The beautiful game of football and its role in international power play cannot be overemphasized.
Aside from being used as a tool to spur nationalism and love for the country, the game of football is particularly used by dictators to promote political agendas.
Politicians, seat-tight leaders, and failing governments like that of President Biya hardly miss the opportunity to use the country’s favorite sport in their favor.
During the 1970 World cup in Brazil when the military dictatorship’s political oppression reached new levels of cruelty, the government used football to steer up nationalism, tying the love for the team for the love of the country.
The African Football Championships, CHAN Total 2021 takes off in Cameroon this January 16, 2021, within an atmosphere akin to what obtained in Brazil in 1970.
Political oppression in Cameroon has reached an all-time high. Civilians are being summarily executed, with the latest case in Mautu still fresh in the minds of the world. In fact, it came after the painful episodes in Ngarbuh, Kumba, Alachu, and many other parts of the North West and South West regions where state forces are fighting armed separatists. Needless to mention the human rights violations and abuses championed by the belligerents.
Political opposition has been suppressed and as it stands, only pro-CPDM parties have a place in the sun in Cameroon. Those with contrary political voices are thrown in jail or forced into exile. A law on the suppression of terrorism, which carries a death penalty, is dangled on the head of whoever dares to call the regime to account.
It is within this morose context that 88-year-old President Paul Biya received FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Interim Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Constant Omari, Cameroon FA President Seidou Mbombo Njoya, and Cameroonian-born football powerhouse Samuel Eto’to were part of the 45 minutes audience.
Infantino says, during his audience with Biya, they discussed football development.
“More generally about the role Cameroon has to play in not only Africa but world football because Cameroon for all football lovers in the world is the essence of football, of dreams…,” said Infantino.
“Cameroon has written in the past and we want to write again in the future,” the FIFA boss furthered.
Infantino thanked President Biya for the quality of football stadiums in the country, which he says is a gift to the youth.
“The infrastructure in Cameroon has made incredible steps forward. Today, it is and will be the more so next year during the organization of the African Cup of Nations, state of the art infrastructure,” Infantino said, forgetting that access to primary healthcare, education, utility services, roads, and even employment is what Cameroonians want.
Seemingly oblivious of the fact that taxpayer’s money is being squandered in constructing stadiums that will rot after the competitions given the messy nature of domestic football, FIFA’s president continued with ego-massaging and PR words for Biya.
“It is important in a period of economic crisis, of a pandemic to think about as well the youths, to think about the people, to think about what makes the hearts of people in Cameroon vibrate. And this is football. And therefore to invest in football, to invest in football infrastructure is extremely positive and I thanked and congratulated President Biya for that,” Infantino said.
“It is certainly visionary; it is for the future, for the youths. Our youths in Cameroon need to believe in something. And they need to believe that it is not absolutely necessary to be leaving the country and even the continent when you are 12, 13, 14, and even 15 years old. But that you can stay here, you can develop here, you can become a professional here. And of course, if you become like Samuel Eto’o, you will go to Inter Milan or Real Madrid or Barcelona or the other big clubs, obviously.”
The meeting is indeed the government’s public relations sector at work. Biya is known for it – paying hugely to get a good international image. Remember he has been in power for 39 years now – that is since 1982.
Shortly after the audience, the government’s songbird media, the CRTV, and its journalists spent time to score Biya political points and tell the youth to continue to support and believe in him. But that too is politics and that is all there is to football under oppressive regimes.