New club competition, quadrennial Afcon in Fifa’s vision for African football

FIFA president Gianni Infantino (by Elsa/Getty Images)

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has proposed that the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) be held every four years and a lucrative new tournament created for clubs on the continent, as world football’s governing body declared that its clean-up mission at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is now complete.

Infantino outlined plans for the development of competitions and infrastructure in African football during a seminar held in Rabat ahead of yesterday’s (Sunday’s) CAF Executive Committee meeting in the Moroccan city. The Fifa president unveiled a joint Fifa/CAF strategy for the African game focused on the three key pillars of investment mobilisation, competition development and refereeing.

The new pan-African club competition, proposed by Infantino, would comprise 20 permanent member clubs, supported by additional clubs that qualify via regional competitions. Fifa said the permanent member clubs would be urged to provide an investment of $20m (€18.1m) to the project annually over five years.

They would also have to meet other participation criteria such as investment in youth and women’s football. In this way, Fifa said the competition would have the potential to generate revenue of $3bn over a five-year cycle, adding it 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 revolutionise African football,” Infantino said. “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.”

The Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) last month confirmed that next year’s Cup of Nations will take place in January and February, and not in the summer as originally planned. The rescheduling of the tournament will avoid a clash with Fifa’s expanded Club World Cup, which will take place in China in June 2021.

Fifa said it will seek to “reposition” the Cup of Nations to be played every four years, instead of the biannual model it has historically employed. This is likely to prove popular with European clubs, who currently lose key players mid-season every two years.

In addition, Fifa said itself and CAF will assemble a panel of partners and a minimum fund of $1bn to make “solid and sustainable” infrastructure investments in Africa. Fifa stated it will ensure this funding is managed via transparent accountable procedures.

“We are elaborating a proposal to mobilise $1bn to build at least one top stadium in the countries of each of Fifa and CAF’s 54 member associations,” Infantino said. “In the countries where there is already at least one very good stadium, the investments can be done in other infrastructures.”

In September, professional services group PwC was selected to support the substantial reform process for CAF being overseen by Fifa, as initial meetings on the matter flagged up the need for “radical transformation” of the club game on the continent.

CAF president Ahmad Ahmad and Infantino jointly inaugurated the CAF/Fifa Reform taskforce at CAF’s headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, as the process began in earnest. In July, football’s global governing body signed a protocol agreement with CAF to outline a road map for the two organisations to support the latter’s reform process.

The roadmap has been implemented with the close collaboration of Fatma Samoura, Fifa’s general secretary and general delegate for Africa, as well as CAF general secretary Mouad Hajji. CAF has been at the centre of an ongoing crisis, with Ahmad under investigation from both the Fifa Ethics Commission and French anti-corruption authorities. Ahmad was arrested in Paris in June amid allegations of financial mismanagement and sexual harassment, before later being released by French police.

Fifa yesterday said the six-month mission agreed between itself and CAF to help accelerate the implementation of the reform process in the African governing body has been completed with the delivery of a set of findings, recommendations and proposals.

The various conclusions were presented to the CAF Executive Committee, where it was decided that the implementation of the recommendations with be further analysed. These include the implementation, by CAF’s relevant bodies, of an 100-point action plan proposed by an independent task force formed in September. Fifa added that, as agreed at the beginning of the mission, a forensic audit report produced by PwC was presented. However, details of the report were not disclosed.

Infantino added: “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.”