The Latest African Epidemic: World Cup Fever

I don’t know how to put this, but the World Cup is kind of a big deal.  Even in the United States, perhaps as a result of hosting the 1994 World Cup, the popularity is rising, whereas in the rest of the world, it’s all-consuming.

This is Eto'o. More popular in Cameroon than God or Allah.

Cameroon is a huge soccer country.  Where ever there is a flat rectangular area, or just a flat area for that matter, children or adults have erected makeshift goals.  Young and old can be seen playing in the morning, at lunch, after school, and also when they’re supposed to be at work.  If you want to come to Cameroon, but you’re worried about not knowing French, well, learn to play soccer instead.  The most widely used language in the world is football (soccer).

Luxurious nets at the American School of Yaounde

The beauty of the game and main reason for it’s popularity across the globe is it’s low capital investment.  All you need is a ball, friends, goals, and land, all of which can be made or purchased for cheap.  Balls can be made by wrapping straw around any round object. Goals are made of trees here in Cameroon.  Land is plentiful.  Friends, well if you mention a game of soccer, you’ll make them.

A typical soccer goal here in Africa

At the same time it seems like every argument that looks like it will break out in fisticuffs is centered around soccer.  Grown men yell at each other from a distance easily traversed by sprayed saliva.  What are they yelling about?  They are yelling about ‘the Lions,’ as Cameroon’s national squad is affectionately known. Sidenote: It appears to be some sort of world tradition to name your team, i.e. Ivory Coast Elephants, the French are Les Bleus, and Cameroon Lions.  Several times I have been worried that brawls will break out, men jump up out of their seats, reach across the table and point their fingers right in another man’s face, “No no no no, you are full of wildebeest dung! Samuel Eto’o is the best player in the world.”  The Cameroonians also love to hearken back to their glory days, the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when they were the first African side to make it to the quarterfinals.

“Our team is better than 1990, we shall win the Coupe de Monde!!!”

“You are lying to yourself brother, our coach Paul Le Guen is a complete imbecile! We must find a way to throw him out before it’s too late.”

Cameroon was the first African team to make the quarterfinals of the World Cup and they are current Olympic Champions.

I would say that’s a fairly tame example of the subject matter, augmented with violent arm-waving, tray tossing, and table-pounding.  Soccer is taken very seriously here and apparently there was a bit of a scandal when selecting the coach for the national team.  Allegedly Cameroonian President Paul Biya went to France on a diplomatic mission and met with French Premier Sarkozy or some other diplomat.  Biya needed something from the French, and they said, “Listen, we hear you are looking for a coach.  There is a good coach here in France, problem is, he doesn’t have a job.”  Common sentiment here is that the President sold out, allowed the French to install this goober of a coach, and what did he get in return?  Probably something completely useless, like…I don’t know, maybe cheaper prices on imported water.  Trust me, people care more about who’s coaching the Lions.

The Cameroonians aren’t solely cheering for the Lions, but for every African nation.  Even though there is a huge diversity in terms of languages and cultures throughout Africa, and some of this has lead to civil war, at least for the time being Africa is united.  This is not just South Africa’s World Cup, this is Africa’s World Cup.

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