The National University of Lesotho
The inception of the African Cup of Nations (1957) Championship and other regional and continental sports competitions did not simply envisage the development of sports and athletics, but also the creation and fostering of a sense of continental cooperation and understanding in all fields of endeavour. Sport was thus intended to be a symbol of continental cooperation and unity: the torch which Burkina Fasso held for, and on behalf of, Africa from February 7-28, 1998.
In recent times the financial and entertainment dimensions of sport and athletics have been over-emphasised to the virtual neglect of the ritualistic potential of these arts. Sport, literature, and socio-political consciousness are related in a manner which may not be easily perceptible to the ordinary lovers of sport or even sportsmen themselves. Innovative Statesmen, astute nation builders, have harnessed sport for national cohesion and international renown. It is for instance, not readily obvious that the Olympic Games at their inception were essentially devotions to a common Hellenic welfare and prosperity. Shapiro and Hendricks have described them as: "Panhellenic athletic and dramatic competition held in the summer once every four years at Olympia as a religious offering to Zeus and other major deities". The reenactment of Greek religious and political aspirations expressed in the contests in poetry, drama and music, as well as in the Pentathlon - five events of jumping, javelin and discus throwing, wrestling, a foot race, and a chariot race in the hippodrome. These events were organized between the years 776 BC and AD 392 and were abolished in the year AD 394 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius only to be resumed in 1896 in Athens. They were not sports for the sake of sport.
They played a function akin to that of a "littérature engagée", a concept which Caute highlights by saying that: "Literature should not be a sedative but an irritant, a catalyst provoking men to change the world in which they live and in so doing to change them.
Cooperation rather than competition was the cornerstone of Africa's attempt at continental tournaments. It is therefore expedient that the capacity to keep this laudable objective in focus is offered constant support and innovation so as to prevent it from being marginalised by the superficial and transient objective of simple victory in competition. Such a non-committed approach to sport has often degenerated to give credence to the observation of Horace that: "Sports begets tumultuous strife and wrath, and wrath begets fierce quarrels and war to the death (Ludus enim genuit trepidum certamen et iram, Ira truces inimicitiaset funebre bellum).
It is in this perspective that the organization of the African Soccer competition in Burkina Fasso 1998 must be perceived, not only in terms of what it is - a tournament to determine the best football nation in Africa - but rather in the light of what it means, its profound significance as a symbol of the Continent's quest for peace and progress. Burkina 98 is especially remarkable for the fact that a country with such modest resources accepts the challenge of hosting a Continental event of such magnitude. This was not in any way inspired by the desire to be Continental soccer champions. It is rather a demonstration of the importance it attaches to the idea of African cooperation and development. This and previous Cup of Nations Tournaments reinforce the other forms of African cooperation of the political, economic and social type. Without this vision one may agree with Montaigne: "Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle"".
Sport has carefully laid down rules which seek not only pleasure and fame for its practitioners but also the awareness and inspiration of spectators and the public. This quality makes it an undubitable form of art comparable to any of the conventionally acknowledged domains of visual and performing arts. The art of sport is therefore not art for the sake of art, but a commitment to the alleviation of human suffering, a symbolic expression of the universal human experience. In this perspective sport is the expression of faith in the capacity of man to strive to better his condition. Like a literary figure therefore, the individual sports person or hero is essentially a symbol, an archetype who depicts the strides and leaps which mankind is capable of accomplishing if we apply ourselves to the pursuit of good. Through sport therefore, one can realize the endeavour to attain the human ideals which Shakespeare puts as follows:
One Shakespearean character called another: "You base foot-ball player." The resort to professions needing athletic skills is, however, no indication of intellectual inferiority. It is the most pragmatic and versatile adaptation to a situation where comparative advantage and specialization are eroded by institutional racism.
This innovative resort to sport is what has to be harnessed further for the awakening of Africans towards a full awareness of their socio-political lapses. This endeavour may not directly solve the problems with which Africa is currently grappling, such as self-appointed leadership, ethnocentrism and economic decay, but it will go a long way to influence those who will receive better opportunities to alter the African situation. The example of Black upliftment in the United States of America illustrates how sport can be an instrument of socio-political mobilization. Ribowsk notes, for instance, that:
Sport therefore offered a rallying point for communal solidarity with celebrities taking part to give it that solemn aura which ritualizes the event. This definitely went beyond sport. The essence was something greater than sport. It made sporting events symbols representing a concrete show of common concern and endeavour for the need for Black upliftment.
