On Tournament’s Eve, A Lack of Hotel Rooms?

Posted January 16th, 2015 at 6:15 pm (UTC-4)
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The 16-country Africa Cup of Nations is small potatoes compared with the FIFA World Cup, or the Olympic Games. But it’s capital “H” Huge in Africa.

Morocco had been scheduled to host the 2015 tournament, but with rampant fears of Ebola, the kingdom ask to delay the event for a few months. That prompted the regional soccer governing body, the Confederation of African Football, to strip Morocco of its right to host in November. (And even barred it from even participating).

Enter Equatorial Guinea, a small, West African country that is home to lots of oil and a regime that is widely considered to be spectacularly corrupt and repressive, which was then chosen as the alternative host.

With just nine week to organize and an estimated $40 million price, putting on the tournament was never going to be easy. Organizers had to build a lot of the infrastructure from scratch: stadiums in the middle of jungles and forest; replace dirt roads with multi-lane highways and so on.

Hotels, it would seem, have been given short shrift.

So much so that Congo’s coach Claude Le Roy complained to the BBC this week that the hotel his team has been put up is, shall we say, lacking.

“There are not enough places for my staff and it’s even difficult to find rooms for the players,” Le Roy said.

“The electricity is terrible, everything is exposed. I wanted to wash my hands. There was no water.

“I don’t want a big five-star hotel. I just want something very clean.”

Stay tuned.

A man walks in front of the Estadio de Bata in Bata (Reuters)

A man walks in front of the Estadio de Bata in Bata (Reuters)

Mike Eckel
Mike Eckel's dreams of being drafted by Man United or FC Barcelona peaked when he was captain of his high school football team, but ended during his short-lived college career. He continues to be an avid player (midfield) however and holds out hope that Jozy Altidore will get his act together for 2018. When not running VOA's football blogs, he writes about Russia, international war crimes, Central Asia corruption and oversees VOA's multimedia collaboration efforts.

New Champion to be Crowned at Equatorial Guinea 2015

Posted January 7th, 2015 at 4:01 pm (UTC-4)
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Equatorial Guinea 2015Equatorial Guinea 2015 is shaping up as one of the most competitive Africa Cup of Nations football tournaments in recent years.

The 16-team tournament, which kicks off January 17th, features nine former champions, but not the reigning titleholder, Nigeria, which failed to qualify.

Longtime African football analyst David Legge, soccer writer for Agence France-Presse, says he counts seven teams that could possibly lift the trophy on February 8th in the seaport city of Bata.

They are, in alphabetical order, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.

Midfielder Sofiane Feghouli and the Desert Foxes of Algeria are bidding for their first Nations Cup title in 25 years. Photo: Reuters

Midfielder Sofiane Feghouli and the Desert Foxes of Algeria are bidding for their first Nations Cup title in 25 years. Photo: Reuters

The Desert Foxes of Algeria kicked sand in the faces of many World Cup experts by reaching the Round of 16 for the first time in the country’s history at last year’s football showpiece in Brazil.

However, the Algerians haven’t won the Nations Cup since 1990 when they hosted the African championship and captured their only crown.

Of the seven teams that Legge mentioned, Ghana and Cameroon have the proudest Nations Cup pedigrees. Each has won the Cup four times.

The Black Stars of Ghana, like the Desert Foxes, have gone through a long dry spell at the Nations Cup. Their last African title was in 1982.

Cameroon’s last championship was in 2002, when it beat Senegal, 3-2 on penalty kicks, in Mali. That was Senegal’s best ever Nations Cup showing.

French coach Claude Le Roy will be giving instructions to Congo-Brazzaville's players during the 2015 Nations Cup. Photo: AP

French coach Claude Le Roy will be giving instructions to Congo-Brazzaville’s players during the 2015 Nations Cup. Photo: AP

Legge’s dark horse picks for the 30th edition of African football’s premier event are Gabon, Cape Verde and Congo-Brazzaville, which plays Equatorial Guinea in the tournament’s opening match in Bata.

