African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game
By Peter Alegi
Ohio University Press, 2010, 184 pp.
The history of soccer in Africa encapsulates many of Africa’s broader sociopolitical dynamics over the course of the last century, and it is surprisingly revealing of the continent’s evolving relationship with the rest of the world during that period. As Alegi narrates in this informative book, soccer was introduced to the region at the dawn of the colonial era by missionaries, soldiers, and colonial administrators. Its rapid growth in popularity was spurred by the region’s modernization, in particular the emergence of urban centers in need of collective enterprises and entertainment. The book argues that soccer played a significant role in the popular struggles of the late colonial period, stoking nationalist pride against the Europeans while also arousing ethnic identity. In the mid-1960s, the continent’s soccer federations played a key role in having apartheid South Africa banned from international soccer competition, in an early example of African diplomatic prowess. Alegi devotes less attention to the contemporary era, although he does describe in some detail how European professional teams recruit young African players all over the continent, a process that too often exploits African teenagers even as it profits various agents and coaches. Here, too, it is tempting to view African soccer as a metaphor for its relationship to the West.