Buti Manamela | Football is a global sport, not one limited to Western nations

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Cameroon supporters cheer ahead of a World Cup Group G football match against Brazil at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Dec. 2, 2022. Photo: Kyodo News via Getty Images
Cameroon supporters cheer ahead of a World Cup Group G football match against Brazil at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Dec. 2, 2022. Photo: Kyodo News via Getty Images


The reasons there is so much noise about whether the World Cup should have been in Qatar are not only cans of beer, but also the fact that these “barbarians” do not look anything like the “rightful” owners of the beautiful game – the Europeans.

And, let’s face it, South Africa hosted the World Cup solely because we have so many people from that continent residing here. Half the country looks like a misplaced European metropole.

Look inside the field of play. Most of the players in Qatar are either European by birth or are plying their trade in Europe. In fact, I bet my last cent that, even if China had qualified for this World Cup, at least one member of their ensemble (or coach) would have hailed from Europe.

The European dominance can be narrowed down to four European leagues: English, Spanish, German and French.

Granted, the Ballon d’Or is not a strictly European affair, but the Fifa player of the year awards are dominated by that continent.

The entire world participates in voting for what is essentially a European soccer affair. Europe has monopolised the sport through money and has therefore claimed a kingly place in a sport that is probably played in every village where one can find at least 22 people.

This is not merely about who ultimately wins on December 19, it is also about depriving the rest of the world of the opportunity to develop so we can all compete on an equal footing.

One may scoff at this, seeing that football is a game in which all the factors are assumed to be exposed to all the opponents, meaning there cannot be inequality.

READ: SA sports stars pick their sides at Qatar World Cup

However, Europe has amassed the beautiful game’s finance capital, infrastructure, media and culture. And Europe retains that monopoly.

It even owns the manufacturing of the ball itself. Adidas and Puma, owned by the Germans, have almost exclusive monopoly on soccer apparel, even though their boots make it impossible to play the game better in the streets of Galeshewe.

On social media, the most followed personality is sensational Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo. This means that billions have been raised for the football cartel through the imposition of his prominence.

The European way of playing the game is regarded as modern football – and they beat us at it because we are trying to play it their way, not our own way.

They export their coaches to even the smallest teams and countries to drill their players so that they can be successful and play in their leagues, assuming that all others are just farmers’ leagues.

I have heard many of my friends proclaiming that they no longer care about the Soweto derby because it is boring. They would rather watch a London duel.

European football culture has taken over, just as US music culture has – and both cultures believe that they will always be better than local wannabes.

To be good, we have to mimic them. They are football and we are mere spectators who are invited now and then to taste a European spectacle.

The whole world considers a player to be most successful if they have conquered European football. Think of Diego Maradona, Pelé, Eusébio, Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldhino, George Weah and many others.

Everyone around the globe knows about Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. When I was in Ethiopia, I bumped into a kid wearing a knockoff Chelsea jersey – and he did not even understand why I was excited that he and I shared a passion for football, even though we had only just met.

Those teams and their leagues are worth more than Africa’s entire combined GDP. You get the point. Some teams could buy themselves two countries on two continents instead of Neymar or Kylian Mbappé.

Yet there are football teams in my village of Modimolle who cannot even afford a ball to play with – let alone proper gear and a decent field – and have to rely on Sunday school collections to buy one.

READ: Booze ban is no problem for most fans at Qatar World Cup

Seeing the Fifa documentary on Netflix, one could argue that the Americas and Africa are the victims of their own actions.

The North Americans were accused of taking bribes worth $40 000 (R697 000), while the three Africans took $1.5 million each for one or another incident that involved Qatar, and the French negotiated a much bigger bribe that included the buying of airbuses by the Qataris in exchange for hosting this World Cup.

It is the world’s money that is continuing to build the European football cartel. It could be money from Rwanda sponsoring the Arsenal jersey, or the Emirates’ and the Qataris’ petrodollars buying Europe’s best teams.

Even the Americans are in it, with Apple apparently interested in buying Manchester United.

Perhaps it is time the rest of the world reconsidered its position as a mere appendage to the European monopoly of football.

They need us more than we need them. We should find a way of halting the monster and make it a game for everyone, in the true sense of the word.

Maybe then we will see kids from Mpande playing the game not only as a recreational passion, but as a way of making a lasting impression on the world with their take on the beautiful game.

Manamela is deputy minister of higher education. He writes in his personal capacity

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