Safi R. Ndama
For so long, sports always acted as a shield, a getaway, hideout, a social gatherer, a uniting factor for people of all walks of life, age groups, races, social classes, gender and welfare. Sports was that activity that enabled people forget their problems, their inadequacies, their lower class disparities and even the upper class challenges sports was a renaissance of sorts, for billions all over the world.
Even more so, stood out one sport above all others, one that donned popularity loud and clear, one that turned girls away from the late night bars and into the stadiums wearing the jerseys and offering flying kisses at the camera men. This sport turned once ordinary men into idols and willed men into role models; it turned teenagers into multi-millionaires before their 20th birthdays, and family members into agents. This sport, like in some cultures, catapulted entire villages, townships and cities onto the global stage Cape Town to Reykjavik and Pyongyang to Buenos Aires, turning every town from which it passed into a million dollar economy.
This sport is football or soccer as our friends in the great US of A call it. By far and large the most powerful sporting commodity, football across Africa turned living rooms into mini-bars, nightclubs into football zones and kiosks into betting centers. And right there, right in that moment of excitement, bliss, power, money and embrace, lay the entire downfall of economies, of households, of man and woman, of children and neighbors. It is right in that perilous experimentation of excitement that the world’s social drug took on its negative taunt, with great pleasure and excitement. Commanding a nearly 3 billion strong following all over the world, football is a little religion on its own too.
Once upon a time, football brought a country to its knees either in hope of a penalty kick being scored, or when a player, like the famous African footballer, Didier Drogba, got on his knees in-front of television and begged is country mates to stop fighting. That was in Ivory Coast, and boy did they listen. But again, that seemed like the last time football had any real impact on social strata, well-being, welfare, community and harmony in society.
The relationships football once harnessed in Africa- far away from the stadia in Europe and Americas have now turned into sour competitions, neighbor against another, brother against brother – with people gambling their livelihoods at the belief of a few extra shillings on their placement could get them a “night out with the boys”.
It’s not the night outs that are the problem, it’s what the lead to, what they support and what has become of many of the individuals that have partaken and continue to partake in them. These “night-outs” have turned into outright opportunities to squander family resources, come home heavily intoxicated, batter your wife and children and go to bed in sorrow, waiting to spend your next daily allowance on the next bet and not on the next meal for your family. Worse, is that this cycle cuts across thousands and millions of households across Africa and the world. If it’s not battery and insult at home, then perhaps it’s just “spend the family money on a bet”, and leaves the family with a one meal for two days challenge, a challenge that the intoxicated will gladly drink away later that evening and re-awaken with the challenge at dusk.
Once there was a time people would lay down their lives for their team, and now, their team-the one that offered hope and courage in hopeless and distraught times is long gone in their memory, and is now only as good as the bet they make. How forgetful we have become, or is it us? Maybe the problem is sports, maybe the problem is football.
Let’s live on. With earnest senses and fervent reality, time will tell.