, but how it is also intertwined with the actual colonization of Africa. By this I mean that before soccer could act as a spark for independence as you said, it actually perpetuated the racism, stereotyping, and “the feeling that Africans were savages and therefore it was the Europeans’ duty to civilize them” that Muthoka mentions in his entry below. In chapter 1, “The White Man’s Burden,” Alegi describes the introduction of soccer to Africa via colonization, especially through the colonizer’s establishment of port cities, railways, and armies. Of course, in a large-scale sense, the reason for soccer’s launch in Africa to begin with was embedded in racism: the colonization scramble in Africa as a whole during the 19th-20th centuries was indicative of a global racism. Again, going back to Muthoka, it was a “European duty” (or, according to Alegi, “The White Man’s Burden”) to civilize the barbaric, different people of Africa. The infrastructure colonizers built also helped to advance that spread. But, on a more micro level, the further dissemination of soccer itself demonstrates the fact that “colonial racism also underpinned practices of domination and exclusion in African football and society” (4). That is, that colonizers utilized soccer to emphasize and enforce their racist, domineering attitudes over the Africans.

      Alegi has three great examples throughout Chapter 1. First, he shows how colonizers impressed their fiscal and classist dominance over the Africans, specifically in Congo. The taxes the Africans paid went directly to financing the fields the white teams played on, while their paid tickets to enter the game relegated them to standing room only as opposed to the whites’ bleachers (4). Second, Alegi displays this “duty” Muthoka mentions in “civilizing” and disciplining Africans via soccer. According to a Belgian official, soccer ensured that “civilized black youth… complete their physical and moral education at the school of discipline and endurance that the practice of sport entails” (5). Finally, Alegi pushes this idea of “moral education” even further with the use of soccer to combat the foreign, brutish religious practices of African natives. In order to supplant the “Satanist” African rituals with Christianity and Western religions, “our games may be, when properly controlled, a mighty channel through which God can work for uplifting this race… how better than by the substitution of their own evil dances by such a game as football?” (10).

      I completely agree with Muthoka when he says that “whole idea of the White man’s burden was a mistaken belief”, and that connects back to your idea. Although soccer was initially installed to reinforce racist colonist tenants around Africa, these colonizers in reality gave the Africans a weapon they would go on to use in their struggle against the institution of colonization. As you said, despite its roots, eventually “sport acted as a spark for change.”

  13. Muthoka Muthoka

    I found the chapter on the White Man’s burden the most interesting. The European invasion and eventual colonization of Africa is claimed to have been motivated by the feeling that Africans were savages and therefore it was the Europeans’ duty to civilize them. The devil was seen to reign supreme in the bodies of these ‘savages’. “Our belief is that our games may be, when properly controlled, a mighty channel through which God can work for the uplifting of this race. They need to be strengthened in the realm of their physical nature, where Satan so strongly reigns, and how better than the substitution of their own evil dances by such a game as football. . .”(12). However, unlike almost all other European cultures, Africans gladly accepted soccer and even became some of its biggest lovers in the world. “Africans were not simply duped into adopting Western sport: they enjoyed the game for their own reasons and on their own terms”(13). Alegi goes on to show how Africans used soccer for different purposes from the ones envisioned by European colonizers and used it to their benefit. Some of these include using soccer as an avenue to speak against colonization. From its earliest days, soccer provided some form of freedom to the African people in that they could kick anything for a ball and even change the rules as they wished when playing against each other. Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president wrote, “We made and altered our rules to suit each game and so we emerged to become self-made soccerists”(6). Such kind of freedom to adjust rules was rare in Africa during the colonial times.

    The book shows how the whole idea of the White man’s burden was a mistaken belief. There exists no possibility that a game of soccer could have kicked out the alleged devil in the Africans. The Africans also had their own ways on which to deal with the evils in the society and the game of soccer provided them with another opportunity to deal with the evil that was colonization.

  14. Haley Amster

    I was particularly interested in the commercialization of football in Africa and its relation to Western neocolonialism and cultural domination. As detailed in Chapter Six of African Soccerscapes. African football leagues were started significantly later than the European leagues, and that, while they had some measure of African popularity and support, they were nowhere near as competitive as the European leagues. However, this changed with commercialization of African football, as they began to focus more on profit and “the CAF rescinded the two-player limit on foreign-based professionals on each national team”(105). This led to an increase in the competition of the national teams, but it “obscured the declining quality and health of African leagues”(105). I believe that this occurrence is an example of Western cultural dominance, especially in relation to their economic strength. The leagues probably would have become more competitive and profitable on their own with time, but because they were being compared to the massive profitability and popularity of European football, they were essentially overtaken by it. Instead of putting off short term profit for long term growth, the African teams imported players, which ended up damaging African football in the long run. Yet, the Western world continued to profit off of African players being trained abroad instead of increasing the competition in their own home countries.

