Interview With Steve Bloomfield: World Cup 2010 and ‘Africa United’

Travel Interviews: Frank Bures speaks to the author of a new book about the World Cup and Africa

06.11.10 | 8:12 AM ET

Photo by Sarah Elliott

We hear a lot about soccer in Europe and Latin America, but less about its role in Africa. As we’ll see during the World Cup, African nations are mad about the sport. It’s woven itself into the fabric of life across the continent. How deep is it woven? Steve Bloomfield traveled from Somalia to Sierra Leone to South Africa to find out, a trip he chronicles in his new book, Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics and the First World Cup in Africa. I caught up with Bloomfield, who lives in Nairobi, via email to ask him about it.

World Hum: What does having the World Cup in South Africa mean for the continent?

Steve Bloomfield: This World Cup has the potential to begin to change the way the rest of the world views Africa. For an entire month one of the world’s biggest stories will take place in Africa and, with the odd exception, it should be an overwhelmingly positive one.

Any thoughts on why the sport has achieved such widespread popularity in Africa?

For exactly the same reasons that soccer is popular throughout the rest of the world. It truly is the global game: played in the streets of Nairobi, the refugee camps of eastern Congo and in the parks of Johannesburg. It is also a very cheap game—you don’t even need a proper ball, a few rags or plastic bags tied up with string is often enough.

You note that the world loves to hear about Africa’s ills, while ignoring the “economic, technological and cultural renaissance” there. Why do you think that is?

It’s partly a consequence of how news works. Bad news is far more interesting than good news, so the wars, failed elections and humanitarian crises get most coverage. So even when there are positive stories they don’t quite fit with the way most of us view Africa. By understanding what soccer means in Africa and how it works, I hope it makes it easier to put the more positive changes in context.

You write about the frequent mixing of politics and soccer in African soccer teams. Are there signs that that conflict between the politics and the sport is being resolved anywhere?

Kenyan soccer has been notoriously corrupt for decades, but there are signs that things are starting to improve. The clubs set up an independent premier league and persuaded Supersport, a pan-African satellite broadcaster, to sponsor it. It has been a huge success—both competitive and clean—and could be a great model for other countries.

On balance, in places like Somalia and Zimbabwe, do you think soccer serves as more of distraction, or a reason for hope? Or some mix of both?

A reason for hope. The fact that Somalia, a country riven by a wave of civil wars for more than a generation, has a national soccer team is in itself an incredible achievement. They are, by their own admission, not very good. In fact, they’re one of the worst teams in the world. But for Somalia it really is the taking part that counts.

Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at

4 Comments for Interview With Steve Bloomfield: World Cup 2010 and ‘Africa United’ 06.14.10 | 10:43 AM ET

Yes, Europeans and Africans love their soccer!  Africa doesn’t need saving, it’s a matter of perception.  That part of the world has been in existence longer when compared to the other areas.  It would be nice to hear good news about Africa instead of bad.  They can only change their country for the better, no one else can make them do it.

Philly medical law 06.17.10 | 12:55 PM ET

Great interview, and a wonderful fact about Somalia. It’s nice to hear stories of coming together, even if it takes a game to do it.

follo 06.22.10 | 8:12 AM ET


American, portuguese decent.

Also looks like some of the teams advancing will probably be

Mexico, S. Korea (because I can’t see greece beating Argentina), Argentina, England, USA, Germany, Ghana, Netherlands, Paraguay, Brazil, Portugal, and Chile.

Those are some of the teams that I’m almost sure will make it, unless USA and England somehow get defeated by Algeria and Slovenia.

Deborah-Eve 06.30.10 | 2:28 AM ET

I’ve seen people play rousing games of soccer/football with a ball made from string and plastic bags.  That’s a great example of how resourceful people can be and I often wish that kind of image would replace the old stereotypes of people all over the continent.  Looking forward to reading Africa United.  Interested to see how Bloomfield constructs a pan-African phenomenon.  Although the African continent is made up of distinct and diverse people and countries—soccer may be one of the things they share in common!

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