Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Celebrating Mediocrity Or African Pride

My Pics 002So after an inspiring but ultimately disappointing second appearance by the Black Stars at the first World Cup to be held on African soil, I     stayed up late Monday night to watch on TV the live telecast of the arrival of the team and the pomp and pageantry that subsequently ushered them back home. I must admit I wasn’t so keen on anything football after the first couple of hours after the Uruguay game Friday evening. The sheer shock of the defeat and the manner in which it came was enough to rid me of all the love and joy I had for what was supposed to be the beautiful game. Although to be honest, it didn’t begin with the Suarez handball, no matter how despicable it was, but rather the Asamoah Gyan penalty miss. The kick, at the long end of one-twenty minutes of hard work, that was supposed to send Ghana, and the whole continent of Africa, to her first semi-final. So close and yet so far. Apparently it isn’t just Atlas who sometimes feels the wait of the world on his shoulders; the only difference is that I’m still alive today to write this blog and Asamoah Gyan totally shattered the hopes and dreams of an entire continent. But, ahem, being the writer that I am, soon objectivity sets in and I just have to see all of what happened(and is happening) in its true light. Therefore I’m driven to ask the question: What are Ghanaians really celebrating?

There’s no doubt that the pain and disappointment I felt, and still feeling somewhat, is one that can be fully expressed by each and every man, woman and child on this continent who has any inclination whatsoever towards football and the bigger picture of African pride. Relegated to the background for so long it is only natural that whatever glimmer of opportunity to shine in the face of the world will be jumped upon. So sitting in my room watching the Black Stars descend from the plane into a human-aisle of cheering fans handing out bouquets and welcoming back their heroes got me thinking: Is a quarter-final appearance so satisfactory and such a huge achievement for Ghana and so many African countries, when Brazil sacked its coach after failing to get past that stage? Or was the expectation of the country so low that whatever disappointment suffered after the game was quickly smothered by the realisation of what the Stars had actually achieved?

Because here’s the truth: Not a lot of Ghanaians had much hope of us going further than the group stages, after a couple of not very impressive friendlies prior to the tournament itself, even if nobody was bold enough to admit it. But then the young men showed true character and resilience from the start and Ghanaians began to believe. For the first time in a long forgotten while an African team was showing the maturity and pragmatism typical of the Europeans and South Americans. And believe we did, until a certain Suarez was brave and gutsy enough to turn goalkeeper and keep his country in the race, even if he himself fell out. Now he’s the most hated footballer in the minds of most Africans, not very surprisingly; branded a cheat and despised for his willingness to suffer for his country. Whilst our men, presented with as equal an opportunity as there could ever be to progress, just had to go and shoot themselves in the foot, thanks to a seemingly selfish intent(what with the little row between Gyan and Appiah over who should take the pen). And yet we do welcome them back home with pomp and pageantry, not that we shouldn’t; they tried, apparently not hard enough. It wasn’t their fault, I’ve heard some say. So whose fault was it? Certainly not the one who flunked a glorious opportunity, no, it happens. Go the African way and blame it on anybody but yourself. That’s where my beef with all this stems from: our perpetual inability to not recognise our faults and find ways to address them, but rather throw the blame around. It’s true the Stars did well when they weren’t expected to; and unlike the other African countries we had better organisation, a long-serving coach, a good FA, and commendable government support. Those are all positives to take from, they raised the bar high. But if you do well when you’re not expected to, you should even better when you are. And that’s what we didn’t.

This may seem a harsh criticism, but only because its coming from someone who has no room for mediocrity. I’m tired of us Africans congratulating and patting ourselves on the back for average work, and blaming others for our mistakes. As much we applaud the Stars for at least the effort, we should as well accept that we shoot ourselves in the foot too many times. Imagining what could have been is painful work!