Pressing Issues: A 48-team World Cup is no cause for unbridled jubilation in Africa

2017-01-15 06:09
S'Busiso Mseleku.

Johannesburg -In a story concerning an ancient bestiary, about a community of mice being terrorised by a marauding feline, and who then come up with a solution, there is also reference to the character of a sullen “senior citizen” among the mischief who was sceptical about the solution.

The fable Who Will Bell The Cat? tells us how our coterie of friends had approached their dilemma.

First, a young mouse of the fairer sex came up with a “brilliant idea”.

She suggested that a bell be hung around the neck of the cat so that the community of mice could hear it coming before it pounces.

The solution led to an outburst of unbridled celebration and festivities. While the gaiety continued unabated, an old grey mouse was seen just sitting in a corner, not participating in the jollity.

On being questioned about the source of his phlegmatic take on things, the old mouse responded: “I see you are all in a jovial mood but I ask myself the question, ‘who will bell the cat?’”

This brought an end to the partying and sobriety set in. You see, it is not only a question of coming up with a solution, but of finding a way to implement that solution.

Failed in bid

I thought back on this apologue, as it struck me how excited people were following Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s announcement that his organisation’s suits in Zurich had unanimously agreed to grow the World Cup from 36 to 48 participants in 2026.

This abundant joy was particularly noticeable on the African continent. But yours truly did not participate.

For starters, I wondered how much influence Africa had on that decision.

Remember, the continent under the leadership and representation of Confederation of African Football (CAF) failed in their bid to have Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-khalifa of Bahrain ascend to the throne as Fifa president during the February 26 elections last year.

The sheik got 88 votes to Infantino’s 115. Increasing the number of participants at the World Cup finals is indeed part of Infantino’s manifesto.

The CAF’s snubbing of the Swiss-Italian in his election could mean that either they did not agree with his approach, or there could be other factors at play. There was a lot of speculation on what had led to the CAF’s decision not to support Infantino and to rather go with the sheik.

However, the election results proved once more that despite Africa being the biggest block in Fifa in numbers, this did not translate to being powerful or united.

Now, the new dispensation, that has been hailed as one of the most positive decisions ever by Fifa, is set to increase Africa’s slots from the present five to nine.

But this does not guarantee that Africa will all of sudden become a football powerhouse, or win the World Cup.

The continent still has to break the glass ceiling, set by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010, of reaching the quarterfinals at the global event.

I’m afraid, even in a ballooned 48-team World Cup, Africa will still go to merely make up the numbers.

I don’t see most African teams making it past the envisaged first stage of 48 teams, which will form the 16 groups of three teams each – and the 16 teams that finish at the bottom going home.

Square one

The next round, which some have called the “World Cup proper”, will now be made up of 32 teams that would have finished first and second in their groups

I still foresee no more than five African teams making it into the round of 36, which means we are still at square one.

Does this new development call for celebration?

Methinks not.

I would only celebrate once Africa proves that they have the quality not only to participate in the World Cup but win the damn contest.

And that can only be done on the field, and not in the boardroom.

While the current status quoprevails, I will reserve my celebrations for better things.

In the meantime, you, my dear reader, will have to bear with my melancholy.

Follow me on Twitter @Sbu_mseleku 

Read more on:    fifa  |  caf  |  fifa world cup  |  gianni infantino  |  africa  |  soccer


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