Football administration in Africa is mired in poor governance and scandal. Moves by FIFA to impose reforms from above may represent a step forward, but the main effort needs to come from the continent itself.
The Africa Cup of Nations, a biannual festival of colour, flair and skill, offers a rousing demonstration of the continent’s love for the beautiful game. Football fans from across the continent are once again congregating in Egypt to cheer on world-class African stars, many of whom ply their trade at the highest level of European soccer.
Yet behind the scenes, African football is once again in turmoil, brought low by poor governance and scandal. In early June, Ahmad Ahmad, the Malagasy president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), was questioned by French authorities as part of a probe into “corruption, breach of trust and forgery”.
While Ahmad denies the allegations, and was released without charge, the affair has cast a pall over African football just as it seeks to put its best foot forward.
The questioning is not the only incident to afflict African football in recent months. Original host Cameroon was stripped of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations due to slow preparations, but was strangely offered the chance to host the event in two years’ time, meaning that the original hosts of the 2021 and 2023 events will be forced to stage their tournaments later, prompting Côte d’Ivoire to take legal action. Meanwhile, CAF sensationally ordered a replay of the second leg of the CAF Champions League final following a failure of the video assistant referee (VAR) system.
Football’s world governing body FIFA – itself no paragon of virtue – has clearly seen enough. FIFA has appointed its general secretary, Fatma Samoura, as “FIFA general delegate for Africa” to clean up the game. The appointment of Samoura, who will be in the role for at least six months from August, represents an unprecedented drive by the global governing body to reform a continental federation.
Samoura will work with Ahmad and experts to oversee the operational management of CAF, including governance and administration, and will ensure the “efficient and professional” organisation of all CAF competitions. FIFA and CAF will carry out a full forensic audit of CAF.
Reform is long overdue
Wholesale reform of African football governance is long overdue. Even as the African game becomes richer – flush with millions of dollars in FIFA revenues from the commercial bonanza of the World Cup – Africa’s national football federations have too often failed to guard the integrity of the game.
FIFA’s laissez-faire dispersal of revenues has often attracted administrators of dubious character. Revenues are siphoned off rather than being used to upgrade facilities and plan for the long-term future of the game, while domestic leagues are underfunded, poorly attended and home to technically inferior players.
Against this backdrop, FIFA’s radical move to sort out CAF will be welcomed by fans across the continent. Yet Africa should not need Swiss-domiciled FIFA to impose change – there must also be a new effort on the continent to bring integrity and success back to African football administration. n