He says “the sly French fox” Claude Le Roy, the head coach of Congo-Brazzaville, makes the Congolese a threat to go far in Equatorial Guinea.

The 66-year-old Le Roy has had successful coaching stints in the past with Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Legge’s words, “has a magical effect” on the teams he guides.

Equatorial Guinea, which co-hosted the 2012 Nations Cup with Gabon, has had only about nine weeks to get ready for staging the tournament at a cost estimated at $40 million.

Morocco, the original host, wanted the competition postponed because of Ebola fears and Equatorial Guinea stepped in as a last minute replacement.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

The Humble Apostle and Sporty Holiday Reflections

Posted December 15th, 2014 at 5:16 pm (UTC-4)
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The Humble Apostle's Christmas card.

The Humble Apostle’s Christmas card

My first Christmas card this holiday season came from Magnus Chisom Onwudiwe, a dedicated disciple of the show whose loyal listening over the years has cemented his nickname of The Humble Apostle of the Sonny Side of Sports.

Magnus Chisom Onwudiwe

Magnus Chisom Onwudiwe

Magnus writes, “Season’s Greetings from Owerri in Imo State, Nigeria. It is with a heart full of love that I send greetings to you and your family, as well as everyone at the Voice of America. Sonny, I really missed you during your visit to Nigeria.”

My visit to Nigeria in October was one of the most memorable trips of my VOA career.

Ferdinand and Sonny at Sports Radio 88.9 Brila FM in Abuja

Ferdinand and Sonny at Sports Radio 88.9 Brila FM in Abuja

During stops in Lagos and Abuja, I met Nigerian friends who, like Magnus, told me they had grown up listening to the Sonny Side of Sports.

Ferdinand Nwachukwu, Station Manager at VOA partner Sports Radio 88.9 Brila FM in Abuja, gave me an official pardon after saying he had written me some letters several years ago without getting any response.

With a forgiving heart, Ferdinand hosted me on his lively sports call-in show and also introduced me to his staff in Abuja.

Sonny_Dr. Larry_BridgetSSOS fans_LagosOct14

Sonny with Dr. Larry Izamoje, his wife, Bridget, and fans at Sports Radio 88.9 Brila FM in Lagos

Earlier, in Lagos, I received a rousing welcome from Dr. Larry Izamoje, the CEO of Sports Radio 88.9 Brila FM, his wife, Bridget, and fans of my program.

Dr. Larry and Bridget presented me with some beautiful gifts, including traditional Nigerian attire fit for a chief.

Sonny, Samuel Inkoom and longtime VOA colleague Roquia Haider

Sonny, Samuel Inkoom and longtime VOA colleague Roquia Haider

Looking back on 2014, I was delighted that VOA’s longtime Bangla sportswoman, Roquia Haider, could join me and Ghanaian football player Samuel Inkoom on my 30-minute radio show.

Roquia, now the chief of VOA’s Bangla Service, was one of the first people I met after being hired by the Voice of America in 1988. She asked Inkoom about his development as a player in Ghana as well as his impressions of Major League Soccer (MLS).

The 25-year-old Inkoom played only a few matches for D.C. United, the MLS club based here in Washington, before being traded to the Houston Dynamo last week.

Sonny and Georgetown University men's soccer player Joshua Yaro

Sonny and Georgetown University men’s soccer player Joshua Yaro

Early in the year, another young Ghanaian football player, Joshua Yaro, also visited our VOA studios here in Washington.

Joshua says he’s focused on his education at Georgetown University, but he also hasn’t ruled out a professional football career.

Last week, Joshua earned All-American honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, and he’s being touted as a possible #1 overall pick in next month’s MLS Draft.

Yaro and Inkoom both got their kicks in 2014, and I look forward to getting a few more too in 2015.

