Infantino wants African football to soar



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FIFA and Africa Image: FIFA

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has indicated that he wants to “project African football to the top of the world”.

The FIFA boss was speaking at a historic seminar held at Rabat in Morocco recently. The seminar focused on the development of competitions and infrastructure in African football and was graced by the Presidents of FIFA and Confederation of African Football (CAF), delegates from each of CAF’s 54 Member Associations (MAs), African football legends, representatives from the international banking and investment industries and the media.

The objective behind holding the seminar was to harness commitment, determination and passion of all of those involved in African football to raise it to the highest levels of the world game and make it touch dizzying heights of success.

While addressing the delegates, the FIFA chief stated that he strongly believes in the fact that African football holds immense potential for positive growth and expansion – “Our objective must be to project African football to the top of the world. We have been talking about the development of African football for many years. Pelé once said that an African team would win the FIFA World Cup™, but this hasn’t happened and it seems we are not making progress. Today must be the day we turn that page.”

“The (AFCON) generates twenty times less than the Euros (European championship). Having a CAN every two years, is that good at the commercial level? Has this developed the infrastructure? Think about spending it every four years,” he questioned.

The FIFA President then unlocked a joint FIFA/CAF strategy for the advancement of African football hinging on three key pillars: Refereeing, investment mobilization and competition development.

Refereeing will see the creation of a group of professional referees funded and organized by FIFA in tune with CAF – “Referees have to be above and beyond doubt and to do that we have to protect them. We will take 20 of the best African FIFA referees, professionalize them, and give them permanent, professional contracts. They should be the guardians of the rules of our game and we must protect them and make them totally autonomous.”

For investment mobilization, FIFA and CAF will assemble a panel of partners and a minimum fund of USD1bn to facilitate solid and sustainable infrastructural investments in Africa, from which FIFA will make certain that this funding is managed via transparent accountable procedures – “We are elaborating a proposal to mobilize USD1bn to build at least one top stadium in the countries of each of FIFA and CAF’s 54 Member Associations. In the countries where there is already at least one very good stadium, the investments can be done in other infrastructures,” Infantino informed.

When it comes to competition development, FIFA will seek a range of new initiatives: The creation of a world nations league for women’s football, youth world championships to be held in regular interval, more competition categories for youths, a repositioning of the African Cup of Nations to be played every four years and the creation of a new pan-African club competition.

Instead of the biannual model it has historically employed, if the African Cup of Nations is held every four years, it will be welcomed by European clubs, who currently lose key players mid-season every two years.

The new pan-African club competition, mooted by the FIFA boss, would comprise 20 permanent member clubs and would be supported by additional clubs that qualify via regional competitions. The permanent member clubs would be coaxed to provide an investment of USD20m to the project annually over five years, taking their total investment to USD100m. They would also have to meet other participation criteria such as investment in youth and women’s football. In this way, the competition would have the potential to generate revenue of USD3bn over a five-year cycle – and would also create the conditions for African football to be able to retain some of most talented players in the continent.

“We have to reflect about how we can revolutionize African football. I want to create a real pan-African league that would feature 20-24 clubs with a maximum of maybe two clubs per country that would still play in their national leagues but that would play during the year so we can really crown the club champions of Africa,” Infantino averred.

The FIFA chief gave a clarion call to African football, concluding: “Let us show the world what we can do. This day is special – it’s the start of a new chapter for African football.”

In September last year, London headquartered professional services group PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was selected to support the substantial reform process for CAF being monitored by FIFA, as initial meetings on the matter drew to attention the need for “radical transformation” of the club game on the continent.

In July 2019, football’s global governing body signed a protocol agreement with CAF to outline a road map for the two organizations to support the latter’s reform process. The roadmap has been executed with the close collaboration of Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s General Secretary and General Delegate for Africa, as well as CAF General Secretary Mouad Hajji.

The world football’s governing body declared that its clean-up mission at the CAF is now complete. CAF has been at the center of an ongoing crisis, with CAF President Ahmad Ahmad facing probe from both the FIFA Ethics Commission and French anti-corruption authorities. Ahmad was arrested in Paris in June last year amid charges of financial mismanagement and sexual harassment, before later being released by French Police.

CAF currently organizes two continental competitions for clubs – the CAF Champions League, for domestic champions plus runners-up from the bigger leagues, and the CAF Confederation Cup for lower-ranked teams.

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