    Similarly, Alegi discussed how African TV began broadcasting European football, such as the English Premier League, La Liga, France’s Ligue, and more, all for immense profits (107). They became so popular- to the point that sports bars were packed with people watching the broadcasted European games, but the stadiums of African football were virtually empty (108). Again, this further reinforces the problem at hand. Alegi is pointing out how commercialization of football essentially pushed African soccer to fall far behind European soccer. In the pursuit of profit, African investors and businessmen did not put their money towards African soccer and leagues to increase the development of that industry- instead, they took their money to an already powerful giant, Europe. Essentially, it is a form of neocolonialism- except the domination is a cultural one. And this is an important thing to consider when looking at African football. Even today, it still has a ways to go until it can produce the level and amount of skilled players that Europe does- and without having to send these players to Europe for training. All in all, this context provided by Alegi, detailing the consequences of the privatization of African football, offers a lot of insights about the condition of the sport in that region- insights that may still hold true today.

  15. Leah Ling

    In response to James and John’s comments about African soccer’s growth on the international stage featured in Chapter 6, I also found this section of African Soccerscapes to be both interesting and problematic. I particularly found compelling the way that Alegi demonstrated how the rise of soccer in Africa over the past thirty years can be portrayed as colonialism and neocolonialism. First, the rise of television in African countries played a crucial role in providing soccer with a growing fan base. Soccer enthusiasts not only could now follow a club team or national team, but they were also exposed to European soccer. The quick popularity of watching soccer on television in fact resulted in satellite providers using soccer viewership packages to gain customers. While a clever marketing strategy, this phenomenon can also be viewed in a negative light. As Gerard Akindes points out, African soccer fans flocking to televisions and bars to watch European games can be interpreted as a kind of “electronic colonialism” (107); what does it mean for nationhood when fans eagerly seek out European games on television instead of attending live local games? In my opinion, the Kenyan scholar Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a bit over the top in describing African fans’ fervor for European teams as neocolonialism when he describes it as “the final triumph of a system of domination when the dominated start singing its virtues” (108). I certainly understand the point that he is making, in that African fans have almost been brainwashed by soccer capitalism into becoming European soccer fans. However, I think that the rise of quality league play in Africa, as well as tournaments such as the African Nations Cup, depended upon this initial gathering up of European soccer fans in Africa.

  16. Alex McIlvaine

    While Alegi focuses on the history of African football, he briefly touches on the current and future state of it. European clubs often take advantage of African players, who need the financial opportunity more than the clubs need extra talent. This relationship is reflective of the socio-political independence African states lack in the world today. However, as African football becomes more unified, so can its ethnical pride. For instance, the recent world cup in South Africa acted as an empowering, continental celebration. Just as African states benefited from the development of football in the 1900’s, they can today.

    Another point of interest for me was the success of the teams. Had stars not emerged and teams not been victorious, would African football still serve as such a singular example of sport as a cross-cultural catalyst?

  17. Shiv Gidumal

    In African Soccerscapes, Alegi uses the history of soccer to encapsulate the sociopolitical dynamics of the continent over the last 150 years. In his chronicles, he considers a few overarching themes, including the African struggle for independence from colonialism, the growth of nationalist identities, and the increasing influence of Western capitalism on the sport.

    Like Dan, I enjoyed Alegi’s chronological organization of his book. I felt that it gave the book an easy narrative to follow despite the fact that he delves into many different topics. I also thought that ending with the 2010 FIFA World Cup was an effective and interesting way to end his analysis of the development of Africa and African soccer. However, overall, I found the contrast between the unifying qualities of soccer after the second world war and the exploitative nature of modern soccer to be the most interesting aspect of the book.

    After WWII, waves of liberation swept Africa. Alegi writes that Kwame Nukrumah put a black star on Ghana’s national team jersey to signify both the singular nation and symbols of pan-Africanism. Later on, the FLN, who fought the French in Algeria, enlisted Algerians in the French league to play around the world and support their movements. But perhaps the best example of the unifying qualities is South Africa. When the CAF unified and standardized anti-apartheid requirements, it became clear that soccer could unite the African people behind a common cause.

