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OU Press publishes history of African soccer

As excitement for the World Cup reaches fever pitch, a new history of soccer in Africa has been published by Ohio University Press.

Titled "African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World's Game," it is the second title in a new series from Ohio University Press about Africa in world history, and it runs alongside OHIO's scholarly leadership in African Sports studies.

Peter Alegi, the author of "Soccerscapes," is a professor of history at Michigan State University, a review editor of the first international journal on soccer called Soccer and Society, and an editorial board member of the International Journal of African Historical Studies.

Alegi has also been involved in OHIO's annual Sports in Africa symposium since the first meeting, and wrote the introduction to the latest volume of "Impumelelo," the interdisciplinary electronic journal of African sports.

The symposium and journal were co-founded six years ago by Gerard Akindes, the technology coordinator for the Center for Health and Human Services, whose goal was to "bridge the gap" between academia and sports. Born in the Republic of Benin, Akindes played basketball in countries around West Africa and coached in Belgium. Although he came to OHIO eleven years ago to escape sports, his passion found a new outlet in scholarly studies, he said.

"It's not a traditional academic field, and when we go to conferences, people sometimes laugh at first," Akindes said. "But when someone like Peter (Alegi) talks and writes about it, it creates a different interest. You realize it's not just a game."

This year's symposium in March was about politics and globalization, a topic much in line with the 2010 World Cup.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa is the first time since the Cup's inception in 1930 that it will be held in an African nation. Thirty-two teams from six different confederations will play for the cup between June 11 and July 11. 

"African Soccerscapes" tells the story of the continent's long journey to this point, explaining how “the beautiful game" arrived in Africa by way of European colonists in the late 1800s. The sport spread from coastal towns to the mainland, absorbing unique African characteristics like  magicians and healers, colorful costumes, songs, fan clubs and festive spectatorship rituals. The once European game became a favorite African past time, and the pitch became a place of pride and camaraderie.

"People are standing, dancing, drumming. It's a whole cultural event, a celebration," Akindes said. "Contrary to what we have in the U.S., where people are sitting to be entertained, in Africa, spectators are part of the entertainment."

Newly formed African nations found unity in rooting for their national teams despite their ethnic differences and colonial borders. The rise of soccer also took on social and political causes, including struggles for racial equality and decolonization. African countries pressured FIFA to allow their entry into World Cup tournaments, and the Algerian national team's subversive formation in 1958 predated the country's independence from France.

As soccer became more commercialized, corporate sponsors and big name clubs changed the face of the game. This commodification gave Africa a place on the world stage, but it also led to a drain of talented African players to more lucrative overseas clubs. 

Globalization has had an impact on African fans, too.

A recent New York Times article from May 23, 2010, which quotes Alegi, mentions that pricey online ticket sales for the 2010 World Cup are keeping many Africans from attending. Combined with the costs of travel and lodging, most in the world's poorest continent will not be able to witness their first Cup.
"Traveling to the World Cup is impossible for I'd say 95 percent of the population, wherever we live," said Akindes. "There's a big gap because the living standards of international soccer is like another world. The economy for most people in Africa hasn't changed much. How to compromise that, I don't know.”

The publisher of "Soccerscapes," Ohio University Press, is the largest university press in Ohio. Incorporated in 1947 and officially organized in 1964 by OHIO President John C. Baker, it publishes 40 to 50 books annually. It is a leader in African and Victorian studies, as well as a noted publisher of historical and cultural works on Ohio and the literary works of Swallow Press.

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