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Why Africa Boycotted the FIFA 1966 World Cup Tournament

The FIFA World Cup in 1966 goes down in history as the first and only tournament yet, that was boycotted by the whole continent of Africa. It is also quite ironic, that the top goalscorer of the 1966 World cup was Eusebio, an African player from Mozambique playing for Portugal. Eusebio had nine goals to his name by the end of the tournament. These are the events that led to Africa boycotting the tournament.

Two years to the World Cup finals, Africa withdrew in 1964 from the tournament as a protest over FIFA’s decision to monopolize the world cup; by reserving the majority of slots for teams from Europe and America; thereby locking out participants from other continents in the world including; Africa, Oceania and Asia.

The officials had decided that the 16-team finals were to include; 10 teams from Europe, four from Latin America, and one from the Central American and Caribbean regions. Thus, this meant that the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Oceania had only one slot to compete for.

Protest

Why Africa Boycotted the FIFA 1966 World Cup Tournament
Former Ghanaian director of sport the late-Ohene Djan in his office. Photo Credit: www.bbc.com

Following the unwelcome development, Africa wrote to FIFA through, the then-Ghanaian Director of Sport Mr. Ohene Djan; condemning  its discriminatory selection of participants. Djan in fact described the tournament proceedings as; an “unfair World Cup arrangement for Afro-Asian countries.”

“Afro-Asian countries struggling through painful expensive qualifying series for one ultimate one finalist representation is pathetic; and unsound STOP at the worst; Africa should have one finalist Stop Urgent — reconsider,” Djan, who was also a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee, protested in his letter to the tournament organizers.

Another member of CAF from Ethiopia, Tessema Yidnekatchew, also termed the discriminatory selection by FIFA as; “a mockery of economics, politics, and geography.”

Together in their objection, the two African officials also argued that the cost of organizing qualifying matches between African teams and those from Asia and Oceania was extremely expensive.

1966 World Cup Boycott dealt a huge blow

Ultimately, Africa made good on its threat to pull out of the 1966 World Cup tournament; unless it was given a place of its own in the tournament.

The boycott destabilized the FIFA presidency of Stanley Rous. The disputes over African  involvement in the World Cup and the involvement of countries that supported anti-apartheid measures; proved to be the fatal blows to the FIFA presidency of Stanley Rous. The confederations became more and more exasperated with FIFA’s continuing Eurocentric stance; compelling FIFA, the world’s football governing body, to reserve a World Cup place for Africa.

1970

Thence, from 1970, it was decided that there would be at least one African and one Asian nation at each World Cup tournament.

Morocco and Israel were the Afro-Asian representatives in 1970 in Mexico. While in 1974, Zaire(Now the democratic Republic of Congo) became the first Sub-Saharan African team to qualify for the World Cup. At long last in 1978; Tunisia became the first African team to win a match at the World Cup finals, beating Mexico 3-1 at the 1978 tournament.

It should therefore be noted, that the 1966 boycott was a seminal moment in the development of the African involvement in football; and also proved pivotal in shaping the leadership of FIFA.

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