    However, now, although soccer still has unifying qualities, the recruitment of extremely young players by the top leagues not only takes advantage of a poor population, but divides players amongst the richer European countries. This exploitation is oddly reminiscent of colonialism because the teams can operate as if they own players. In class we discussed the often-cited comparison of soccer players to slaves. The relations between the top Western leagues and young African players certainly provides strong support for that analogy.

    The contrast between these two contrasting descriptions of soccer symbolizes Western-African relations in general. While often we like to look at colonialism, apartheid, and racial divides as issues that are fully behind us, in reality these problems continue to pervade society today. In this case, soccer can be seen as a vehicle for major progress, but also as a system with major flaws and inequities. Just as we have throughout the year, the book gives us another way to look at soccer as a multifaceted and representative element of modern society.

  18. Aissa Huysmans

    The chapter that I found the most striking was Chapter 4 which discusses Pan-Africanism and football as a form of African resistance. I think that, as Maddie introduced earlier, the stand that CAF (Confederation of African Football) took against apartheid South Africa is incredibly important to highlight. Tessema was an inspiring leader of CAF who stood strongly behind football as a way to unite African nations. One can clearly see that CAF, under his leadership, made some brave stands against European powers who continually refused to see the destruction that they had imparted on colonized African nations. If we take South Africa as an example, people who were against the system used football as a way to “propel and legitimize the activities of anticolonial movements” (53). The people who stood against the regime showed their allegiances by going to support the integrated South African Soccer League. This in itself makes a powerful statement about the ability that football has to both unite and send a message to large groups of people.

    It is clear though that at the time there was a huge clash between what South Africa appeared to be like from the outside and the internal reality. One example of this was when SAFA (the South African Football Association) changed their name to FASA in order to give the appearance that they were changing the status quo, however they were indifferent to apartheid and no actual change occurred (51). I found it shocking that FIFA, even when CAF was taking a stand against the racist regime in South Africa, went to visit ONLY the white population in the soccer leagues in South Africa and left saying that there was “no willful discrimination on the part of FASA in respect of any organization in South Africa” (74). I think it is incredibly important for us to recognize the important stand that CAF had to take in order to get their voices heard. FIFA represented an old and repressive way of thinking under their president at the time, and it is only through CAF (with support of the Soviet bloc and Asia) taking a stand that FIFA ultimately felt pressured into doing the right thing and expelling the white FASA in order to replace it with SASF (the integrated team of South Africa). These kinds of narratives are incredibly important to tell, and I am highly appreciative of the work Alegi does to reveal these realities.

  19. Taariq Shabazz

    The beginning of chapter two starts off of the view that africans had on soccer initially and this view was that it was a form of labor. What was once considered labor to the workers turned into sport due to the development of passion and love for the sport. The view of sports being a form of labor reminds me of the “New plantation debate” in which collegiate athletes are being exploited for there ability without pay. An interesting thing that was said was that the obligation turned into pleasure this concept masks the fact that the game is still work even if it is pleasurable.

  20. Brigid Larkin

    Perhaps because it was reinforced in class, I found Alegi’s discussion of soccer’s role in Algerian independence to be interesting. This was because of the way that soccer was able to skirt the line between being a political statement and being a sport, something that is usually inherently apolitical. Alegi addresses this first through the players on the original Algerian national team, who “at a press conference in Tunis, declined making grandiose political statements.” In other words, it was easy enough for the players on the team to claim that their decision to leave France and support the Algerian revolution was rather a move related to sport only. Regardless of whether or not they personally recognized the gravity of the decision, they could still claim that it was apolitical.

    However, the masterminds behind the movement, the political leaders of the ALN who funded the team, knew the political statement that the team was making. According to Alegi, the ALN “…appreciated football’s value as a symbol of national identity and as a legitimizing tool for the FLN itself.” Ironically enough, the statements made by the ALN leaders who played soccer as young men makes it clear that in bringing soccer to its colonies, France primed them for revolution. Later in the chapter, Ferhat Abbas describes soccer as the great equalizer. He compares the revolution to his time competing against white soccer teams, and how his race was not relevant when battling on the pitch. Clearly, in bringing soccer to Algeria, France inadvertently offered the perfect metaphor for equality to its oppressed non-citizens.

