EDITORIAL: The ongoing tournament in Brazil for world cup 2014 will come to an end after the final game on July 13, 2014. It has been an interesting tournament so far with early and surprise knockout of some giant soccer nations like Spain (defending champions), Italy, and England on one hand, and the extended run of some teams that won world admiration such as Colombia and Costa Rica. Incidentally, no African team made it beyond the round of sixteen.
While Nigeria and Algeria managed to make it out of the group stages, they could not make it to the quarter-final stages. The other African countries - Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon could not advance one bit. In other words it was another disappointing outing for Africa. On a positive note, we did not hear of managerial or disciplinary issues in the Algerian camp. Algeria was the most disciplined of all the African teams and it showed in their play and how they fought in all their matches including the last match where they came short by just a goal. It is no coincidence.
While it is true that African countries were not the only countries that did not make it out of the group stages, the consensus is that even in defeat, such other countries displayed apparent pride, discipline, and a fighting spirit to triumph. At least that is the impression they left for the world to see. The same cannot be said of most of the African teams. What the world observed was that while these African countries have good stock of talented players that could have taken them far into the competition, there were several issues of distraction going on during the tournament such that it was hard to expect the best from the players and their managers. Like a plot taken from the same page, both the Ghanaian and Nigerian players threatened to boycott play during the tournament if they are not paid their appearance fees within hours even though FIFA has yet to issue any payments to participating countries. On each occasion, the leadership of both countries rushed to make the payment (little too late) yet both teams lost their next games anyway.
Some of us who enjoy criticizing the government will likely blame this all on the government. The truth is that both the players and the leadership contributed to the situation. Neither party is exonerated since two wrongs do not make a right. While the Nigerian leadership should have established the practice and created the confidence that the players will be paid, the players would have found another way of making their case instead of distracting themselves during the tournament. Rather, both the players and leadership of Ghana and Nigeria allowed the issue of appearance fees to take center stage and become a distraction while disciplinary issues marred the appearances of Cameroon and Ivory Coast. Though baffling, it is pertinent to point out here that even though history shows that when African teams win (example; when Nigeria won the African nations cup in 1980, 1994, and 2013), the players get rewarded generously to the tune of landed properties, lump sum cash, and/or cars in some cases, yet the crop of players at Brazil 2014 insisted on being paid specified fees before they would even play. What are the lessons here? Are we all willing to learn the lessons and make amends so as to avoid a repetition of such disgrace.
It is hard to say exactly what transpired between the members of the Nigerian team before the game against France. However from observing the entire team while Nigeria trailed France 0-2, one noticed that the zeal to fight on and win the game seemed lacking. The weariness from the battle for the appearance fees did get to the team's psyche, and may have been deeper than the public was let to know. These could all have been avoided. Can you imagine a USA player, or a German player, or even a player from such other countries like Mexico, Colombia, Iran, Costa Rica, Ecuador, etc giving his country an ultimatum of "pay me or I will not play." The likely consequence of the threat defeated the fairness of the demand since no nation would want such scandalous boycott witnessed by the world. Even a legitimate demand that is presented in a cut-throat manner only gives the appearance of a ransom devoid of any iota of patriotism. The case of Cameroon was so bad that the players physically showed their disagreement on the pitch forgetting that the world was watching. What a decline from the days of Roger Milla, Cameroon's best player who was humble enough to always come in as a substitute at then world cup games and yet deliver the goals needed to win. What a decline from the days of George Oppong Weah of Liberia who won FIFA player of the year in 1995 and was regarded as one of the greatest African players of all time.
What happened to the days of Abedi Pele Ayew of Ghana, Sam Okwaraji and Rashidi Yekini of Nigeria, and so on. These players always kept their focus on giving their best so their countries could win. Who would forget Yekini's goal celebration at USA 94 or the death of Okwaraji on the pitch when he insisted on playing under the heat and hot sun of the national Stadium in Surulere even though he was only used to playing under European weather for years before then. These players gave it their all. George Weah, Abedi Pele, and Okwaraji were known to pay their ticket fees when invited home to play for their countries. In some cases they paid the bills for the their teams and team-mates, while asking for nothing in return. Some of these players like George Weah, Abedi Pele, and Sam Okwaraji never had the opportunity of representing their countries at the world cup level but they would have given anything to have that chance. They were proud of their countries and they showed it at any chance they had.
Whether we choose to blame the players or the leadership, one thing is clear. What transpired at the world cup with these African countries reflected the microcosm of the macrocosm. A glimpse off the larger picture. It is all a reflection of the kind of countries and environment we have created for ourselves. No national team that is divided in its objectives, distracted in its focus, or partially motivated in its zeal will ever win a world tournament like the world cup. It would be unfair to others who put their lives on the line to win for their country men and women. Winning at the global level takes planning, discipline, focus, determination and the will to execute. The one thing that can tie these factors together is the love for one's country and fellow countrymen. It is such love that brings about a sense of pride in one's country. If one would not die for his country, he would not risk injury to win for his country. If one has no regard for his fellow countrymen, he will not care about giving them the joy of victory or gallant games.
In the end the responsibility is on us all. The populace must choose and encourage leaders who will have the interest of the countries at heart and not the size of their coffers. Leaders must lead by example so the populace (including players) will find the encouragement to thrive and fight on with pride. A practice of promptly paying workers (not just players) in all areas of state and national employment must be established such that workers will have the peace of mind and assurance to do their jobs with the confidence that they will get their remuneration when the time is due. When we have done this homework of putting our polity and socio-economic structure in orderly place we will see compatriots rise to the occasion as proud heroes of proud nations of a proud continent in all areas of life including and not limited to sports.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oliver Oscar Mbamara is an attorney, a published writer, poet, and award winning actor and filmmaker. For more on Oliver Oscar Mbamara, please visit www.OliverMbamara.com