My wish and prayer are that the New Year brings happy times to all the readers of this column.
The tail end of 2017 has come with one truly terrific development for sports.
George Opong Weah, the first African to be African, European and World’s best football player over a decade ago, has won the elections for the presidency of his country, Liberia. He thus becomes the first African, and probably the second human being, to become president of a country after being an international football player for his country.
George Weah’s success in politics is a big deal. It is worth celebrating because it establishes a watershed of some sort, and possibly a turning point in the relationship between government and sports particularly in the Third World.
Before now, the prescription by international sports bodies for sports development is a fundamental divorce of government from sports, making interference (including by government) in the internal affairs of national federations an anathema.
In actual practice, however, frosty relationships have developed between national federations and their governments, to the detriment of sport and its development, because the political environment makes interventions by governments inevitable in a classic case of ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune.’
Even in the governance of countries in the Third World in particular, it is now very obvious that democracy as practiced in the West and applied in Africa has not worked successfully. The reality is that it has, instead, created and continues to breed ‘monsters’ as leaders that have become leaches on their people and country, impoverishing them and ruining the foundations of governance laid by pioneer political leaders at Independence and adopting Western prescriptions that have once again turned the people into voluntary ‘slaves’ and ‘beggars’ to the West.
That’s why from Cape Town in the Southern tip of the continent to Cairo in the north, from Dakar in the West to Mogadishu in the East, the story is the same – of a continent ravaged and vandalised, of a people brutalized and dehumanized, all through the activities inspired by a Western style democracy that breeds thieves and vagabonds in government and festers greed and corruption of unimaginable scale and dimension.
Now I believe that wholesomely adapting western prescriptions for peculiar political African ailments has been a big mistake. Democracy as practiced in the West has not worked well in Africa. Instead it has promoted and bred corruption, impunity, greed and the abuse of power.
The humbling question is: which African country has succeeded since granted Independence by their colonizing Western power to entrench good governance structures and practice, and established proper development and progress for their people?
The West, through their Centuries of advancement, may have succeeded in separating government from sports as we see in the United States of America and other places, but in the less developed cultures of Africa and Asia, we have witnessed the impossibility of separating government and sports.
The international sports bodies have had to conspire silently with counter super powers of the East (Russia, China, and a few others) by turning a blind eye to the Siamese relationship between everything (including sports) and government in those climes.
That’s why, whereas we often hear of sanctions and threats of sanctions by FIFA against national football federations in Asia and Africa, similar sanctions are hardly ever meted over national federations where the relationship between their sport and government is inseparable.
In my personal experience in the past three decades at least I have been actively involved in the attempt to separate government and politics in Nigerian football. To this day, it has not been feasible and that is not because there has not been the will to do so. It is simply because of the seeming impossibility of the complete separation.
Even at present, despite several interventions by FIFA through sanctions and threats to boot, there is a new bill before the National Assembly of Nigeria proposing to berth a legal relationship between football and government contrary to the constitution of FIFA that discourages, in strong terms, any form of interference in the internal affairs of its members by government.
With the level of poverty in the continent, the lure of the abundant resources available in sports and the low level of private sector patronage of sports and national federations (factors that would have given sport the power of independence to steer clear of government) there is no way sports and politics in Africa will not co-habit side by side in a mutually beneficial unique arrangement.
Once again, permit me to stress what I now believe is true – that Western prescription for sports administration in Africa is not working and may not work, otherwise there would be a continuous underground counter effort to work around it and subvert the fundamental principles of sports administration.
In short, in Africa, from all indications, sports and politics must have a relationship! George Weah’s entry into national politics now introduces a new perspective.
George Weah is a deserving winner of his national political elections only because of the work he has been doing for decades as a football player and thereafter.
His several interventions in the declining political crisis in his country at strategic times in the past, his funding of several social projects and activities including funding his country’s national teams plus other social issues even beyond football, such as education and the search for peace in Liberia, put him at a vintage position for political leadership.
The values that success in sports demands when extended to politics would make all those present political leaders look like ‘demons’.
There has not been a better platform than sports in the demonstration of true humanity, of being our brother’s keeper, of helping out the underprivileged, of supporting social causes, of engaging the youths, of building a healthy community of people, of educating children, and of deploying the power inherent in sports such as discipline, commitment, team work, the winning attitude, fair play, transparency, integrity, to fight injustice, racism, bigotry and corruption in the world whilst also promoting fair play, friendship, peace, national development, job creation, and the eradication of poverty and disease in the world.
That’s what propelled George Weah to the presidency of his country – true and genuine service to his country men and women, most of whom constitute the teeming supporters of sports in his country.
Whilst politicians may have failed the people in most African countries sports persons have demonstrated values that can eradicate the cancers that have eaten into politics and governance.