World Cup 2010 and Beyond: What’s Next for African Football?

by Cole Grossman

Edited and Updated by Morganne Gagne, Lauren Oliveri, and June Zhang



For the past two decades, football in Africa has been steadily improving. The continent has produced some of the world’s best players and its national teams have become increasingly competitive. Football has played an increasingly instrumental role in African politics, economics, and society. Despite the overall influence football has had on the continent, many football experts still doubt Africa’s ability to ever produce players, leagues, and clubs which could rival the rest of the world’s. How could football succeed, they’ve questioned, if the continent’s governments and economies cannot? In the years leading up to the 2010 World Cup, however, football in Africa has taken important steps towards becoming competitive with the rest of the world. Most of Europe’s most famous clubs employ African players, and these players are among the most highly paid in the world. In FIFA’s 2009 World Player of the Year voting, three Africans finished in the top 10.[1] In 2009, the continent also successfully hosted the Confederations Cup in South Africa, the Under 20 World Cup in Egypt, and the Under 17 World Cup in Nigeria. Furthermore, Ghana won the Under 20 World Cup, becoming the first African team to win a World Cup of any kind. Despite Africa’s lack of an actual football presence during the World Cup, South Africa benefitted from from the newfound political and soccer infrastructure post-apartheid. While South Africa reaped essentially none of the benefits economically from hosting the actual World Cup, the increased tourism aided in exposure and helped to create stadia and business that have grown and outlasted their predicted one-time use for the World Cup. The overall effect of the 2010 World Cup on Africa as a continent has yet to be determined.


World Cup 2010: A Chance to Impress the World

FIFA created a firestorm of controversy when it announced in 2001 that South Africa would host the 2010 World Cup. The country is too dangerous, many argued. Others claimed that the stadiums are too small and too poorly constructed to hold 90,000 fans.[2] Watch this commercial to see firsthand many of the criticisms the naysayers have.

Hundreds of articles were written about the perils of hosting such a colossal event in such an “underdeveloped” nation. Since then, however, South Africa has taken huge strides to prepare for the World Cup. They have built spectacular stadia, drastically improved their public transportation system. While crime is still a significant threat in urban areas, it is not nearly as prominent as it was several years ago. South Africa’s readiness for 2010 was evident when it hosted the Confederation’s Cup in 2009. The tournament was a major success and many South African’s have taken pride in proving the doubters wrong.

Next summer’s World Cup, though, demolishes a psychological barrier between the so-called developed world and the globe’s most troubled landmass. “Let us display the Rainbow Nation to the world, let us display that here in the southern tip of Africa, where mankind originates from, we can make the home of everyone,” President Zuma said in an interview with Jordaan, who told the cup-reception audience: “Today as we welcome this trophy, we announce the death of doubt.”[2]

Spain triumphed over the Netherlands to lift the FIFA 2010 World Cup Trophy. The match came down to extra-time, where Andres Iniesta scored the game-winning goal, becoming an overnight superstar. Although Spain entered the World Cup as a strong contender for the title, the team shocked the world, losing their opening group match to Switzerland. Spain’s loss was it’s second of 50 games [3]. They were able to overcome this initial bump in the road, winning their next 5 matches to earn the title of World Cup Champions. With the victory, Spain became the first team in FIFA World Cup history to win the championship after losing it’s first match and just the third to have done so while holding the the European title [9].

world cup


Unsurprisingly, European teams claimed the top three spots of the tournament, with the Netherlands and Germany capturing second and third place, respectively. The US did not garner the same success as the powerhouses of Europe, posting a rather tumultuous ride. Landon Donovan was by far the star player for the US, scoring 3 out of his 5 team’s World Cup goals. The most memorable goal was his thrilling game-winning goal against Algeria during extra-time, which propelled the team forward to the top of it’s group heading into the second round of the top 16 to face off against Ghana. Unfortunately, the US surrendered the game-winning goal of this match three minutes into extra time, making an early exit from the tournament [10]. Ghana entered the quarterfinal round as the sole African nation still standing.

Despite the near-absence of African nations after the knockout stage of play, Africa’s first World Cup was a roaring success. It refuted skepticism by becoming the third-best-attended World Cup in history. The tournament passed with very low crime rates. Though some of the fields struggled to keep up to schedule and some fans had trouble traveling between cities, the stadiums, which many feared would not be ready, were excellent in supporting the large and rowdy crowds while showcasing some of the best soccer that’s ever been played [9]. South Africa was able to firmly disprove and rise above the harsh criticisms to host one of the best soccer tournament’s the world has seen.

“Let us keep celebrating, let the vuvuzelas keep blowing and let the football festival continue at Soccer City and the fan parks. This has been a truly inspiring, moving and uplifting month. Well done, South Africa.”
— President Jacob Zuma sums up the mood in the host nation on the eve of the final.

