AFCON 2013 leads to debate on African footballers and European experiences27 January 2013

As 29th edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicked off earlier this month in South Africa, football on the mother continent has been receiving recognition and media attention for its players talents, its heritage and organisational achievements. The AFCON has also provided an opportunity to highlight social issues in relation to the interaction of African football and Europe.

“Michael Essien – I want to play as you”
Next week a new play will launch in the City of Antwerp that raises awareness of the exploitation of aspiring African players hoping to find a better life in Europe.

“Michael Essien, I want to play as you” is performed by Nigerian and Cameroonian footballers with the play’s author, Ahilan Ratnamohan, setting out to describe a situation he and many others refer to as the “football slave-trade”.

Another art piece exploring the same theme is the award winning Soka Afrika which documents the lives of two young African men, Kermit from South Africa and Ndomo from Cameroon, and the paths they follow in pursuit of their dream of success in professional football on the world stage.

Celebrating history
Travelling through time and shedding light on the evolving history of the presence of African players in the UK since the 20th century, the Centre Spot initiative charts the lives of players starting with Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer leading through to today’s stars, such as Didier Drogba and Victor Wanyama.

“The Out of Africa Campaign” is composed of a documentary, a national touring exhibition, a school resource pack and a website with the .goal of raising the aspirations of young people of African heritage by pointing out the sport’s potential in tackling racism and breaking down social barriers.

“My Cup of Nations”
On a different level the BBC has developed a series of profiles of African players from the 16 teams participating in AFCON. Entitled “My Cup of Nations”, the podcast series has, so far, highlighted the views on playing in the competition and experiences as a professional footballer of eight players alongside other local stories.

Mali’s Samba Sow profile approaches subjects such as football heroes, players as role models, supporters and playing in Africa. According to the 23 year-old footballer, currently playing at RC Lens, France, “for us Africans to be able to play in the Cup of Nations gives you a huge amount of pride because you have the chance to return home. In our countries, fans do not get the change of seeing us playing because we are with clubs in Europe, so they are happy to see us”.

A reality that slightly changes in other African countries where the development of football has not achieved the same level yet. Angola’s professional player Manucho explains “when you look at Angolan footballers they are really very humble, both on the pitch and also off it. We hardly have any players playing in leagues outside Angola, there are very few that do this, so we do not have any star names”.

The competition that is the main international football event in Africa is being held in South Africa, from 19th January until 10th February, and its winner will represent Africa in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.