    Finally, I thought this passage was interesting because it discusses the unique style of the Algerian team, which was somewhat foreign to the Europeans who watched it. Their game was “based on finesse and fluid passing,” as opposed to the more “scientific” game played in Europe. This struck me as being wonderfully representative of Algeria as a nation. During the revolution, even their soccer playing placed an emphasis on team cooperation via passing, keeping them united against the white teams they were playing. Here, they demonstrated yet again the way that the Algerian national team managed to epitomize the values of Algeria during the revolution.

  21. Francesca Brancati

    The most interesting part of Alegi’s book for me is his accounts of soccer first spreading equality, and later inequality. We discuss in class about how soccer is a democratic sport: all you need is some sort of round object to play, the rules are simple, and it’s played all over the world. While in most cases soccer bridges the gap between people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, Alegi describes soccer as a vehicle for bridging the gap between different races during African colonization. In a time that Europeans were colonizing Africa, subjecting Africans to unfair treatment, and forcing Africans into the European way of life, soccer was still able to unite vastly different groups of people. For example, Alegi mentions that the Congolese, despite enduring segregation and having to fund white soccer games through their taxes, “assigned top white players nicknames, tangible proof of Africans’ passion and active involvement in the sport through spectatorship” (pg 22).
    However as time went on and Africans themselves became more involved in playing soccer and not just watching, Alegi describes Africans using soccer to rebel and Europeans using soccer to suppress. Teams all over Africa gave their teams names that symbolized resistance to their European oppressors. Additionally, Europeans used soccer to assert their dominance over Africans. One striking example is how French authorities in Brazzaville in the 1930s made it illegal for Africans to wear shoes while playing soccer, even though most Africans couldn’t afford soccer shoes anyways (page 41). This needless and unfair rule, while seemingly pointless, served a higher purpose in discriminating against Africans.

  22. Carlos Reyes Stoneham

    One of the most interesting and shocking aspects of the development of soccer in Africa that was highlighted by African Soccerscapes was the influence that media (television) played in shaping soccer in Africa as it is today. One of the most interesting aspects of this is how soccer highlighted and even perhaps exacerbated wealth inequality in Africa (both of these points were brought up in Chapter 6). What was particularly striking is the use of European soccer as a status symbol of sorts. That is, generally “urban elites” have access to satellite tv and have the opportunity to watch the Premier League games at all. Furthermore, the fact that wearing European soccer jerseys signifies better economic standing is a strange concept to me, but highlights the wealth divide in Africa and what is associated with either side. Another striking thing was the fact that, as soccer was commercialized in Africa, soccer became a platform for a select few to greatly benefit from financially. Its unsurprising to me that many soccer players in Africa use the Nations Championship to propel their soccer careers. But the degree to which soccer is used to conduct shady affairs that varied widely and included things such as laundering of money, rigging games, and lining up political affairs was quite shocking to me. African Soccerscapes really opened my eyes to what the commercialization of soccer has done to the game in Africa, and the repercussions that extreme commercialization of anything popular can have on a society.

  23. Dan Summers

    Alegi’s “African Soccerscapes” was a terrific read. I have taken a few classes in the past that have focused on the development of Africa, so I really enjoyed reading about how Africa fit into the history of the “world’s game”. I liked how the book was arranged chronologically, starting with the late nineteenth century and ending with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This really helped me keep everything organized. Furthermore, I thought it was really interesting to read about how connected nationalism and Pan- African sentiments and soccer were. It appears that the rise of the African states and African soccer significantly impacted many of the European powers. During the African movement, UEFA was formed and was an obvious response to this new African “threat”. Additionally, I liked how the author included some of the pioneering players in African soccer. For example, Arthur Warto, Roger Milla, and Ben Barek. It is truly a shame that the pioneering players in Africa do not receive the same amount of attention that the pioneers in Europe and South America receive. Finally, I really liked how Alegi tied his whole synopsis together with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This event displayed to the rest of the world the amount of progress and development African soccer has had. Africa has made itself a force on the pitch and in the boardrooms of FIFA.

  24. Catherine Foy

    Peter Alegi in his book African Soccerscapes is successfully able to convey and communicate to the reader how the sport of soccer has evolved in Africa from the time of its introduction up until present day. This concise depiction of the history of African football begins with the games arrival on the heels of European imperialism in Africa. While it began as a sport played solely by European soldiers and administrators, the African people soon caught on and overtime embraced the sport with open arms.

