PtG Article 30.06.2010

Political landscapes of African football

The French journal Politique Africaine, has dedicated their latest issue to the World Cup in South Africa, featuring articles looking into political issues before, during and after the world’s largest football event has hit Africa.

The articles are not solely about South Africa but also deal with football related issues in other African countries.

In their introduction to this latest issue, Politique Africane writes:“As a global event, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is celebrated as an alternative to Afro-pessimism, bringing the continent straight into a modern globalized media sphere. In Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth, however, one wonders about the impact of this event which is the pride of the country but also reproduces its deep inequalities."

This newest edition entitled The political landscapes of football (Les terrains politiques du football) takes its outset in the new sporting Afro-optimism and its financial counterpoints and addresses the complex relationship between football and politics on the African continent as indicators of on-going changes in contemporary African societies and their relationship to rest of the world.

"By examining both the political economy of professional clubs, international migration of African players, the daily practices of amateur sport in South Africa, Cameroon, Uganda and Côte d'Ivoire, this volume sketches new hypotheses on the politics of football, which allows the readers to rethink the relationship between local practices, national and transnational people in this game worldwide,” the introduction ends.

Read the full introduction (in French): La politique du football en Afrique: mobilisations et trajectoires

Politique Africaine's edition on African football and politics is coordinated by Susann Baller and Martha Saavedra, and includes contributions from Gary Baines, Gary Armstrong and James Rosbrook-Thompson, Eliane de Latour, Abdramane Kamaté and Richard Banégas Desire Manirakiza, Michael G. Schatzberg.

The articles in the journal are in French, but an English (non-edited) version of some of the articles will be available in Play the Game’s Knowledge Bank.

Abstracts from Politique Africaine: The political landscapes of football

Politique africaine, number 118, June 2010, 240 pages.Dossier : Les terrains politiques du football


Port Elizabeth was the first South African city to complete construction of a brand new venue to host 2010 Fifa World Cup matches. The metropolitan authority backed by the private sector hopes this spectacular event will change the city’s Cinderella status and transform it into a “winning city”. However, meeting Fifa’s requirements has many pitfalls. The escalating cost of the stadium has contributed to the metropole’s budget shortfall thereby hindering its own service delivery obligations. Long-term developmental goals will be sacrificed for the sake of enhancing the city’s image. Consequently, the legacy of the World Cup will be economically uneven and politically fractious.(Read an English version of this article in Play the Game’s Knowledge Bank)


The soccer franchise deal between Ajax Amsterdam (AA) and Ajax Cape Town (ACT) raises important questions about labour value and extraction, youth migration, exchange and development. This paper draws on data collected during visits to the ACT Academy, analysed with respect to notions of dependency and neo-colonialism. The paper thus locates the ACT franchise within a landscape which addresses the nature of the arrangement in terms of youth soccer migration, and explores its implications for the development of soccer in Africa.


Soccer players’ movements in an international area located between Africa and Asia have been scarcely explored. Some Asian countries, poorly ranked within the Fifa (Fédération internationale de football association), have developed a policy of purchasing foreign players in order to raise their national level to be in a better position for large international events. Some African countries, as well as Brazil, are amongst the most important suppliers. Asia offers to some players an alternative to the West, often inaccessible (except for top-level players). The analysis of these new South/South routes is a way to take a critical look at the most media covered sport of our times and to move away from a perception of the North as the scale of measurement for anything global and of Africa as a perpetually enslaved continent.


In 2009, the European Champions League semi-final created some political tensions between supporters of Didier Drogba (Chelsea) and Yaya Touré (FC Barcelone) in 35 Abidjan. This football match reactivated the identity divide between Southerners and Northerners. Starting from this event, the article suggests that soccer has become a space of confrontation between two conceptions of nation and citizenship. It tries to demonstrate that football is also an important political tool to enforce peace and restore the country’s image both at the domestic and international levels. The analysis of football politics gives thus some insights of the complex process of political reconciliation after Ouagadougou agreements.


Amateur soccer, in Cameroon, takes the form of holiday tournaments and « two-zero » championships. Different by their location, their frequency, their rules, these practices inform on the political and social uses of this extremely popular sport. These venues are places to promote personal and partisan political leaders, as well as a way for the elites to keep control on youth. Youth are not manipulated however : it is a way for them to learn the rules of political exchange and to build their own social achievement.


Centered on a case study of the political fall of Denis Obua, a long-serving president of the Ugandan Football Association, Fufa, this article explores the complicated and murky relationship between the state, ostensibly non-political societal organizations such as Fufa, and international institutions through an examination of the microcosm of football. It argues that Fufa belongs to a larger class of liminal organizations that fit comfortably under neither of the two of the broad rubrics of contemporary political analysis — state and civil society. Employing an older term, I argue that Fufa is a polity. Neither fully of the state nor of civil society, Fufa (and other polities such as chieftaincies, kingdoms, corporations, or religious organizations) exists in a liminal position that further blurs the analytical frontier between state and civil society. Such polities may be contributing to a different sort of political pluralism in the politics of daily life.(Read an English version of this paper in the Play the Game Knowledge Bank)


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