Since the World Cup, Africa has hosted the Confederations Cup, the Under 20 World Cup, the Under 17 World Cup, and African Nations Cup (in Angola), and the World Cup all in less than a year. All of these huge tournaments have been, overall, ringing triumphs for African football. Not only have international audiences been impressed by Africa’s commitment to football, but also by Africa’s developing role in the world. The capability of Africa to host such important events reveals how far it has come in a political, societal, and footballing sense in the last two decades. The question so many football experts have asked, then, is what effect these successes will have on football on the continent in 10 or even 20 years. They certainly “will not eradicate townships, HIV-Aids, violent crime or cavernous inequality,”[2] but they hopefully they will pave the way for huge improvements in African leagues, politics, and social justice.

2010 and Beyond:  What the World Cup Meant for Africa
Decades of progress in African football will culminate with the World Cup in 2010. What happened afterward?

While Spain may have been crowned champions, the true tournament winner was FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, whose decision to award the World Cup to South Africa paid off in every sense. At the conclusion of the final match, Blatter beamed like a proud papa, with the tournament having gone off without a major hitch.  Later, Blatter announced that the World Cup was “a huge financial success for everybody, for Africa, for South Africa, and for FIFA”[11].  The world’s largest sporting competition brought in $4 billion in revenue for FIFA; it’s no wonder that Blatter was happy. But what about the rest of his statement – what happened to Africa and South Africa? Let’s just say their financial benefits were not quite the same cash cow that FIFA was able to wrangle. In preparation for the World Cup, South Africa spent a reported $3.5 billion to improve the country’s infrastructure and build new state-of-the-art stadiums. What did they get in return? $526 million ($226 million of direct support and $300 million in ticket sales) – what might be considered a small token of FIFA’s appreciation [12].


While the World Cup was not an immediate profitable venture for South Africa, they still benefited by hosting.  Many of the short-term economic games came even before the first whistle of the tournament was blown. The World Cup significantly developed the country’s infrastructure with the improvement of national roads, airports, and the public transport system. As a result, the Gautrain and a rapid bus transport system were created. World Cup preparations also benefited construction companies and created 300,000 new jobs.

More importantly, however, South Africa has seen long-term business and tourism impacts. Foreign investors have taken interest in South Africa companies – Walmart recently purchased at 51% stake in South African retailer MassMart and German printing company Rako Labels recently made a R77 million (US$11.3 million) investment in a new facility in Cape Town. South Africa has also been invited to join the BRIC group of economies, with Brazil, Russia, India, and China. While it is likely to soon to judge the impact on tourism, 96% of World Cup visitors said that they would visit South Africa again following the event. An influx of tourists would certainly help to improve local businesses. [13]

And what happened to the stadiums? They’re not sitting empty – South African concert promoter, Big Concerts, claimed that the availability of world-class stadiums has been a driving factor in bringing high profile performers such as Coldplay, U2, Kings of Leon, and The Script to South Africa. [14]

Despite the fact that the 2010 World Cup was considered “Africa’s World Cup,” the effects on the continent have been less pronounced.  Of the 350,000 visitors to South Africa, only 5% visited other countries. However, South Africa is often considered a “springboard” into the rest of the continent, so we hope that the success of the World Cup will improve the image of Africa in the eyes of the rest of the world. [15]


One area in which the future of African football is far more optimistic is in the continent’s production of youth players. The past decade has seen rise to the Youth Academy phenomenon in African football. The majority of these academies serve one purpose: to develop young African footballers capable of playing in Europe.  Some of the biggest European teams have their own academies in certain African nations, creating a direct pipeline from academy to major clubs. Although this system of African academies is relatively new, it has been highly successful. Currently, almost every great African footballer was developed in an academy. One such academy, Liberty Professionals FC was founded by Sly Tettah who, ironically enough, was educated at Liberty University in the United States. His academy has produced, among others, Ghanaian greats Asamoah Gyan and Michael Essien.[5] It seems that everyone wants to be part of this lucrative business-the business of developing and then selling young Africans. A Manchester United chief scout recently opened his own academy in Ghana. Dutch club Feyenoord, one of the biggest in the world, operates a famous academy in Fettah, Ghana through which many great players have been developed. In the next decade, there is no doubt that more academies will be built and more players will be sold.  It is a lucrative system that will definitely only become more expansive and far reaching in the future.