 

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Ugandan Lion Bogere Roars in 2014

Posted November 4th, 2014 at 1:57 pm (UTC-4)
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It’s been a very good year for Ugandan boxer Sharif “The Lion” Bogere, and his three victories over Mexican opponents have put him in good position for another world title shot in 2015.

The most recent win for Bogere (26-1, 18 KO’s) came October 30th when he knocked out Fernando Garcia in the 5th round in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Bogere dominated the bout with his speed and power and he put Garcia down for the count with a one-two combination, finishing off the Mexican with a straight right.

This marked the first time the 26-year-old Bogere has fought in Plymouth, the historic Massachusetts town founded by the Pilgrims in 1620.

Plymouth Rock, inscribed with 1620, the year the Pilgrims landed in The Mayflower

Plymouth Rock, inscribed with 1620, the year the Pilgrims landed in The Mayflower

Plymouth also holds a special place in the heart of this sporty blogger. My parents are proud graduates of Plymouth High School’s Class of 1947.

Sharif “The Lion” Bogere, meanwhile, is a proud graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. He learned to fight as a little boy on the streets of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

Sharif "The Lion" Bogere Photo: Golden Boy Boxing

Sharif “The Lion” Bogere
Photo: Golden Boy Boxing

Bogere says at a young age, he dreamed of moving to the United States, fighting professionally and becoming a world champion.

Now based in Las Vegas, Nevada, Bogere got his first shot at a major world title last year in Vegas where he lost a 12-round unanimous decision to Cuba’s Richar Abril for the vacant WBA lightweight title.

Bogere’s movement in the ring was limited against Abril, though, after he hurt his Achilles tendon in one of the middle rounds.

The Ugandan Lion underwent successful surgery on the Achilles, and now, after a successful 2014, Bogere is moving towards another world championship fight in 2015.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Weah and Lahoud Help Raise Ebola Awareness

Posted October 1st, 2014 at 1:32 pm (UTC-4)
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Liberian football great George Weah and Sierra Leonean soccer player Michael Lahoud, who come from countries hard hit by Ebola, are helping raise awareness about the deadly disease.

The 48-year-old Weah recently returned from Ghana where he recorded an anti-Ebola song with his friend, musician Barima Sidney.

Weah told VOA he thought music was a great way to get the message out in the fight against Ebola.

In the song, the 1995 World, African and European Player of the Year talks about how Ebola is transmitted and how people can protect themselves from the disease.

Kick Ebola In The ButtMeanwhile, 28-year-old Michael Lahoud, a midfielder for Sierra Leone’s national team and Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union club, is leading an online, social media campaign with the hashtag #KickEbolaInTheButt.

The campaign is modeled after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised more than $100 million for the neurodegenerative disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Sierra Leone's Michael Lahoud (blue uniform) leaps for the ball in a Nations Cup qualifying match in Abdijan, Ivory Coast. Photo: Reuters

Sierra Leone’s Michael Lahoud (blue uniform) leaps for the ball in a Nations Cup qualifying match in Abdijan, Ivory Coast. Photo: Reuters

#KickEbolaInTheButt encourages people to post video of themselves kicking a ball off a partner’s rear end. Donations go to Doctors Without Borders, which has been active in west Africa helping treat Ebola patients.

Lahoud says he was motivated by the prejudice and harsh treatment that Sierra Leone’s team received from opposing fans during 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches last month.

My friend David Legge, African football writer for Agence France-Presse, says footballers have a very special place in the hearts of all Africans. And he salutes Weah and Lahoud for their efforts in the fight against Ebola.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Gorgui Dieng Goes For New Heights In NBA

Posted September 17th, 2014 at 3:30 pm (UTC-4)
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Gorgui Dieng shoots over superstar LeBron James during his rookie NBA season. Photo: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

Gorgui Dieng shoots over superstar LeBron James during his rookie NBA season. Photo: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

I last blogged about Gorgui Dieng (pronounced GOR-gee Jeng) in early April of 2013, just before he helped the University of Louisville win its third NCAA Men’s Division I college basketball title.