    A section of the book that I found particularly interesting was in Chapter 5 when Peter Alegi discusses the integration of African footballers into European soccer and European professional leagues. In this part of the book, Alegi brings up the interesting point that African footballers became a commodity to be bought and sold by the European superpowers, similarly to how minerals, lumber, and other raw materials were exported from the African colonies to the European markets. They were easily exploited and taken advantage of. At one point Alegi states, “the scarcity of finances available to many French clubs after the war made players from the French West African federation an extremely attractive source of cheap labor (Alegi, pg. 82).” The large influx of African footballers playing in European professional leagues, especially in the post-war period, gave way to significant amounts of racism and inequality. For example, wage inequality was a major issue; especially considering how influential many of these African players were to their distinctive French/European clubs. One more thing Alegi mentions that I find interesting is the fact that only a few foreign players were allowed on each European team at one time, typically around two or three. A very well known African player named Salif Keita, for example, was asked by his football club, Olympique Marseilles, to acquire a French citizenship in order to make more room on the team for other foreign players. However, in 1982 Confederation of African Football eliminated the rule that only allowed for a small number of African and overseas players per national team. This decision led to another influx of African players in Europe, as well as an increase of European-based African players making their way back to Africa to play football there. Alegi asserts that “this oscillating flow of elite players between African nations and European clubs changed the way the African game was played and how it was perceived internationally (Alegi, pg. 93).” That combined with increased media coverage helped to bring African soccer players to the attention of the international football community and served as a building block for the success of African players and teams in soccer today.

  25. Spencer Davidson

    Alegi’s work on the development and evolution of football in Africa over the last 100 years is both informative and interesting. For me, I thoroughly enjoyed reading chapter 2 which discussed the Africanization of football during the early 1900’s. Chapter 2 goes through various anecdotes about how the game of football became more and more “African” as it continued to grow throughout the continent, and I found many of these stories to be particularly stimulating. Specifically, I enjoyed the discussions Alegi had on the involvement of magic during the early developments of the game. He points out that African club teams often used various forms of magic and sorcery in order to better their chances of winning during their matches. He goes on to mention that in 2002, a Cameroonian goalie coach was suspended by the CAF for one year because he was accused of “doing magic.” This was astonishing to me, as the world has become increasingly secular since the early twentieth century. Religious practices are no longer as prevalent in society as they were in those times, and yet there remains some aspects of it in today’s games in Africa. Furthermore, I enjoyed reading about how African soccer styles are different than many other areas of the world due to how the players developed their skills. Since they were most likely not playing for formal teams throughout their childhoods, and were often playing without necessary equipment (cleats, shin guards, etc), African players were often more improvisational and creative with the ball. This grabbed my attention as I believe that is still an accurate observation to this day. Out of all of the international teams to choose from in FIFA, I always enjoy playing with Ivory Coast because the players are often more fun to control than their opponents. Furthermore, watching them play live shows that many of their players have amazing individual skills, but often their effort as a team contributes to their struggles, which can be partially due to the lack of formal football they grew up with.

    1. Brian Wolfson

      Similar to Spencer, one of the most interesting things for me in Peter Alegi’s “African Soccerscapes” is the role of magic that is often found in African soccer. Having grown up with a religious background, I am used to hearing people pray to God and ask that their favorite team win a match. But magic? That seems to me as if it’s almost cheating; as if the spectators have the power to control what happens on the match. Of course, not all people believed in magic back then, as one player in South Africa stated, “I didn’t believe in that stuff. It was mostly people who come from the rural areas who believed in witchcraft. People born here [in the city] don’t believe in those things” (26). However, despite him claiming that people from South Africa’s cities didn’t believe in magic, the book goes on to say that “almost from the very beginning of the game in South Africa’s major cities, African clubs, to swing results in their favor, employed healers, diviners, and sorcerers to ritually prepare their squads before important matches” (27). Plus, It seemed like there was a racial connotation to the use of magic, in that mostly black South Africans tended to believe in it, while the white English-descendants called it “uncivilized behavior” (27). Nonetheless, players would do everything they could to influence a match, going as far as inhaling “smoke from herbs so that they bring fear and weakness on the opponents” (27). Even having witch doctors rub Vaseline on shoes was common, although to me it’s a bit questionable as to whether the use of Vaseline qualifies as witchcraft. And while one would be prone to think that instances such as these were illegal in the African soccer world, it turned out that “black South African clubs [would] pay large amounts of money to acquire the services of an inyanga, [a healer]” (27). All of this leaves me wondering as to what would happen when an African club would spend large amounts of money on a magician and then the team lost the match. Did the magician pay the price?

