Africa has been gripped by football fever the past month, with the Africa Cup of Nations 2012 matches starting on January 21st. Having made it through the qualifying stages, sixteen teams from across the continent battled through the contest which culminated in the final on Sunday, 12th February.
While many recognise the obvious benefits of unity, community and national pride in such sporting events, the wider ramifications that sport can have are, at times, also visible. This year’s Africa Cup of Nations was one of the most politically-charged sports events to take place with Libya and Tunisia both qualifying despite their major political backdrops. Players of the Libyan and Tunisian national teams had fought on the front line in their respective campaigns. Conversely, the traditional footballing nations such as reigning champions Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa failed to qualify. Notably, players from overall third-placed Mali used their platform to voice a plea for the Insurgency in the Azawad to end.
This issue is perhaps particularly relevant for this year’s co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Gabon especially has used the event to boost its global profile, bolster tourism and to make important improvements to the country, albeit with many difficulties along the way. See BBC's news video on this topic.
The important role that sport plays in shaping society is becoming increasingly recognised, and more and more organisations are attempting to harness its capacity for good. In the UK, for example, the various incidents of racism in football and the strong punishment imposed upon footballers involved demonstrates the important role these players and their clubs have in influencing attitudes. Similarly, tackling homophobia in sport is the focus of this year’s LGBT History month, with the Premier League recently pledging its support.
A number of our community linking organisations have also recognised the value of sport in helping them to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It can relate to a number of development issues, from crossing boundaries of disability, gender or cultural divides, to providing an avenue for which to disseminate information about health and education. A few examples include:
You can find various documents exploring Sport and Development here.
With respect to the Africa Cup of Nations: in the final, the unlikely Zambia defeated third-time finalists Côte d'Ivoire after a dramatic penalty shootout, giving Zambia their first continental title. The final score was 0-0 (8-7 penalties). The Zambian team dedicated their win to the members of the national team who died near the final's venue in Libreville during the 1993 Zambia national football team air disaster. Monday was declared an official holiday by the government of Ivory Coast, despite losing the final, whilst the Zambian team (known as the Chipolopolo) returned to a heroes’ welcome in the capital, Lusaka.