Since turning professional, Gorgui, which means “the old one” in Senegal’s Wolof language, has shown as he gains more experience, he is more than capable of holding his own against the best basketball players in the world.

At the recent FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, the 24-year-old Dieng was Senegal’s best player. In six games at the world championship tournament, Gorgui averaged 16 points and almost 11 rebounds per game.

The Senegalese reached the knockout Round of 16 before losing to the host Spaniards, 89-56, in Madrid.

Dieng is now preparing for his second season with the National Basketball Association’s MinnesotaMinnesota Timberwolves Logo Timberwolves club. In his first year with the T-Wolves, Gorgui averaged about five points and five rebounds each game.

I expect his numbers will go up during the 2014-2015 NBA season, and for two main reasons.

Dieng has more confidence after his solid performance at the Basketball World Cup. And Gorgui should get the ball more after the trade last month of Minnesota’s best player, Kevin Love, to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Check out some of Gorgui’s NBA rookie season highlights in this video.

As you can see in the video highlights, Gorgui Dieng can score, rebound and block shots. I look for him to be a fixture at center for the Timberwolves in the years to come.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Pitching Prodigy Mo’ne Davis

Posted August 18th, 2014 at 4:34 pm (UTC-4)
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Mo'ne Davis pitches at the Little Leage Baseball World Series Photo: AP

Mo’ne Davis pitches at the Little Leage Baseball World Series Photo: AP

Remember the name Mo’ne Davis. The 13-year-old is the first girl to pitch a shutout in Little League Baseball World Series history.

She accomplished the feat when her team from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beat a Tennessee squad, 4-0, and Mo’ne struck out eight batters.

Mo'ne Davis

Mo’ne Davis takes a swing during the Little League Baseball World Series. Photo: AP

Mo’ne throws a 70 miles per hour (110 kilometers per hour) fastball, which is equivalent to a professional pitcher who can fire the ball more than 90 miles per hour.

Mo’ne can also hit. She knocked in a run with a single against Tennessee.

Baseball, though, is not her favorite sport. Basketball is, and her favorite men’s player, Kevin Durant, had a sweet tweet: “This youngster is striking everybody out and she is a girl. I love it. #itsanewday”

And one of Major League Baseball’s big stars, Mike Trout, tweeted: “Mo’ne Davis is straight dominating … fun to watch !!! #LLWS #MidAtlantic”

Check out Mo’ne striking out the side in these video highlights.

This blog post was written by VOA Intern Daniel Brown.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Kenyan Javelin Thrower Julius Yego

Posted August 5th, 2014 at 2:59 pm (UTC-4)
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Julius Yego celebrates after winning the men's javelin throw at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland. Photo: Reuters

Julius Yego celebrates after winning the men’s javelin throw at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland. Photo: Reuters

Kenya is renowned for its distance runners who have won races all over the world.

The Kenyans showed their prowess again recently at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, where they won 10 gold medals.

Nine of the 10 gold came in running events, while Julius Yego made history as the first Kenyan to be crowned Commonwealth Games champion in the javelin.

Yego’s winning throw of 83.87 meters came in the third round of the javelin competition.

Yego gets ready to throw at the IAAF Diamond League meet in Oslo, Norway. Photo: Reuters

Yego gets ready to throw at the IAAF Diamond League meet in Oslo, Norway. Photo: Reuters

The 25-year-old Kenyan decided to pass on his three remaining attempts because he was afraid he would aggravate a groin injury suffered during warm-ups.

“I slipped on the warm-up track,” said Yego. “I thought about pulling out, but I spoke to my coach and I decided I couldn’t pull out of this championship.”

The track in Glasgow was slippery from pouring rain that made the competition challenging for Yego and all the javelin throwers.

Yego has a stocky, powerful physique. He says as a young boy growing up in the Rift Valley region of Kenya, he gave up running and took up the javelin because he was so slow.

