If one had to pinpoint when Africa made its breakthrough on the international sporting scene, the 1960s would likely stand out. Although formal decolonisation had begun some years earlier, it was beginning to have an increasingly noticeable effect in the sporting world.
Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila made sporting history on 10 September 1960 when he won the marathon in the Olympic Games in Rome in record time and became the first black African to win Olympic gold. Progress was also being made in football. In 1960, FIFA had only a handful of African members, including the three founding members of the African confederation established three years previously – Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. They were joined by Ghana and South Africa, whose membership of FIFA was already the subject of intense debate.
The Congress in Rome, held just three weeks before Bikila’s victory, marked the start of a surge in membership of world football’s governing body. Half a dozen associations were admitted: Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia. Somalia and Guinea were admitted two years later in Santiago de Chile. On admitting Guinea, FIFA reached the 100-member mark. Another two years later in Tokyo in 1964, FIFA’s ranks grew by another 20 African associations – the largest intake in FIFA’s history.