|A Niger fan. Sadly, the wearing of gazelle horns|
had no correlation to footballing performance
With more Premier League spectators than anywhere else in the world, the face of the world’s football fan is no longer white, beer-soaked and Mancunian – it’s young, african and it’s crammed around a tiny TV using using spare cutlery to improve the signal.
It’s also that time every two years where the world’s commentators get to brush off their best/worst racial euphemisms to describe the continent’s ‘athletic’, ‘enthusiastic’ but apparenly ‘tactically naive’ players (of course the same is also done with 'efficient' German and 'indulgent' French teams). A perfect place for Ron Atkinson’s return surely.
My own experience so far has been mixed. Senegal’s humiliation was a triumph of arrogance over talent, but watching Mali qualify first in the back streets of Bamako then on an enormous screen by the River Niger with hundreds of fans was exactly what this sport is supposed to be about – passion and utterly unwarranted optimism.
My other preoccupation has been to try and find a correlation between a political phenomenon and footballing performance, for no other reason to find something to write about on this blog. It’s a proud tradition that includes using economic indicators to predict the last World Cup, which of course turned out to be less accurate than asking a psychic Octopus.
Not recording them below would be to admit I wasted an entire afternoon looking at tables of economic indicators for nothing, using a methodology no more scientific than pointing a camera at sealife, so here you go…
Theory 1 : Oil. While petrodollars certainly don’t harm one’s chances of hosting a major international football tournament these days, its impact on success in that tournament is less clear. The unexpectedly strong performance of the ‘oil giant/football minnows’ of Libya (4 points), Equitorial Guinea (6 points and) and Gabon (9 points) gave this theory hope, but the respective poor performance and non-qualification of Angola and Nigeria makes a nonsense of it. Chocolate and copper exportation, however, seems to be the golden ticket, with Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Zambia dominating proceedings to date. Verdict = unproven.
Theory 2 : Stable democracy. Perhaps only three of the eight qualifying countries (Ghana, Zambia and Mali) could be classed as stable democracies, and Mali’s Tuareg rebellion putting this latter categorisation in doubt. The others include two petro-states with a window-dressing democracy (Equitorial Guinea and Gabon), a state split into two after decades of civil war (Sudan), the revolutionary home of the Arab Spring (Tunisia) and finally one whose President had to be dragged away at gunpoint after refusing to admit he lost the election (Cote d’Ivoire). Get rid of the criteria ‘stable’, however, and you could say five out of eight, which isn’t bad… Verdict = false.
Theory 3: Economic Growth. The average 2010 (ie. pre Arab Spring) GDP growth rate for all 16 competitors in the tournament was 4.36%, a lot better one imagines than the average growth rate of this summer’s Euro 2012. But which group of countries performed best? At 5.12% the four countries topping their groups recorded rates above the average, but the highest performers by far were those that came bottom, recording an enviable rate of 6.53% thanks in part to rates of growth Niger and Botswana almost in complete contrast to their footballing abilities. But the difference between teams that qualified and those that didn’t – a perhaps statistically insignificant 4.11% vs 4.63%. Verdict = unproven.
Theory 4 : A revolutionary spirit. Arms or popular revolt have caused a change of government or secession in five of the tournament’s countries over the last few years (Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Sudan, Libya and Niger). The first three all qualified from the groups, while Libya far outshone expectations and Niger amazed everyone just by turning up. Much more fancied teams like Senegal and Morocco – both flirting with revolutionary impulses but ultimately hanging back – were the tournaments big dissapointments. The lesson seems to be – if you are going to revolt, do it properly. Football doesn’t like a bottler. Verdict = possible (if you ignore the glaring failure of revolutionary Egypt, winners of the last 3 tournaments, to qualify)
Theory 5 : A lack of social conscience. 27 footballers from four countries (Senegal, Mali, Bukina Faso, Niger) in West Africa joined an Oxfam campaign to sound the alarm about a coming food crisis in the region, recording videos calling on governments to act togther to ‘gagnons le match contre la faim’ (‘win the match against hunger’). A great initiative, but one that backfired for them – of the group games played by these four teams the result was : played 12, won 2, lost 10. Verdict = DEFINITELY TRUE
So the lesson if you want to win this tournament ? Sell chocolate not oil, overturn your government (fully) by force, and never under any circumstance take part in a charitable cause. The trophy, then, will go to Cote d’Ivoire.