Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Africa Cup of Nations reminds us of our joint humanity

A celebration of football, the rich diversity of the continent and its sporting prowess

Mo Salah of Egypt celebrating after the opening match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations between Egypt and Zimbabwe in Cairo. EPA
Mo Salah of Egypt celebrating after the opening match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations between Egypt and Zimbabwe in Cairo. EPA

On Friday, the Africa Cup of Nations got under way with a spectacular opening ceremony in Cairo, before the host

nation Egypt – featuring Mo Salah, a global Arab ­footballing icon – saw off a determined Zimbabwe side. ­Anticipation is high ahead of this year’s tournament. And with any number of potential winners, it promises to be a thrilling ride.

Africa is wracked with problems. Many of its 53 diverse nations are dealing with conflict, economic collapse, disease and poverty. In the east, a famine is sweeping through Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Sudan and its southern namesake are teetering on the brink of civil war. Extremism is gripping the west African Sahel countries, while an Ebola outbreak has claimed at least 1,400 lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and has now spread into neighbouring Uganda. Cameroon lost the tournament’s hosting privileges to Egypt because of concerns over violence near two of its venues. At the same time, this is a moment of immense opportunity for millions of Africans, with eight of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies last year on the continent and a fast-growing consumer base. A historic pan-African free trade deal has also come into force this year, signalling a new horizon for cross-border commerce.

As Mauritania heads to the polls on Saturday, in what could be the nation’s first democratic transfer of power, its players are preparing to compete in Afcon for the first time. Burundi and Madagascar are also new to the competition, sending ripples of joy through their populations. All three are there on merit and will hope for a fruitful first tournament.

At moments like this, we are reminded of our joint humanity, and the power of sport to unite. Football is the great leveller, played with equally breathless passion in the streets of Europe and the villages of sub-Saharan Africa. Whoever wins the Africa Cup of Nations this year, we must hope for a jubilant spectacle. Because, for all of Africa’s many challenges, its footballers retain the ability to inspire, electrify and delight. With Africa’s greatest players – from Salah to Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez – taking part, spectators from any nation can expect to witness some of the world’s very best sporting moments.

Updated: June 22, 2019 06:08 PM

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