African Nations Championship: We have no qualms with attempts to popularise football by taking it to places where it is not traditionally popular but is there any point to the CHAN?
We have no problem with the likes of Qatar, China and others of their ilk paying over-the-hill players from Europe’s top leagues obscene wages to play in their leagues in a bid to raise the profile of the game in those countries.
But we do have to ask whether there is any point to a tournament like the African Nations Championship (CHAN) currently taking place in South Africa, on a continent with arguably the most passionate football disciples.
The CHAN offering is like a dreary sermon to the converted. Is it any wonder then that most of the matches are being played in empty stadiums? But for South Africa’s significant African immigrants going to the stadiums to cheer their national teams the stadiums would be completely empty.
You know it’s a low-level tournament when organisers make desperate appeals to the ‘immigrant communities’ to go and support their teams. The tournament has been erroneously billed as the stage on which the crème de la crème of players earning their keep on the African continent can showcase their talent.
That myth is being perpetuated by some ill-informed TV pundits. There is significant cross-border player movement on the continent.
The likes of South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, etc, have sizeable contingents of foreign players from the continent playing in their domestic leagues.
These are the top players from across Africa for whom securing a move to the continent’s lucrative leagues represents the achievement of a career dream.
Because only players earning their keep in their countries’ domestic leagues are eligible, CHAN is shorn of top African players who play their club football elsewhere on the continent.
In terms of entertainment value and counter attractions, just to give an example, in the week the tournament kicked off I had a choice between watching a group stage match between Mali and Nigeria at the stadium and staying at home, with a cold one in hand, and take in a top-of-the-table La Liga blockbuster between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. No prizes for guessing which match I plumped for.
Do African football chiefs have monopoly on this organisational absurdity? Think again. I love football and applaud the constant efforts to reinvent the game. But I cringed at recent reports claiming that, in their infinite wisdom, the custodians of the game in England, Russia, Holland and Italy were mulling over the possibility of launching a new competition for second tier clubs.
Yes, think Barnsley versus Ternana, Emmen v Salyut Belgorod! That such an idea should even be mooted, let alone given serious consideration, demonstrates how economic interest, some might even say greed, continues to pose a serious threat to the soul of the beautiful game. Is there really scope for another European club competition?
You wouldn’t think so after the furore over the value of the Europa League and the drawn out formats of the current European club competitions. With the proliferation of all these obscure tournaments we run the risk of suffering from football fatigue.
But why would anyone want to add more meaningless tournaments to a football calendar that is already severely congested? One word: money.
There appears to be an unrelenting determination to squeeze the football lemon until the pips squeak.