Motsepe says CAF finances are a grubby mess. But will his return to school clean them up?

By Samindra Kunti

May 17 – African supremo Patrice Motsepe has conceded unequivocally that sponsors don’t want to engage with  the Confederation of African Football (CAF) because the toxic organisation has to “clean its house”.

Motsepe’s sudden rise to power in CAF was underwritten by a promise of bringing on board major sponsors from across Africa to stem the ruling body from bleeding further financially and to open up a new revenue stream alongside the millions of development money that FIFA sinks into the continent on an annual basis.

However, following a new interim audit by PwC that was presented to the CAF executive committee on Saturday in Kigali, Rwanda, Motsepe revealed that CAF’s reputation is such that potential new sponsors are not considering any commercial ties, frightened by the prospect of legal entanglements.

Flanked by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Motsepe said: “I have now spent so much time with the help and guidance of Gianni in almost all of those meetings with potential sponsors and partners, with people who we need to work with, and the message I received over and over again is ‘CAF is in court’ because there is a perception that certain agreements, certain contracts were concluded which were improper – and the people who want to work with us and want to give us more resources are saying: ‘You have got to clean your house’.”

Under previous CAF president and now disgraced football official Ahmad Ahmad, CAF’s finances nosedived spectacularly. The confederation ripped up a $1 billion television and marketing rights deal with France-based company Lagardere Sports and an audit by PwC suggested that tens of millions of dollars had been misappropriated at the governing body.

Between 2019 and 2020, CAF suffered a $40 million drop in its reserves. In 2020, the organisation reported a financial loss for the second consecutive financial year, first of $6.8 million in 2019 and in 2020 of $11.4 million. It is projecting a net deficit of $13 million for 2021.

“Some have even said ‘We will find ourselves in court if we conclude agreements with you now when there are still these agreements – whether it is TV rights or contracts – which were done in a manner that is improper,’” continued Motsepe.

“I want to indicate to you that we are going to do what is required. I am going to take legal advice and make sure that this organisation is not just protected, but that we get out of those arrangements.”

Monetising TV rights and  CAF’s commercial proposition were trumpeted as being high on Motsepe’s agenda and his commercial and business expertise promoted as the answer to CAF’s financial quagmire of broadcast and sponsorship inactivity.

However, rather than focus on the pressing issue of generating new money for African football, the new CAF president has seemingly spent his first months in office crisscrossing the continent to prop up his plans for a schools competition and meeting with heads of state, without seemingly addressing the governing body’s most urgent needs and existential problems.

Meanwhile many of the old guard, who facilitated Ahmad’s disastrous reign, have retained their seats in the executive committee, and FIFA’s presence in the CAF corridors of power of the organisation has strengthened with Infantino’s omnipresence and CAF’s new secretary-general Veron Mosengo-Omba parachuted in from FIFA HQ as soon as Motsepe was crowned CAF president in Rabat in March. The Zurich foot soldier has replaced Morocco’s Abdel Bah.

While FIFA’s grip on the African confederation and its membership is total, the pathway to financial independence and self determination for Africa now seems further away than ever.