COLUMNIST | Lolade Adewuyi Follow on Twitter
It is the season of bigger tournaments and West African football will not be left out. The West African Football Union Zones A and B has gotten an injection of badly needed funds from American company Fox Networks Group after signing a $24million, 12-year deal in December 2016.
This deal will bring back to life the WAFU Cup, last held in Ghana in 2013. This year all the region’s 16 countries will participate in a tournament that returns to Ghana’s coastal cities of Cape Coast and Takoradi. The two cities are situated on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
Cape Coast is famous for its slave castle, a sad reminder of the trans-Atlantic slave trade where former US President Barack Obama, on a visit with his family, gave a ‘painful’ speech about the evils of slavery in 2009. While Takoradi, an oil city, is part of the twin-city with Sekondi and was a host of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.
The tournament’s $245,000 is the biggest prize money for a sub-regional tournament on the continent. The winners will receive $100,000, bigger than the combined winning prize for the COSAFA Cup and the CECAFA Cup, the more established regional championships in southern and eastern Africa.
The winners of the COSAFA Cup, a 14-team tournament, got $42,000 in 2015, while the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup, the continent’s oldest championship, first held in 1926, has a $30,000 winning prize.
Added to the prize money of the WAFU Cup is the opportunity for West African footballers to be seen globally on Fox Sports, a network that is using the tournament to launch itself into the African market.
FOX Sports’ $2million annual partnership with WAFU is expected to culminate in the staging of several other events like U17, U20, U23 and women’s football tournaments. It is a series of potentially important content that would launch the station into the consciousness of African audiences. West Africa alone has a population of 373million people, many of them keen followers of football.
The WAFU Cup hit a snag earlier when it was reported by website ModernGhana.com that the government had requested for payment by organisers for use of the two stadia selected for the tournament. But it seems all that has now been settled for the kick off of the competition in September.
Africa’s regional competitions have been an avenue for young new talents to come through to the fore. Players like Ahmed Musa and Atakora Lalawele (WAFU Cup), Benjani Mwariwaru and Peter Ndlovu (COSAFA Cup) first had their major international exposure on these platforms.
The COSAFA and CECAFA Cups have always delivered interesting regional derbies for fans and television audiences across the continent with unlikely winners often emerging. Zimbabwe have the highest number of COSAFA Cup titles ahead of big hitters Zambia and South Africa. Football minors Namibia won the 2015 edition.
Uganda’s recent rise to prominence on the continental level has been backed by their dominance of the CECAFA zone where they are defending champions with a record 14th title won in 2015.
Lack of sponsors has hampered the growth of the regional tournaments in recent years. COSAFA lost its long-term partner, Castle Lager, in 2007 but the beverage returned to the fold in 2015.
CECAFA has also seen turbulence due to lack of sponsors, as the tournament has failed to hold twice in the last three years. The competition has changed names several times over the almost hundred years of its existence to reflect sponsors’ interests.
That is why this 12 years backing of the WAFU Cup by Fox Sports is good news for regional football. The increase in participation to 16 teams from eight is a great opportunity to watch talents from not just the big countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal – but also from Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Liberia and The Gambia, among others.
Sponsorship is the lifeblood of sports and WAFU have done well to resuscitate this tournament where more West African footballers can find an opportunity to experience international competition. One hopes that this tournament will continue to be relevant to the development of domestic football on the continent.
The tournament will take place from September 9 -24, 2017.