Improving global competitiveness: Africa Schools Champions Cup to take place in Kinshasa

  • School teams from six countries compete in Kinshasa

  • AFCON winner Hervé Renard emphasises importance of developing schools football in Africa

  • Tournament is in line with FIFA President’s Vision 2020-23

Hervé Renard, the only coach to win the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with two different teams, recognises that one of strong points of African football is that players hone their skills by playing barefoot on any piece of land they can find, building up their strength and natural skills.

But Renard, who led Zambia to an improbable title in 2012 and then helped Cote d'Ivoire's golden generation finally lift the trophy three years later, also believes that competition structure is also needed -- something FIFA is helping to address with the African School Champions Cup.

The tournament will be played in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, from February 19-20 with schools’ teams from six countries and is one of many initiatives designed to help increase global competitiveness, one of the eleven pillars of FIFA President Gianni Infantino's Vision 2020-23.

A lack of organised football for children is one of many issues facing African football, stalling progress and preventing it from reaching its full potential, as Renard explains.

"We know very well that, in Africa, children play in the streets, on the sand, in the dirt and on the tarmac, sometimes barefoot too," said Renard, who also took Morocco to the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.

"That’s also what makes them strong. That’s what makes their development outstanding, with athletic attributes which are already close to the peak when they reach elite football.

"However, this school football should really be developed as some infrastructures are certainly going to be better. And that’s what Africa needs: better infrastructures, although it can have a bright side to play on grounds which sometimes look like anything but a football pitch.

"Maybe this barefoot aspect should somehow be kept, but by adding infrastructures – in schools, for example – of great quality. It can lead to a combination which could make African football develop."

The African School Champions Cup will feature girls’ and boys’ under-16 schools teams from Benin, Ethiopia, South Africa, Senegal, Morocco and the host nation. Matches will be held at the Stade de Martyrs, the DRC's national stadium, which has been specially adapted for the event.

The programme began in April last year when FIFA signed a MoU with the Congo DR Football Association (FECOFA) and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to organise schools football tournaments around the country of 90 million people. It was then extended to other countries with the support of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

GRAND-POPO. BENIN - JULY 30:  Players and their coach celebrate following the National Schools Tournament Final on July 30, 2021 in Grand-Popo, Benin.  (Photo by Yanick Folly/FIFA).

In Benin, for example, a week-long tournament was jointly organised by FIFA, the Beninese Football Association (FEBEFOOT) and the Benin Ministry of Sport last year which served as a pilot project. Young referees and reporters also underwent training sessions before putting their skills into practice once the action got underway.

"FIFA has this power to control the footballing world. So, it’s up to them to regulate all these competitions and developing aspects. I think they’re doing it well, but it should be intensified again," said Renard

"Focusing on youngsters is important. In a way, the world’s already changed now. Young people aren’t the same as they were 20 years ago.

“Interests are different, with a key role played by TV, screens and social media. So, the reality of the game should be preserved. It’s a good thing that many children play on their games consoles, but true football is the one you play on the pitch. The desire to win, go above and beyond and win games – that shouldn’t be lost."