FIFA president Gianni Infantino has long acknowledged the potential of the African continent, both on and off the pitch, but admits much more needs to be done to move the game forward, starting with good governance, before all else, to create the right environment for success.
By Nick Said
IF AFRICA IS TO EMERGE FROM DECADES OF greed and corruption to become a genuine power in world football, then it requires reform and strong leadership, all built around a united front that puts the game first, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
He has long acknowledged the potential of the continent, both on and off the pitch, but admits much more needs to be done to move the game forward, starting with good governance, before all else, to create the right environment for success.
Former Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Ahmad Ahmad was recently banned by FIFA’s ethics committee, which said in its statement: “In its decision, following an extensive hearing, the adjudicatory chamber ruled that, based on information gathered by the investigatory chamber, Mr Ahmad had breached his duty of loyalty, offered gifts and other benefits, mismanaged funds and abused his position as the CAF President, pursuant to the FIFA Code of Ethics.”
The CAF president automatically takes up a vice-president role within FIFA, and now with the elevation of South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe to the highest seat at CAF, which was orchestrated by Infantino, there is the promise of better governance and commercialization of the organization’s competitions beyond the continent.
“Africa has incredible potential, but what we need is to structure and organize the development of football on the entire continent in a way that allows this talent to flourish and obtain results at senior level for men and women,” Infantino tells FORBES AFRICA.
“The question of where and when concrete results will be coming on the global stage is not a matter of ‘if’, but ’when’. But the sooner the organization is done in a coordinated and united way, the quicker this will be.”
But Infantino admits this optimism can only become a reality if the leadership on the continent, through CAF, are serving the game and not themselves.
“To compete at the highest level, the organization has to be done in a certain way, reforms need to be implemented, everybody is aware of that, and the unity on the continent needs to be found, backing these projects, which go from good governance, infrastructure development and new competitions, to academies and training for young players.
“So all of these things are at the heart of the debates we are currently having, and I would wish that the whole continent can unite behind these topics with strong leadership to take Africa to the top of world football.”
Covid-19 has complicated things for FIFA members the world over, but perhaps especially so in Africa where maintaining health protocols and running competitions at the same time are made more difficult by a lack of infrastructure. But Infantino says he is unwavering in his view that Africa can fulfil that potential if it has the right people at the very top of the game.
He wants to see Europe’s domination of the sport, both on and off the pitch, rivalled in other parts of the world.
“The next five to 10 years are crucial. We need to make sure that football becomes truly global. We always say that it is, but if you scratch a little bit under the surface, you will see that top-level football is very much concentrated in just a few clubs and countries, and we need to globalize that much more,” he says.
“I have been sharing my vision for the coming years, saying our objective and aim is to have at least 50 countries that can aspire to be world champions, and not just five or six.
“To have 50 clubs, from all over the world, aspiring to be world champion of clubs and not just a few from one continent.
“We will do that by investing in our youth, boys and girls, with new competitions at regional, continental and global level.”
Under Infantino, FIFA has increased the number of teams competing at both the men’s and women’s World Cups, providing more opportunity for Africa to sit at the main table. But they must seize this opportunity, he says.
“Africa will have nine or 10 teams (up from five) at the 2026 World Cup. And they will have four instead of three participants at the Women’s World Cup [in 2023].
“So there is a lot of work to be done in preparations for these events, in the period from now to 2025, and that makes this phase crucial for African football.
“You want to go to these events and play a protagonist’s role, you don’t want to just go back home after three games.”