GOAL: how football is good for ICTs

In an exclusive interview, Hicham El Amrani, the Secretary General of the Confederation of African Football, tells Prue Goredema of the eLearning Africa News Service that the on-going Orange Africa Cup of Nations has attracted a growing fan following on social media as people across Africa turn to the Internet for instant updates on what’s happening on the pitch.

The 28th Africa Cup of Nations kicked off on Saturday, January 21st, 2012 in Bata, Equatorial Guinea as Africa’s top 16 football teams lined up to keep Africans glued to their TV screens for three weeks. Behind the scenes, the ICT sector is also having a field day.

This year’s Orange Africa Cup of Nations is being hosted by two countries – Gabon and Equatorial Guinea – a nifty way to cut costs while allowing thousands of spectators in both countries access to the games. Stadia have been upgraded and infrastructure has been improved in the four host cities, Bata, Malabo, Libreville and Franceville. The ICT sector has also seen a boost: The host countries have invested heavily in upgrading their systems to ensure that they can handle the high volume of traffic as people scramble to file formal and informal reports on what’s happening on the field of play.

Speaking exclusively to eLearning Africa, Hicham El Amrani, the Secretary General of the Confederation of African Football said, “The Internet speed is very good. It’s not exceptional, but it’s enough to upload pictures and work properly.” Unfortunately, no live online streaming is available, an option that would have made the excitement of the games even more palpable for virtual supporters. But fans across the Continent have taken up the options that do exist. As El Amrani explains, “There is extensive radio, print and television coverage of the games, but this year there are more and more people creating groups on Facebook and Twitter, so many people are relying on these social media to get news on the games.”

Whilst the excitement of the matches keeps the African continent entertained, organising the games has presented a number of challenges, chiefly, El Amrani explains, the lack of experience in hosting big games and the different languages and cultures in both host countries.  All the same, the tournament has started without any major glitches, and if the sentiments seen in the growing following on Facebook and Twitter are anything to go by, the matches are of high quality despite the absence of football heavyweights such as Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa. “The highlights for me so far have been the great opening and watching Equatorial Guinea’s first ever victory in the Cup of Nations,” says El Amrani.

Many memories are being made, particularly with social media uniting fans as never before and lending a new dynamic to a contest that has long been popular from Cape to Cairo. But the improved ICT infrastructure and Internet speeds are benefits that will remain in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea long after the final whistle.

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