P184 – Sports and Politics in Africa
8 July, 16:00-17:30

Damen Jos / African Studies Centre, Leiden
Van Beek Walter E.A. / Tilburg University, African Studies Centre, Leiden


Susan Baller

African teams had limited success in the last World Cup in Brazil. Lack of predictability in itself is the very essence of sports, but the reaction of the governments on the results of their teams had a definite African flavor. In some countries the president and surely the minister of sports were directly involved in a process of public accountability: ministers lost their position, and the lack of success of the team became a national political issue. That is not inherent in sports, but it is a definite aspect of African sports: the link between sports and politics is strong in Africa. The recent dissertation of Arnold Pannenborg ‘Big Men Playing Football’ gives insight into some of those ramifications of sports and politics. In this panel we explore this relationship across a wider horizon, at the local, national and international level.
This panel will address the relation between sports and politics in several countries (Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Eritrea) and in several sports (football, cycling an draughts), as well as on a general level. Speakers will elaborate on athletic cooperation between countries, and on the role of sport, money and politics.

Sports et politique en Afrique
Les équipes africaines ont eu peu de succès lors de la dernière Coupe du Monde de Football. Les résultats sportifs sont impossibles à prédire – c’est l’essence du sport – mais les réactions politiques (Cameroun, Côte d’Ivoire) ont témoigné d’une spécificité africaine. Dans certains pays le gouvernement a publiquement demandé des comptes suite à de mauvais résultats. Des ministres des Sports ont perdu leur poste, les liens entre sport et politique sont étroits en Afrique. La thèse récente d’Arnold Pannenborg Big Men Playing Football relève déjà la dialectique entre sport et politique au niveau des clubs locaux, mais dans ce panel nous voulons élargir notre horizon vers les échelons de la région, de la nation et des relations internationales.

Ce panel traitera des liens entre sports et politique dans différents pays (Sénégal, Côte-d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Érythrée) et dans des sports distincts (football, vélo, dames). Les communications toucheront à des questions telles que la coopération sportive internationale et des rapports entre sport, argent et politique.

Paper 1

Sikes Michelle / UCT South Africa

Gendering Moral Ethnicity: Becoming Men in the Case of Kenyan Athletics

Paper 2

Cole Georgia / University of Oxford (UK)

Cycling in Eritrea: Experiencing a new gear?

ECAS this year corresponds with an event which, up until 2015, had no natural relationship to African Studies: the Tour de France. This year, however, marks the first year that an African team – MTN-Qhubeka – has raced in ‘the’ Grand Tour, having secured its position as a wild card entry. Competing within this race are a number of world-class riders originating from Eritrea; a country increasingly defined by those that leave, and little else besides. This paper will, however, use the example of cycling within Eritrea to complicate the “single story” told about political conditions within the country, by illustrating an area of transnationalism and citizen autonomy which studies uncritically likening the country to ‘North Korea’ fail to acknowledge. It will nonetheless illustrate how, as with other historical attempts by the Eritrean government at re-establishing its position within the international community, recent challenges experienced by Eritrean cyclists exemplify how the legacy of the state’s broader political ambitions have wrested the ball from Eritrea’s court vis-à-vis the terms of its international re-engagement. It will thus be argued that, despite isolated instances of success such as seen today, the current difficulties experienced by Eritrean cyclists illustrates a more general trend of ‘asymmetrical re-engagement’ with the international community which has served to codify the isolation of the Eritrean state and its sports(wo)men in the contemporary period.

Paper 3

Charitas Pascal / UFR STAPS (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)

The relationship between African States and the International Olympic Committee

After the Second World War, a New International Order (San Francisco, 1945) was outlined by the balance of the Cold War (1947) and the appearance of the Third-World movement (Bandoung, 1955). African countries were either dominated by pro-independence movements, close relations to the former colonial guardianships or experiences with Soviet communist ideology. Anyway, from then on Africa has played a role in international relations. But what about sports in Africa and its role in the construction of the African Nation states? For example: 1960 was the year in which many African countries gained independence. 1960 was also a milestone in African sports. Abebe Bikila won the first African golden Olympic medal (marathon) at the Olympic Games in Rome. Since that moment, the European-African sports cooperation has become a new instrument of foreign policy in international relations with the assignment of two objectives: the integration of the African countries in the International Olympic Committee and the organization of the future African regional Games (1965). The focus of this paper is to take sport as an analyzer of the new definition in the African States. The goal is to find answers to three principal preoccupations: Firstly, to understand the internationalization process in the post-colonial period; secondly to pay attention to the sports mobilizations of African countries and thirdly, to spot the new political structures and influences in African sports.

Paper 4

Van Beek Walter E.A. / African Studies Centre, Leiden & Tilburg University (The Netherlands)

Mind sports in Africa, the forgotten frontier

Sport can be defined as a ‘gentle competition within a well-defined place and time, and guided by a specific rule system’. That competition is routinely seen as a bodily exertion in which the physical performances are measured against each other or against an external scale. A running debate in the sports world at large is whether sports that are much less physical, in our case mind sports, are part of this large family of competitive endeavors. In the eyes of the rest of the world, African sports are few in numbers and supremely physical, athletics, football, cycling, boxing – the sports base of Africa is surprisingly narrow. Inside Africa mind sports are much more important that outsiders acknowledge, and board games have no problem being recognized as proper sports. This contribution will zoom in on the place of draughts (in French ‘jeu de dames’) in African sports, as not only it is an important sport inside Africa, but also because in this particular mind sport Africans are fully recognized as world class competitors.

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