While football remains the continent’s favourite sport by far, 2018 has seen African athletes pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes about what the continent has to offer fans and competitors alike.
NAIROBI, KENYA (FILE) (SPORTPESA) – Football is by far the most popular sport in Africa, but it was a frustrating year in many ways for soccer fans around the continent.
Chaotic administration is often blamed for African football’s perceived lack of progress, with players and directors involved in last-minute squabbling over bonus payments, along with political meddling.
2018 was no different.
Kenyan online sports betting firm Sportpesa cancelled 600 million shillings ($5.80 million) in direct annual sponsorship for the country’s main football league and other sports, after the government hiked taxes for such firms by more than four times.
“We had really committed ourselves to sports in the country. So it’s a very huge burden for us as a cost. Because even though its approximately 600 million in direct sponsorship, if you include the training camps and all this capacity building programs we had brought in, it goes to well over a billion shillings,” said Ronald Karauri, Sportpesa’s CEO.
The firm reinstated its sponsorship of the Kenyan Premier League, but the months of uncertainty and liquidity issues faced by several teams took their toll.
Ghanaians fans were also left outraged and wondering about the future of the sport in their country after the public viewing of ‘When Greed and Corruption Become the Norm’, a two-hour documentary in which senior football officials were shown allegedly demanding and receiving bribes. The expose´ is the work of undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas.
“But I will say that it represents a great opportunity for new minds, new heads to get together to rebuild Ghana football on a firm and proper foundation where we do things the right way, where we do things properly,” said Ghanaian sports journalist Nana Agyeman.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, so it probably has the continent’s most football followers, which is why competitors from over 20 countries flocked to Nigeria for the maiden edition of the Freestyle Football African championship.
Freestyle soccer is a sport of skill and artistic expression where a football is dribbled and juggled using various parts of the body.
“So, what we want is to get to that level where we give these people a livelihood and we can make them stars like the musicians and the comedians you know because, what skills that they have is something that is truly worth exploiting,” said Odyke Nzewi of Feet and Tricks International Limited, the company behind the event.
The icing on the cake for the soccer-mad country though, was a record ninth win at the African Women’s Cup of Nations tournament. Nigeria’s Super Falcons have also qualified for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
“I really like their zeal and I will like the coach to continue work on the team against next year’s World Cup,” said Lucky Ekeinde, a fan who also said the Falcons had cut it to close by winning on penalties.
Away from football, the continent also recorded many sporting firsts.
500 Somali youth took part in war-scarred Mogadishu’s first marathon since Somalia was plunged into unrest in 1991. Organizers said the race – run under tight security – was a sign of the country’s gradual return to normalcy.
Rwanda’s young martial artists also kicked and punched their way to the country’s first gold medal at the African Juniors Karate Championships.
Rwanda put forward 30 of the 300 fighters from 25 countries but it was seventeen-year-old Maic Shyaka Ndutiye who battled it out with Egypt’s Amr Alaa Abokora in the 55kg male category and claimed top honors.
“We saw quite a high level of technical expertise, as well as on the arbitrage level. I am very surprised and very happy by the development and the level of karate in Rwanda,” said Mohamed Tahar Meshabi, the president of the African Karate Federation Union (UFAK).
And from an ancient athletic discipline from the Far East, to traditional hunting practices turned into a sporting event in East Africa.
The Maasai Olympics were started to encourage young warriors from the Kenyan Maasai ethnic community to stop killing lions in order to prove their hunting prowess and bravery. They competed for cash prizes in categories like spear throwing and high jump instead.
“We are trying to educate and emphasise that it’s not the right way to go because we treasure these wild animals, it’s part of our heritage, it’s part of our culture. And Maasai living with the wild animal is not anything you find anywhere in the wild,” said David Rudisha who is the Olympic champion, world 800-metre record holder, and patron of the event.
South African surfer Samukeliswe Cele is also out to break with tradition and challenge perceptions and stereotypes.
Cele is the first black South African woman to compete in the Ballito Pro, a World Surf League event.
Under apartheid law, South African beaches were racially segregated, with beaches reserved solely for whites.
While there are many black and female surfers in South Africa these days, observers say they are still poorly represented in various media and in the promotion of the sport.
But athletes like Cele can be found all over Africa, bravely casting out beyond the mainstream, in 2018 and the years to come.