The American National Football League has landed on African soil. The league is seeking raw, African talent. At the 1990 World Cup, former Cameroonian forward Roger Milla personified the free spirit and creative genius of Africa’s athletic talent, displaying wit and ebullience in the game, despite his relatively advanced years for top-end athletic performance at the time (he was 38.)
Then came George Weah, who won the Ballon d’Or (FIFA’s world best player of the year) in 1995.
With their impressive physiques and footballing talent, the duo provided the world with a lens through which to examine and appreciate the continent’s sporting talent.
Today, Africa offers a vibrant and diverse pool of talent that cuts across sporting disciplines. However, because of the nature of the sports ecosystem in Africa—which has yet to develop a fair and representational value chain—Africa has become a hunting ground for talent by agents from other regions in the world.
This speaks both to the enormous, untapped value of African sporting talent and to the failures of the local sports ecosystem, which anywhere else in the world relies heavily on transparent advertising and media deals and a healthy media sector to sustain the powerful but thirsty engine of sports development.
From soccer, where the continent has produced some of the best talent seen in European and American soccer leagues, to rugby, basketball, and now American football, African athletes are cheap to recruit and can deliver astounding returns. Just ask the National Basketball Association, which is drafting more and more Nigerians and other African rookies, or the Bundesliga, which is seeing an influx of African players.
Now, NFL agents have launched a talent scouting drive in Africa to spot raw talent that will be nurtured and then transitioned to the American Football League.
Dubbed “The Up Rise”, the talent search is looking for “well-built and determined young African men” to join the NFL. Their poster reads, “Big, Strong, Fast”.
In Kenya, the recruitment of talent has already commenced in towns of Bungoma, Kakamega, and Eldoret – all in an area renowned for muscular men (and source of much of Kenya’s rugby talent.)
This comes on the back of a raging debate about what gives African athletes an edge over their opponents. For instance, the current dominance of African runners in long-distance running is an intriguing phenomenon that has highlighted the close relationship between genetics and physical performance.
Aided by genes or not, Africans athletes are excelling at the global sporting stage. Now to build the local sports ecosystem.
The original version of this article was published by bird-Africa no filter.
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