Socceroos’ Success in FIFA World Cup: What Does the Future Hold for African-Australian Youth?

By Dr. Salah Ibrahim, 30 June 2006

Australia is a successful nation in sport. In swimming, cycling, hockey, tennis, and other athletics, Australia is highly competitive against big nations such as the US, China, Russia, Germany etc. Australia’s cricket, rugby union and rugby league national teams are also among the best in the world. Australian football or simply “footy” or “Aussie rules” is a popular and dominant game unique to the country. The game originated in Melbourne in 1858 by its founders Tom Wills, his cousin H.C.A. Harrison, W.J. Hammersley and J.B. Thompson.1 Today, the game is managed by a prestigious body, the Australian Football League (AFL). It could be argued that one of the key reasons for Australia to become a sports-loving nation is its wide ranging climatic conditions, suitable for various indoor and outdoor sports activities. The Australian climate varies from tropical in the northern part of the country to subtropical in middle/central Australia, to a temperate climatic zone in the southern regions located in mid-latitudes.

This is a brief background about the Australian geography. The focus in this article is on the growing interest in football (soccer) following the great performance by the Australian national team, The Socceroos, in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Australia qualified for the FIFA World Cup tournament twice, in 1974 and in 2006 respectively. The fairly impressive performance by Socceroos in this year’s tournament has put Australia on the world map in relation to football. Australians are inspired by the success of their national team in the World Cup, so the expectation is that there is likely to be a better chance for youth, including African-Australians, to find an increasing number of sponsors in the future. On a national level, football now is recognized as important as the other popular Australian games. What could this mean for the relatively new, under-resourced underdog players from an African background in Australia? This article explores how African-Australians can potentially capitalize on the current popularity of the game, i.e. football.

As has been mentioned, Australia performed marvelously to reach the second round, but hopes and dreams to qualify for the quarter final and beyond were dashed by a controversial penalty awarded to Italy in the last 10 seconds of injury time. It reminded many Australians of the 1998 World Cup qualifying match against Iran when Australia lost a winnable game (a 2-0 lead, drawing 2-2), and consequently missed the chance to play in the prestigious World Cup. The exit of Socceroos from this year’s World Cup was a heart-breaking moment and extremely disappointing for a team that indefatigably worked to qualify, and for a nation that has been inspired by the great performance of its team for the first time. Some experts described Italy’s injury time penalty “dodgy”, “questionable” and “dubious”. Most Australians share the same view. While the Socceroos’ exit was unfortunate, the team proved to the world that it has nothing to fear from the game’s traditional giants. Naturally, the immediate reaction was a bitter sense of “loss”, but the long-term prospect is positive because the Socceroos has lifted the spirit of the game in Australia. With this positive outcome, there is now a window of opportunity for African-Australian youth to capitalize on the ever-increasing popularity of football in Australia.

Knowing the great love for football in Africa and also the instinctual tendency of the majority of Africans to play the game, it is possible for African-Australian youth to develop quality players and to contribute positively to the emerging football popularity. For this to happen, footballers that trace their descent to African heritage need to be better prepared to secure private sponsors as well as to attract funds from government agencies. Recently, Football Federation Australia (FFA) has announced initiatives to develop players’ skills so that they become internationally competitive.2 The question is, how can African-Australian youth benefit from this great offer? To break the current state of isolation and neglect, African-Australians must prepare themselves to be part of the wider Australian sporting community. It is imperative that Australians of African-origin present themselves in a united manner so as to convince FFA and other relevant organizations that African immigrants have a lot to offer to the “beautiful game.” Community organisations such as those from the Horn of Africa and others have crucial roles to play for African-Australian footballers to participate in national league competitions. The Eritrean Community in Australia Inc (ECA) is doing its share of responsibility towards achieving this noble goal.3

Socceroos players’ names indicate that Australian football is culturally diverse.4, Also, selected interviews with players’ parents and some football commentators, including the famous commentator and author Les Murray and the 1974 Socceroos’ coach, Rale Rasic, demonstrate that there is a great opportunity for immigrants to rise to high profiles.5 Being new immigrants, the challenges facing African-Australian youth contemplating participating in the game are enormous; ethnically-based rivalries and its attendant racial discrimination is a significant barrier. Nevertheless, there are on-going discussions to break the unhealthy culture that has dominated football in Australia for a long period of time. This undoubtedly will make the game a viable national sport and surely will open avenues for African-Australian footballers to overcome the hurdles that have disadvantaged them so far. It is up to the African communities to be better prepared to ensure African-Australian youth don’t miss out on upcoming opportunities.

To sum up, following the socceroos’ breakthrough in this year’s World Cup, presently Australians are strongly inspired to embrace football as a great sport. The growing interest and popularity of football will ensure that there will be a better chance for Australia to qualify more frequently and to play in the World Cup. The prediction is that Australia will qualify to play more than ever before in the World Cup. It would be great to see Australians of African origin playing in the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa.


Finally, my tribute goes to the now-much-missed late Johnny Warren, who had a burning passion for the football game. His famous statement, “I want Australia to embrace this [football] fabulous game,” after receiving FIFA’s Centennial Order of Merit in July 2004 still reverberates in the minds of many Australians. Unfortunately, he did not live long to see Australian football evolve to its latest high standards. To know more about the legend footballer, Mr Warren, visit this address.6 For the reader’s knowledge, Johnny Warren was an ardent admirer of African football.


To make the article relevant to the Eritrean reader, I will comment on the optimistic view of the Brazilian football legend, Edson Arantes do Nascimento otherwise, Pelé, who got this name from a former Brazilian footballer who won three World Cup medals and broke many records.7 Pelé predicted that FIFA World Cup will be dominated by African nations in 30 years time. Knowing Pelé is one of the great footballers of all time who dominated football for two decades, it would be unwise to immediately dismiss his view. I hope Pelé’s view will be realized. That said, my personal assessment is different. Overall, the quality of African football is on the decline from the emerging era of 1960s to the 1990s. This problem is not unique to Africa as it is happening all over the globe. One of the reasons for the decline of football quality is that the game’s interest has shifted from an earlier predominantly leisure-time enjoyment to a stressful business empire. This affected African football more adversely than any other continent because the national economy in African countries is least developed. Poor economic conditions have forced good quality and talented players to leave their home country and play for rich clubs in the renowned leagues in Europe. As a result, African players don’t train enough with their national teams.

The situation in the Horn of Africa is worse, a region that so far has failed to produce world-class talented players. None of the nations from this part of the globe has ever qualified for the World Cup. It is difficult to envisage that players from Africa in general and Horn of Africa, in particular will fulfill Pele’s optimism. The whole region is engaged in various conflicts, primarily due to lack of responsible leadership. Sadly, the focus of politicians is on war and destruction rather than on cooperation and progress. A stability and economic security is paramount to qualifying and succeeding in World Cup, as these favourable conditions could have a profound bolstering impact on players’ performance. Under politically unstable climate and poor economic conditions, it is difficult to produce quality players, and without that, it is inconceivable for the Horn nations to enter the World Cup in the foreseeable future. To know more why the Horn of Africa is lagging and the grievances engulfing the entire region, a worthwhile reading article is that of Fessehaye Woldu.8

World Cup legends such as Pelé, Carlos Alberto, Sócrates, Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi, Zico, Diego Maradona and many others have set the benchmark for their successors. This is not to say that there are no gifted players today; however, the names are not as impressive as those of the 1970s and 1980s. It is time to live up to the standard of play and sportsmanship handed down by that earlier generation.









Short URL:

Posted by on Jun 30 2006 Filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply

Photo Gallery

Log in |2011