      Another very interesting point that Alegi made was when he talked about how magic and rituals were also inspired by pre-colonial military campaigns in South Africa. In order to mimic Zulu soldiers from years before, South African clubs would drink “an emetic and [then] vomited, thus emulating the ukuhlanza (cleaning) practice of nineteenth-century Zulu soldiers on the eve of war. Moreover, the sprinkling of umuthi on the football and on boots recalled the doctoring of warriors’ weapons, as did the burning of special roots” (27). Not only are rituals like these fascinating to learn about, but their historical significance makes them more special. In today’s soccer world, I cannot think of a single club off the top of my head with similar rituals (despite occasional vomits by Messi on the soccer pitch, I believe no club wants all of their vomiting before a match). The only sports team that comes to mind that has a historical pre-game ritual is the New Zealand National Rugby Team, the All Blacks, and the Haka they perform to intimidate their opponents.

      Finally, it is common to see many players wear religious symbols, tattoos or items on the field that have spiritual value to them. A similar thing happened in Africa back then, where “magicians produced charms, talismans, and amulets that African players wore as bracelets, chains and rings to defend themselves from the spiritual onslaught of opposing religious specialists” (28). The key difference, however, I have never heard of players using specific symbols nowadays to protect against “opposing religious specialists.” Usually, the symbols are to help themselves and not to fight off something else. In addition, Anthropologist Arnold Pannenbong discusses some traditions that were done in contemporary Cameroon, looking to rid any evil spirits from jerseys and unite the team. While I personally have never witnessed anything like this today, I have seen rituals in locker rooms where coaches and players follow a specific pre-game arrangement to unite the team. Although they’re not fighting off evil spirits, both practices still share the same end goal. Maybe African players had an influence in this tradition in Europe?

  26. Maddie Keyes

    The most interesting thing to me coming from Alegi’s “African Soccerscapes” was the extreme effect apartheid had on soccer in Africa both specifically in South Africa itself and on the other nations in the Confederation of African Football as a whole. CAF’s presented unity in response to South Africa’s refusal to send integrated teams transcended all previous “Cold War rivalries, racial animosities, and cultural differences” (72). The fact that a perceived injustice in the football realm could bring together an entire continent’s federation after so many years of political turmoil and rivalry was amazing to me and also really inspiring. The other thing I found interesting about CAF’s political solidarity was their use of their significant influence in FIFA presidential elections to get both a president who took their anti-apartheid stance and Brazil’s boycott of the 1973 South African Games (74). Even though it was a little manipulative, it still was very interesting and exciting to me to see CAF being able to push through African interests in a previously European and South American dominated international soccer environment.

    The other interesting thing to me about football in apartheid South Africa was the division of leagues throughout the period of apartheid. I found it fascinating that the South African government really only had a problem with integration and would have allowed either the South African Soccer Federation (SASF) composed of mainly native African and other nonwhite players or the Football Association of South Africa (FASA) composed of white players to send a team to compete internationally. Why they wouldn’t just combine the two federations to send the best team is beyond me, and I think it really highlights how CAF and FIFA’s collaboration in suspending South Africa was a good idea to show South Africa that the integration of teams was in their best interest. The existence of an integrated league (South African Soccer League) until 1966 when the government systematically denied the league access to fields was also very interesting to me (53). The government’s stubbornness in shutting down both a successful and profitable league due to their fear of racial integration again highlights the many negative effects the apartheid regime had on development of better football in South Africa.

  27. Helena Wang

    Alegi’s “African Soccerscapes” was a great read that really showed the complex experience of the “Africanization” of the soccer game through political, economic and cultural forces. It is clear that there is a massive pool of talented African footballers – the display of Africa’s competitive spirit in international sporting teams is incredibly impressive considering the inadequate state of domestic leagues. Yet, Alegi exhibits in this book that the globalization and commercialization of the African game has not always been in African players’ best interests. This is shown in chapter 6 of Alegi’s book, where club academies, such as MimoSifCom truly showed the “privatization in the 1990s sparked the creation of transnational networks of coaches, scouts, and administrators” (pg 114 -115). However, most young players are not introduced to these private, reputable clubs and end up going through ad hoc academies. Ad hoc academies have the worst reputation, as they are “the largest, most problematic, and least documented group of Africa’s football cottage industry” (pg 118). This gives off the view that some people see football as purely business – in fact, Africa’s “muscle drain” has been cynically described as a form of “football slavery” which ruins the careers of young and upcoming players while also having a negative affect on the league. Overall, this book shows the distinctive football culture that Africa has developed through its socioeconomic and political context. While change is expected to happen, given the optimistic sign to host the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it will take time and policy to encourage the proficiency of sports management.

