I wrote a blog post earlier this week asking if an African country has what it takes to win soccer’s World Cup. Some people asked why I chose that topic—and especially why I took the time to write this longer paper about it!
The reason is simple. I work on public policy, mostly in developing countries, where many governments try to improve their peoples’ well-being by helping their economies compete better in the world, especially for things like talent, capital, and market access (for exports). These governments are trying to develop the capabilities to compete and I am constantly asking what those capabilities are.
Soccer gives us a window into identifying the capabilities needed to compete. Like economic policy, sport has a public good feel to it, brings nations into regular competition, and is the subject of many officials’ promises to win. So, I wondered if a view on how well African countries have been competing in soccer could help shed light on the capabilities needed to compete (in any international competition).
The Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament began in Cameroon this week. It has already provided the excitement fans were hoping for. While watching, I wonder how African countries will perform in the World Cup tournament at the end of the year. Is this the tournament where an African team wins, validating those who have predicted such victory for decades?
Predictions of an African world cup win are like the vision statements governments across Africa pen that see their low-income economies becoming competitive high-income ones by 2030, or 2040 in some instances. Such vision statements and predictions engender hope. But is this hope warranted? Is there really a chance that these amazing things will happen?
My new working paper tackles this question using African soccer as an example. I posit that African countries will only win the World Cup if they can compete with the world’s best countries (Hence the title, ‘Can Africa Compete in World Soccer?’). This requires that they compete as both ‘participants’ and ‘rivals’ in the world context, gaining and retaining access to the most consequential contests and competitions and winning regularly in these engagements.