Political conflicts and poor resources has constantly plagued football in Sudan, but change could be coming soon
Written by Husam Elgeneid
Sudan is a pioneering football team in Africa which can be traced back to the 1930s. It was also one of only three participating nations in the first Africa Cup of Nations in 1957, and going on to win Cup in 1970. It has been ranked among the best in the continent, at one time reaching 74th in the FIFA rankings. Outside of regional and international recognition, football is a sport that has always united the Sudanese people, allowing them to escape from a politically and economically troubled state. It is played in the sandy streets by friends and families, passers by joining in, and neighbors often coming outside with refreshments. Sudanese football has long been in my family, with my father and two of his brothers playing for both the national team and domestic clubs. The National Al Marreikh Stadium, located in Omdurrman, is a short 10-minute walk away from my family home – some of my fondest memories being my time in the bleachers.
Unfortunately, last summer, the activities of the Sudan Football Association (SFA) were suspended by FIFA due to government interference in the football federation. The suspension occurred as a result of a government backed group declaring themselves as winners of the SFA election in April 2017, despite FIFA having suspended elections for six months. Following delegations, and even a visit to the nation, FIFA suspended the SFA on the 30th June 2017 until the election had been declared null or void, and the original SFA Board of Directors with its President, Dr Mutasim Gaafar Sir Elkhatim, had been reinstated. Just over three weeks later, these conditions had been met and the suspension was officially lifted. Those three weeks, however, were enough to see the nation’s two main clubs, Al Merriekh and Al Hilal, be disqualified from the African Champions League, and Al Hilal Obeid eliminated from the Confederation Cup. Without the ban, Al Merreikh were one win away from reaching the quarter-finals, an opportunity that they were stripped from hours before they were due to play. Sudan’s motivated and talented football players are being held back by political conflicts and forces, compounded by a great lack of resources and poor infrastructure.
The national team had also already been eliminated from the 2018 World Cup preliminaries after losing 3-0 to Zambia on aggregate. Sudan are yet to appear at the FIFA World Cup; an unfortunate truth for Sudanese football lovers. However, the nation’s presence at tournaments within the continent remains strong. Sudan is set to play its first qualifying match for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in September – joined in a group by Senegal, Equatorial Guinea and Madagascar. With its new Croatian coach, Zdravko Logarušić who in his previous job with Ghana managed to gain 10 points in 4 games, Sudan has a great chance of not only qualifying, but excelling in the ACON. Could this be the year for another ACON championship? With the current turmoil in the country, the Sudanese people could definitely do with a victory.