The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations competition will be unprecedented in a multitude of ways. First, it is the largest to date with a total of 24 teams. It is also the first to be held during the European summer months of June and July – opening with a match between Egypt and Zimbabwe on June 21 and ending with the competition final on July 19 — rather than in January and February.
History of the Tournament: By the Numbers
The first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) competition was held in 1957, and only 3 nations participated: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
38 countries have participated in at least one AFCON competition.
The most successful team in AFCON’s history is Egypt, which has won 7 times. North Africa as a whole has seen the highest number of wins, 10, followed closely by West Africa’s 9 and Central Africa’s 8.
More than 1500 goals have been scored in more than 600 matches since AFCON first began. The highest total number of goals scored in one tournament was 99, in 2008.
Challenges Faced by African Soccer Abroad
While Africans and the African Diaspora are generally well-represented in international clubs and competitions, African countries have faced challenges in making the same kind of impact on the global soccer stage. In the 2018 FIFA World Cup last summer, for example, only five African countries (Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia) made it into the final 32, none of which advanced to the knockout stages. For comparison, Europe had twelve countries in the competition.
Yes, many of these European teams were flush with members of the Africa Diaspora — out of 23 players on the winning French national team, for example, 12 were of African descent. The problem with naming this kind of representation as a victory for Africa is eloquently explained in this striking op-ed by Professor Gregory Pierrot of the University of Connecticut for Africa Is a Country: “France has been black for centuries. If a point must be made by way of this team, maybe it is that France should not be allowed to claim distinction and separation from Africa so casually, because France owes Africa everything. Not just the resources it continues to pillage, not just the labor force it shamelessly taps into, not just the art it appropriates as it has for centuries: France owes Africa its very soul.”
In other words, while the success of these twelve players may be exciting on the surface, underlying that success is a well-established tradition of exploitation and injustice. This has been mirrored in recent reporting on the abuse of young African soccer players by sketchy international agents, a trend which has yet to be properly addressed by any international soccer federations or clubs.
Looking to the Future
Despite the challenges that African soccer has faced in the international arena, there is a lot to be optimistic about. The estimated audience for AFCON has increased by more than 60% since 2012, and more and more television and streaming networks are showing AFCON games with each passing competition.
Hundreds of African players have seen incredible success in the most prestigious soccer clubs in the world — Mohamed Salah of Egypt at Liverpool, for example, or Riyad Mahrez of Algeria at Manchester City and Sol Bamba of the Ivory Coast at Cardiff City. These players are casting a well-deserved spotlight on the dynamism and excitement of African soccer, and will likely boost viewership for the upcoming AFCON tournament.
Published by Rebecca Hanks.