Julius Yego competes at the 2013 world championships in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Reuters

Julius Yego competes at the 2013 world championships in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Reuters

To improve his technique, Yego studied YouTube videos of athletes like Czech great Jan Zelezny, the three-time Olympic champion and world record holder in the javelin.

Yego has shown steady improvement in his throws over the past five years, and Kenyan officials recognized his hard work by naming him captain of the country’s athletics team in Glasgow.

After his Commonwealth Games gold medal, Julius Yego is now planning to defend his African javelin title next week in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

Eight World Cups

Posted July 29th, 2014 at 1:35 pm (UTC-4)
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George Vecsey

George Vecsey

I’ve had a few friends tell me they’ve been suffering “World Cup blues” since the football fiesta officially came to an end July 13th when Germany won its fourth world title in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

I’ve prescribed Eight World Cups as an antidote for their World Cup blues. It’s a new book by George Vecsey, longtime sports columnist for the New York Times newspaper.

In the book, the 75-year-old Vecsey reflects on some of his experiences covering the eight World Cups before Brazil 2014. For those keeping score, that’s Spain 1982; Mexico 1986; Italy 1990; USA 1994; France 1998; Japan-South Korea 2002; Germany 2006; and South Africa 2010.

My Voice of America colleague Parke Brewer reached Vecsey by phone in New York before the Brazil tournament kicked off and asked him, which World Cup was your favorite as a reporter?

The book has some humorous sections, including a chapter called “Marking Maradona,” in which Vecsey tries to get an interview with Argentina’s football great. As George told Parke, Maradona fooled him when he reached him by telephone in Naples, Italy.

But you can’t fool George Vecsey when it comes to World Cup predictions. Parke asked him which team was likely to lift the trophy on July 13th.

Vecsey replied, “I’ve worked it out in my mind that the one nation that is on the brink of becoming a World Cup champion, for the last two, and now is at its peak with great players and is certainly strong-minded enough to go to Brazil and blind out all distractions is Germany. I think Germany is ready to win the World Cup.”

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

World Cup Goal-line Technology

Posted June 11th, 2014 at 11:51 am (UTC-4)
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Brazil 2014 LogoBrazil 2014 marks the first time goal-line technology is used at the 32-nation football jamboree.

Fourteen cameras – seven focused on each goalmouth – will be used in all 12 World Cup stadiums in Brazil.

The cameras will record 500 images each second, and a computer will process the frames.

Within a second of a ball crossing the line, the referee’s special watch will vibrate and flash “GOAL.”

The small German start-up company GoalControl created the technology, which has been used for years in sports such as cricket, rugby, tennis and American-style football.

A ball crosses the line of a goal during a demonstration of goal-line technology at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Reuters

A ball crosses the line of a goal during a demonstration of goal-line technology at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Reuters

On the eve of the World Cup, the company demonstrated the goal-line technology at Brazil’s famous Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where the final will be played July 13th.

Officials from GoalControl and FIFA, world football’s governing body, say the system is 100% accurate.

GoalControl CEO Dirk Broichhausen. Photo: Reuters

GoalControl CEO Dirk Broichhausen. Photo: Reuters

During the demonstration at Maracana, GoalControl CEO Dirk Broichhausen mentioned a controversial incident at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

England’s Frank Lampard was denied a goal against Germany when his shot hit the bar and officials failed to spot the ball had bounced down just behind the line.

If it had been ruled a goal, England would have tied the Round of 16 match at 2-2, but Germany went on to win, 4-1.

The Lampard controversy is credited with helping persuade FIFA to adopt the goal-line technology.

FIFA officials say they’re sure they can trust the new technology, and more than 2,400 goal-line tests of the equipment have been carried out at several stadiums in Brazil ahead of the World Cup.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

About

Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

The Sonny Side of Sports is broadcast Monday through Friday at 1630 and 1830 UTC/GMT. And on Fridays at 1730 UTC/GMT, Sonny has an expanded 30-minute sports show.

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