Why Africans view European football more than African football


IF one is to ask any average African football fan/follower, it is not a remote reality that they will state what their favourite European football club is. More often than not, when Africans list their favourite football clubs that they support, they [most likely] mention European teams first, then African ones.

Why European football is viewed more than African football
AP Photo/Jon Super

Even if one is to measure average stadium attendances across the continent, the numbers are mostly depressing. Yet bars and night clubs are filled to the brim as people religiously and fanatically follow the English Premier League.

Well, the thing is European football is truly and greatly entertaining. Granted. No one would want to miss a match. Such is their impeccable quality in Europe..

The elite football leagues in Europe command astronomical views globally, but of significance here is the extent to which Africans follow European football tournaments more than they support their own at home.

This is not to say it is inherently warped to watch European football — one is free to watch whatever they desire. As I have said, there is not any reasonable hindrance precluding me from watching a good Premier League match between Manchester City; or an exhilarating Champions League final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The problem comes in supporting others fanatically to the detriment of home grown talent in one’s backyard.

It is of course a truism that football leagues in England, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Portugal boast of millions of fans from the continent of Africa. To no one's fault, this is partly attributable to the fact that there are several exceptionally talented African footballers plying their trade in the overly competitive European leagues. Of quick reference include the likes of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, Pierre Emerick Aubemayang, Marshall Munetsi, Kalidou Koulibaly, et al.

So, it normally follows that we would desire to see the progress of our own in far-away lands. The superior flex that African players make in Europe is a bold statement of intent in itself. It helps smash conventional tired tropes that Africans are inferior to Europeans – particularly in the fields of arts and sports.

The likes of Peter Ndlovu, Bruce Grobelaar, Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Kolo & Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor, Steven Pienaar, et al., proved that Africans are exceptional in any aspect of existence like every other human being.

But, is this the only reason why European football is viewed more than African football by Africans? Relying on this position solely as the reason for the viewership [and monetary] inequality as concerns this phenomenon is a superficial analysis.

One would not be wrong in asserting that such global north-south inequalities exist primarily because of colonial histories as well as the attendant inferiority complexes that imperial domination came with. 

It also boils down to the failure of post-colonial African political economies in their vainglorious and self-aggrandizing pursuit of neoliberal policies – this, of course, in the wake of debilitating structural adjustment programs that were undemocratically imposed on global south peoples for the enrichment of the global north and preservation of the [unequal, exploitative, and oppressive] global status quo.

It is thus impossible to dissect why European football is viewed more than African football without delving into these hegemonic and deeply structural factors. It is not that African football is inferior in any way. Because if that is the case [that African football is devoid of quality and exceptional talent] then what explains the enviable success of African footballers when they cross oceans to play in Europe?

It is thus an axiomatic that the low perceptions of African football by Africans themselves is inextricable from socio-political and economic reasons. Global inequalities and the ineptitude of African leaders and administrators mean that there is perennially low investments and betterment being channelled towards improving the status of African football.

Poor, derelict infrastructure remains the bane of the African football. Add to that the abysmal state of talent development creates a regrettably sad situation. Because of such investment paucity, European football leagues are always an alluring material reality for African footballers. One goes to a place where they know they will reach their full potential—playing in the most competitive and lucrative leagues to the best of their abilities.

Such a reality is reflective of the pervasive ‘northern gaze’ that Africans seem perpetually fixated on, that permeates all aspects of existence: that the global north is the proverbial “promised land” and that for everything to be legitimized in the “civilized” and “enlightened” eyes of the West it must be approved by the West of course.

Football development on the continent inescapably gets entwined in this matrix: the same way a frustrated unemployed youth leaves the continent for the global north countries for better opportunities and better remuneration is the same reason African footballers leave.

This brain/talent drain engenders the unequal power dynamics in the global order of capitalism — the more our best talents leave, the more we suffer and the more we continuously look down at our own initiatives because they do not have the approval of the rich countries. Our best talent must be approved by the rich leagues for us to realize how truly exceptional they are. European football thus appears as an outlet of validation for Africans.

This commentary on the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) site aptly captures this reality

African identity is diminished in the interest of identification with wealthy countries that can afford to lure African players. Just as the ongoing loss of intellectual and technical capacity is labeled brain drain, African People also face a talent drain. African countries have long standing experience of their natural resources ending up serving capitalism. In sports it is no different.

These political reasons also bring to the fore this ineluctable observation — the global mega sports industry is an insidious way to distract Africans from focusing (thus organizing and mobilizing) on the pressing crises the world is facing today.

By presenting lucrative European football leagues as some form of sacrosanct entertainment portending a false sense of belonging, Africans are lulled into ignoring critical problems we are facing: wars and conflict, hunger, endless poverty, debilitating inequality, the rise of right-wing nationalism, climate change, and white supremacist imperialist patriarchal domination.

Billions of people worldwide are fed a constant dose of sports entertainment to take their minds off from their oppression and exploitation. When people “celebrate” the victory of “their team” they pay zero regard to endemic and ubiquitous economic terrorism, environmental degradation, worker exploitation, and political ineptitude. For Africans, the rich European football leagues create fantasies for them; making them feel as if they too are part of that fantasy; that when “their team wins”, they too have won.

The commentary on the A-APRP site adds: 

Corporate controlled sports create illusory fantasies for the poor and lulls us into believing that we are somehow part of that fantasy–that we somehow win when ‘our team’ wins; that we somehow benefit from the defeat of the rival team. Oppressed viewers identify with their favorite players, often regarding them as heroes. These sports events purposely create an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere, that bolsters national patriotism, while enriching the ruling elite.

The minds of the poor are thus assuaged by European sports entertainment. Africans forget that these leagues, more than anything, have largely metamorphosed into mega profits for the corporate elite few. 

Although football has historically and culturally served as a symbol of unity and counter-hegemonic narratives, it has now turned into a mechanism for soft power—enriching the ruling elite, perpetuating global capitalist domination, and a purveyor of cultural imperialism.

It is this form of cultural imperialism that makes Africans look down on their own football leagues, much to the detriment of the continent’s overall progress and development. The relationship between African football and European football reifies the dominance of the latter over the former.

What we need is critical consciousness and political awareness to realize our global placement as Africans in the globalized hegemonic order of capitalist domination. Such critical awareness is ineluctable in developing our fields of sports, entertainment, and culture for the better.

Although many people look favourably at European football leagues without noting how this is inextricable from the politics of the day, the truth of the matter is that our inferiority complex that makes us view our sports with contempt, disdain, and scorn is extremely political in nature. 

Such inferiority complex—a result of colonial and neocolonial domination—hinders the holistic political and socio-economic liberation of Africa.

Africans must rise above the subjugation imposed on them by white supremacist, imperialist, patriarchal capitalism and assert their place in the world independently. 

By addressing our own internal contradictions, we get to come up with our own organic solutions and ideas aimed towards bettering our sports culture and brilliance.

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