Feyenoords Academy in Ghana

Feyenoord’s Academy in Ghana

The greater impact of this academy system, on both African football and African life, is harder to determine. While the academy system expedites the process of moving the best young players to better training environments, it creates also drains the continent of nearly all of its great players. Furthermore, this academy system has been referred to as a kind of modern day slavery. Many agents have been accused of deserting unsuccessful players in foreign lands to fend for themselves. While many academies offer promising educational structures to their young players, many players are lost in the system. They do not make it as professionals, and they are left without any skills to help them succeed in life.  Former Cameroonian star Jean-Claude Mbvoumin explained the situation:

“A lot of African parents are completely naive. They trust anyone who is white and promises to bring their kids to Europe. Of course, none of the agents are officially accredited by FIFA, and normally the kids only know their agent’s first name or a nickname. That’s why I want to open offices in Africa to inform and support young footballers and their families,” Mbvoumin told the Financial Times.[6]
More Than A Game:
Football’s incredible impact on African politics, community, and humanitarian efforts
For decades, football has acted as a peacemaking tool, as a proponent of human welfare in Africa and all over the world. As we’ve discussed in class, African footballers, in particular, are keen to give back to their native countries. Because they are so famous, so idolized, and so much richer than most of their countrymen, African players are able to help in profound ways. Didier Drogba has been instrumental in peacemaking and humanitarian efforts in the Ivory Coast. George Weah has bankrolled the Liberian national team for many years. Michael Essien has donated millions to help poor people in Ghana. In the future, as academies develop more great African superstars, these footballers will play an increasingly prominent role in humanitarian efforts on the continent. One such player, Nigerian star Nwankwo Kanu, has already started an academy of his own. His academy doesn’t focus on producing the best players. Instead, his foundation serves sick children all over the continent. Almost a decade ago, Kanu had open heart surgery, and his foundation focuses on young children with heart problems. Recently, Kanu has stated his intention to expand his academy to function as an advisory agency for young professional players.
“The foundation, I hope, will be a big organisation covering lots of different areas and whatever help the players need then we can direct them in the right way and give them the best. A talented footballer comes over, his family depends on him and if his agent or club don’t treat him well he might not succeed and then he feels he’s let everyone down. For years, African players have been exploited. I know a lot who have suffered and the foundation is going to have a big responsibility.”[7]


Kankwo Kanus Heart Foundation has saved many lives.

Kankwo Kanu’s Heart Foundation has saved many lives.

Nearly every African nation has been war torn, impoverished, and politically unstable at some point in the last century. Recently, famous African football players have been immensely helpful in the humanitarian field. As more African players turn into international superstars, their influence on African society will continue to grow. The effect football can have on humanitarianefforts is not limited to its superstars, however. Today, hundreds of organizations exist which combine football and social causes. These organizations represent the most important aspect of the future of African football, its ability to improve so many problems within the continent. One such organization, The Football for Hope Center, teachers young Africans about AIDs while allowing them to play the game they love. Former South African superstar, Lucas Radebe, thinks that these kinds of projects can be extremely beneficial to African countries in the future.

“This is a magnificent project,” Radebe said as he signed T-shirts for the children. “Youngsters face a terrible future. Football can give them the opportunity to learn, to empower themselves.”[8]

Furthermore, football offers refugees and poor people on the continent a refuge from their difficult lives. Although it is only a game, football truly has the ability to make the world a better place.

Conclusion: Football’s increasingly influential role in the future of African nations
In Africa today, football is a way of life, resembling a religion. People are as passionate about the game in Africa as they are anywhere else in the world. Because Africa is less developed than most other continents, it is just beginning to experience football in a commercial capacity. After the World Cup, the sport has continued to grow across the continent. More and more Africa players have become world superstars. Youth academies, whether they are considered lucrative or hazardous to the health and safety of young players, will continue to sell players to Europe for huge sums of money. As football grows, so too will the influence of footballers. Many of these players will continue to give back to their African communities. They truly have the ability to change the continent. So, African Football has reached a place of reckoning. For some nations, hosting the World Cup would indicate their arrival among the elite in world football. For African football, South Africa 2010 was only the beginning. For a continent so large and so full of passion for the world’s game, the sky is the limit.

How to cite this article: Cole Grossman, “World Cup 2010 and Beyond: What’s Next for African Football?” Soccer Politics Pages, (accessed on (date)).

[1] Ronaldo adds Fifa World Player of the Year to list of accolades

[2] World Cup 2010: South Africa ready to provide continental lift

[3] Roja, Oranje provide numbers aplenty

[4] WORLD CUP ’94; Body and Soul: United States Pulls Off a Minor Miracle

[5] WORLD CUP ’94; Body and Soul: United States Pulls Off a Minor Miracle

[6] African Football Dreams, African Football Slavery

[7] Nwankwo Kanu: ‘For years African players have been exploited…’

[8]No easy glory for African footballers

[9] Highs and lows from the World Cup

[10] World Cup 2010: United States dramatic run ends in extra time as Ghana advances with 2-1 victory


[11] Sepp Blatter: 2010 World Cup a stunning financial success for FIFA & South Africa 


[12] FIFA World Cup: Everybody wants to rule


[13] The 2010 World Cup and what it meant for Africa


[14] Ibid


[15] Ibid


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