KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The embarrassing catalogue of failures down the years by African football’s own directors and officials has been starkly illustrated by the need for a rescue-and-development plan delivered by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
The relationship between the world football federation and the six regional confederations which fill the seats of the FIFA Council has always been dysfunctional.
FIFA wields control over the 211 national associations but the confederations themselves are not members of the governing body. This explains, partly but certainly not entirely, why so many regional bosses have got away with so much in terms of incompetence and fraud down the decades – as the United States’ authorities FIFAGate investigation revealed.
The presidential replacement of long-serving Cameroonian Issa Hayatou as Africa’s CAF president two years ago by Ahmad Ahmad from Madagascar did nothing to stop the rot. A steady stream of national officials have been suspended or kicked out of their game altogether for corruption.
Ahmad himself was hauled in for questioning last year by French investigators over the terms and circumstances of a marketing contract award.
Subsequently CAF, prompted from Zurich, requested help from FIFA which seconded secretary-general Fatma Samoura to take over the reins of power for a six-month spell which has just been wrapped up.
The first significant development from direct rule was the organising of central broadcast marketing; the second was Infantino’s action plan which included staging the African Nations Cup every four years instead of every two and a proposed pan-African Super League with 20 permanent member clubs.
Infantino, speaking at a seminar in Rabat on the development of African football, complained that African football had failed to progress as expected – particularly, he might have said, considering the millions of dollars which FIFA has invested in development funds in vain.
He said he wanted to “project African football to the top of the world.”
Only last month CAF shifted next year’s Nations Cup in Cameroon from June-July back to its traditional January slot. This upset European clubs who believed that their complaints about timing issues had been heeded at long last.
From FIFA’s point of view, reversing the date switch was essential so that the Nations Cup would not clash with the expanded Club World Cup in China, one of Infantino’s pet projects.
He said: “We have been talking about the development of African football for many years. Pele once said that an African team would win the 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 Nations Cup generates 20 times less than the European Championship. Is having the event every two years good at the commercial level? Has this developed the infrastructure? Think about staging it every four years.”
No African nation has ever reached the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Infantino then explained more about his proposal for a pan-African league.
H said: “I want to create a real pan-African league that would feature 20 to 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.”
A FIFA statement said the selected clubs would be urged to provide an investment of $20m annually over five years and would also have to meet other participation criteria such as investment in youth and women’s football.
In return the competition could generate around $3bn over a five-year cycle and might help African football halt the talent drain, mainly to European clubs.
Infantino also unveiled a plan to invest $1bn to build “at least one top stadium” in each of Africa’s 54 member associations, create more youth competition opportunities and set up a squad of 20 professional referees.
This could be one measure to reduce the pressure on referees from matchfixers.
Infantino said: “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, professionalise them, and give them permanent, professional contracts.”