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Born Here playing there

As Euro 2016 kicks off on June 10, many European countries will rely on African stars to help lift the trophy.

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The 2016 European Championship is set to light up the northern hemisphere summer as the continent’s best battle for what is the second biggest prize in world football.

A new, expanded format will see the number of teams compete in France raised from 16 to 24, providing more football for the watching world and more opportunities for players with African roots to shine.

It is a great irony that at the highest level of European football, many teams will rely heavily on players of African descent for success.

Some were born in Africa, while others have ties to the continent through their immigrant parents, but have decided to wear the colors of the country in which they were raised.

Many were cast into European life when their families fled violence, poverty and famine, and have little or no feeling towards a continent that they have not lived in. But this is not the case for all.

The reality for many players is that the chances of being successful in a World Cup are greater with a European nation, and the financial rewards far outweigh those of competing for an African team.

It has not been an easy decision for many players and some have faced prejudice for it in the land of their birth.

Such has been the success of players of African descent in France that in 2011 reports emerged that a quota of no more than 30% black players would be allowed in academies feeding into the national team. This caused outrage, and was denied by the French Football Federation, but shows the influence of the African player on the European game.

France’s strong ties to West and North Africa make it an obvious leader in this arena, but players of African descent are popping up in the national teams of Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden.

Veteran French defender Patrice Evra will likely have his international swansong at the Championships on home soil, despite being born in Dakar to a Senegalese father and Cape Verdean mother. He reveals how his decision to play for France, where he spent much of his formative years, made him a target back in Senegal.

“I grew up amid a Senegalese culture at home,” he told reporters. “But we became westernized very quickly and when I had to choose between playing for Senegal or France my father told me to follow my heart.”

“I opted for France, as that was where I had grown up, but I then came in for lots of abuse in Senegal. I was called a monkey who grovels before the white man and labelled a money-obsessed traitor to the nation. But my parents helped me get through it.”

His national teammate, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, was born in Kinshasa but turned his back on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to play for France.

That, ironically, allowed his brother Parfait, who was born in France and is also a goalkeeper, to play international football for the DRC.

Stade Rennes winger Paul-Georges Ntep is part of the latest generation, seen as a rising star of French football but was born in Cameroon. He moved to Paris at the age of eight to live with an aunt and turned down numerous overtures from the Indomitable Lions to play for them before he was awarded his first French cap last year.

Another player also chased for a long time was Leicester City midfielder N’Golo Kanté, who was born in Paris to Malian parents. He admits he chose France purely for the opportunity to play in the European Championships.

“It’s a chance to play the Euro in France,” he said. “Regarding Mali, for a while, it’s true they contacted me. It was not necessarily an easy choice to make. But I chose the France team.”

It is likely that as much as 60% of France’s squad at Euro 2016 will be made up of players either born in, or with parents from, Africa.

Belgium, who are perhaps the most open of all European nations to immigrants, have seen their national team briefly perched on top of the FIFA World Rankings this year with a meteoric rise on the back of, it’s fair to say, their players of African descent.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku was born in Belgium where his father Roger, a Zaire international, was playing. His brother Jordan also plays for Belgium.

Lukaku’s major rival for a starting place in the Belgium line-up is Christian Benteke, who was born in Kinshasa but whose family fled to Belgium during the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko.

The same can be said for the parents of Vincent Kompany, who, injury-willing, will be leading Belgium at the finals, while Divock Origi, like Benteke a forward at Liverpool, was born in Belgium where his father Mike, a Kenyan international, was playing for KV Oostende.

Origi had seriously considered a future with Kenya even as his star was on the rise in Europe, but in the end a mixture of factors drove him towards playing for Belgium.

“I remember at that time there was some stand-off between the league and federation. He read about that stuff and it really put him off,” his father Mike told journalists.

“But obviously there were other issues, like playing at the Euros or World Cup for a big national team in Europe.”

“Nevertheless, Divock is a Kenyan with a Belgium passport. He speaks fluent Kiswahili, comes to Kenya often and enjoys Kenyan food the most.”

Tottenham Hotspur youngster Dele Alli, the toast of English football, has a Nigerian father Kenny, who claims his son is actually a prince in the Yoruba tribe that makes up about 20% of the country’s population.

Another young English star, Ross Barkley of Everton, has a Nigerian grandfather and was courted by that country before pinning his colours to the England mast.

Experienced Swiss international Johan Djourou, born in the Ivory Coast, says he feels lucky to have “escaped” playing for an African nation, even if he feels strong roots in the land of his birth.

“When you are in Africa there are a lot more difficulties and I was lucky enough to escape that. Other players like [Ivory Coast internationals] Emmanuel Eboué and Kolo Touré have made it through there but when you are European you have more options.”

Not all players born in Europe have opted to represent countries from that continent though. The likes of Borussia Dortmund star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Yannick Bolasie (DRC) and the toast of European football, Leicester City playmaker Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), have all chosen to represent the land of their parents despite being born outside of those countries.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Sport

The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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