It must equally be mentioned that the need for explicit awakening is buttressed by the fact that when sporting competitions are seen as competition for the sake of competition they have a higher likelihood of leading to "rowdyism". Typical examples are the violence which claimed 309 lives and injured 1,000 people following the refusal of a goal during an Olympic qualifying match between Argentina and Peru in Lima in 1964; the border war provoked by a World Cup qualifying match between San Salvador and Honduras in 1970; and the loss of 42 lives and the injuring of 100 people at the Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney, South Africa on 13 January, 1991. The abuse of passion in sport is not attributable to inexperience: As it were, South America had been involved in professional soccer since the 1920 but when the aim of the competition is no longer to entertain but to express nationalist fervor, it can easily degenerate into passion and violence. It can even lead to wars as has been the case between Honduras, Argentina and Peru. These phenomena are not peculiar to South America. Matches between Ghana and Ivory Coast have often erupted into savage destruction by fans comparable to those in Belgium, Italy, and Britain. In all these instances the focus of the competition was lost or misplaced; passionate competition replaced symbolic cooperation, and ordinary citizens in the countries have often suffered molestation, loss of property or even death at the hands of misguided sports enthusiasts. The Olympics itself almost fell into this obsolescence and degeneration during the Cold War era with one writer observing that:
There is the need to prevent these occurrences from defeating the aim of tournaments and competitions. African football could be ritualized, rendering it a symbol or a rite enacted to inculcate specific objectives of continental or regional or social concern. This will be neither a novelty nor an aberration since, after all, the Olympic Games in its very origin was an expression of political and religious concerns of the survival and harmony of the Greek Empire. Existing African sporting events which could be given ritualistic significance include the African Cup of Championship Clubs, African Cup of Cup winners, the Conféderation Africaine de Football (CAF) Cup, the seventh of which is held this year. Others are the Super Cup held annually since 1993, the Under-17 Championship the second of which was held in Botswana last year, as well as the Youth Championship, the tenth of which was also held last year.
Giving these games, specific tags will bring into focus the extent to which sports can help enhance the awareness of some societal needs and deepen the sense of commitment towards them. The nascent African Women's Championship and the African Under-17 Championship, for instance, can be made to draw attention to the plight of African women and also serve as a reminder of the concern for the plight of the African child-soldiers. In connection with this, it must be mentioned that it is significant that the Winter Olympics, Nagano 98, have been dubbed the "Peace Games". Incidentally it had to add its voice to the pleas for a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi conflict with the United Nations Organization.
It should be noted in passing that the hope that sport can be a tool for Continental awakening is not in any way an endorsement of the misconception which purports that Blacks possess some innate, extraordinary athletic prowess. This is because opinion disregards the fact that the endemic and widespread racial discrimination to which the Black man has been subjected over the years mainly explains this resort to a profession which depends mainly on natural abilities and is therefore less prone to discrimination in the offer of appointment. In our present circumstances of civil strife, political corruption, religious massacres, the scourge of drug addiction, and gender spite, the African Cup of Nations is a symbolic reminder of the need for collective effort to resolve these problems. That a country with modest means such as Burkina Fasso has hosted the 21st tournament is a clear indication of the significance Africans attach to this consciousness. The scope of the games can even be widened to embrace games in which Heads of State participate as a token of their commitment to democracy and leadership ethics. These may not directly solve the problems overnight but will highlight and constantly refresh the ideal in the mind and inspire further concerns and concerted efforts at resolution.
 Max S. Shapiro and Rhoda A. Hendricks. A Dictionary of Mythologies. London: Pladin Books, 1981, p. 143.
 Jean-Paul Sartre. What is Literature. London: Methuen & Co Ltd, 1978, p. x.
 Horace. Epistle. Bk. I epis. 19, 1. 48.
 Montaigne. Essais. Bk. ii Ch. 27.
 William Shakespeare. Hamlet. New York: Pocket Books, 1959, ACT III. Sc. ii 319-326, p. 51.
 William Shakespeare. King Lear. Act I, Sc. 4, 1. 94.
 Mark Ribowsk. A Complete History of the Negro Leagues: 1884-1955. New York: Sterling Publications, 1995, coverpage comment.
 The New Encyclopaedia in 30 Volumes, Marcropaedia, Volume 17. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc, 1975, p. 514
Kwaku Asante-Darko currently lectures in African and European Literature at the National University of Lesotho in Southern Africa. After studying History, Literature, and French Language in Kumasi, Ghana, where he was born some three decades ago, he proceeded to further studies in French and International Relations at the Universités Stendhal and Pierre Mendès France, both in Grenoble, France. His current research interest is in the areas of race and literature, as well as Pan-Africanism.