  28. Hyun Moh (John) Shin

    I agree with James; Alegi’s discussion on the drawbacks of commercializing African football is the subject that grabbed my attention when I was reading the book. Bribery and corruption seems to be particularly severe in Africa because of its period of transition – that people who see football as a business can exploit those who still see football in its pure form. Part of the problem will be fixed over time, as Alegi points out as a “change of old hierarchies and encouragement of the professionalization of sport management”.

    On the other hand, I feel that this problem is going to persist until the end of sport industry. If we seek a complete solution to the aforementioned problems, something has to happen to fundamentally change the structure of football organization groups – the agents, the politicians, the third-party ownership companies, and others who don’t find intrinsic value in football as much as the players or the spectators, and yet get the most benefit out of commercialization of football. Unfortunately, those are the ones who currently possess financial and governmental control over football “industry”, and it is natural for them to act on their best interest, not on the best interest of football itself.

  29. James Ziemba

    I was particularly shocked about Alegi’s description of the ad hoc academies that exist throughout Africa. Although there is certainly access to reputable academies (described in chapter 6), which include MimoSifcom, arguably the most successful one, and Salif Keita Football Center, which was opened by Malian legend Keita, some young African players are not exposed to them. They are described as “private, nonaffiliated academies [that] expose young Africans to the greed of noncertified agents who are able to acquire recruits cheaply and convince them to sign exploitative contracts if they are successful during their trials” (page 118). These unregulated academies leave any players who compete with them highly susceptible to exploitation. If a player with potential is drawn to compete with an ad hoc academy rather than a reputable one, he might never be allowed to achieve his both physical and economic potential. The banning or increased regulation of these types of academies is key to the development of African soccer. If players being lost to these teams can be “rescued,” the overall strength of African teams, both national and club ones, is likely to increase.

    1. Harrison Kalt

      Like Helena, I thought that Alegi’s “African Soccerscapes” was a really enjoyable read that enlightened me to complexities of the football experience and the “Africanization” of the game. While I did find chapter 6, which focuses on the commercialization and privatization of the game and its negative impact on Africa, to be incredibly interesting, I thought that the book’s opening chapter was incredibly well written and informative. While I had previously known of the imperialistic conquests of the British, French and other European nations through Africa in the middle to late 19th century, I had never considered the complex political, cultural and economic reasons and forces behind this imperial expansion. Seen as a tool of civilization to the sport-obsessed British, football was rapidly introduced to sub-Saharan Africa after conquest as a means to “create moral fiber along with moral mass” (29). In contrast, the French and Belgians saw the sport as a tool to “provide civilized black youth with healthy distractions and to complete their physical and moral education at the school discipline and endurance that the practice of sport entails” (29). As time passed, football gained a central place in African education and in the development of a new culture that “bridged ‘traditional’ and modern, rural and urban, and indigenous and Western worldviews and experiences” (42). Contrary to popular belief, Africans were not duped into adopting this Western sport, instead, they enjoyed the own their own terms and for vastly different reasons than other cultures.

    2. Dylan Newman

      Like James, the descriptions of the ad hoc academies surprised and interested me. The descriptions on pages 118 and 119 in Chapter 6. In a similar vein, this reminded me of the Qatar Aspire Academy, which made its way around national news sources in 2014. Basically, with the Qatar Aspire Academy, children (mostly from Africa) made their way to Qatar and played football in the academy. If they were good enough, they might make their way to play for a second division club in Belgium that the Qatari Government owned. There was a lot of outrage with this in the national news sources, as many believed that this was a ploy from the Qataris to bolster the strength of their national team by giving citizenship to these African footballers. However, FIFA rules make this difficult to accomplish, the children could still opt to play for their African countries, and Qatari officials have adamantly denied that their purpose in this is to naturalize these Africans. I highly recommend readers to learn more about the Aspire Academy .


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