Plus ça change, the governance of African football stays the same

Photo: Government ZA/Flickr

CAF president Issa Hayatou (middle) at the Opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations 2013. Photo: GovernementZA/Flickr

With the signing of a large, but undisclosed, sponsorship deal and the prospect of Issa Hayatou’s continuous reign, the governance of African football remains in the deep, dark night. Osasu Obayiuwana reports.

The old French saying, ‘Plus ça change, c’est plus la même chose’ (The more things change, the more they remain the same), seems to be a fitting one, for the manner in which the political and economic affairs of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) are managed.

As the continent’s 54 FA presidents assembled at the plush four-star Cairo Marriott, on 29 September, to elect additional African representation on the expanded FIFA Council, the talk in the corridors and the backrooms, was the usual one - who would breast the electoral tape.

But as the politicking and last-minute vote deals were being struck, culminating in the election of Ghana’s Kwesi Nyantakyi and Guinea’s Almamy Kabele, what should have been discussed, in the open - the manner in which CAF’s commercial deals are shrouded in secrecy, was never raised during the September congress.

A Total deal
On October 3rd, an eight-year sponsorship agreement was signed by Issa Hayatou, CAF’s president and Patrick Pouyanne, the CEO and Chairman of Total, the oil conglomerate, in Paris. This followed the conclusion of formal negotiations in July.

Jay-Jay Okocha, the former Nigeria and Paris St Germain midfield virtuoso, was invited as a special guest for the signing ceremony, which marked the biggest single commercial deal signed in the 59-year history of CAF, if not in all of African sport.

“We were looking for something emblematic of Africa, an iconic team sport, a competition that was internationally recognised on our scale,” Pouyanne said, during the signing ceremony.

“The Africa Cup of Nations – and other CAF competitions – are recognised as global events,” he went on.

But neither CAF nor Total, a publicly quoted company on the Paris and New York stock exchanges, paying for the sponsorship rights with the money of its shareholders, have disclosed the financial value of this contract.

When I asked Total to disclose what they will be paying, over the eight-year period, Camille Lafarge, of their Communications Department, had this one-line reply for me: “I’m sorry, but we do not disclose these figures.”

Details sealed
One of the members of the FIFA Council, who also sits on CAF’s executive committee, told me that the contract, wildly rumoured to be anything from $250m-$400m in value, was never discussed by their committee, before the deal was sealed in Paris.

“I heard about the deal in the media, just as everyone heard it,” he told me, in the presence of a fellow African FA president and a top-ranked FIFA official, over breakfast, a few months ago.

You would assume that the biggest commercial deal in the history of African football would have been a prime point of discussion for CAF’s Finance Committee last September, ahead of the deal’s signing in Paris.

But the committee, which sits only once a year, did not have the contract on its agenda.

All this, understandably, is not going down well with the ‘Corruption in Sport’ Initiative at Transparency International (TI).

“Given the number of high profile scandals involving marketing agreements in sport, over the past decades, Transparency International believes that sponsors like Total and organisations, like the Confederation of African Football, should show greater leadership and announce the value of their arrangements,” said Deborah Unger, the manager of the TI initiative.

“This would help win back trust in sport at a time when fans are feeling disillusioned. There may be commercial considerations but transparency should be the default option.

“Total and CAF should commit to announcing the value of the deal so that everyone can see how the money is used and accounted for,” Unger argues. 

“Details can have negative impact on other negotiations”
Not surprisingly, Hicham Amrani, CAF’s Secretary-General, disagrees with TI’s position. He insists there are valid commercial reasons why his organisation cannot disclose the figures.

“It’s not about good governance and transparency. We did not keep the contract that we have with Lagardere Sports secret (CAF’s marketing and sponsorship agent),” he told me in Cairo.

“It is always easy to criticise the Confederation, or make quick assumptions that if we don’t say things immediately, there is a lack of transparency and good governance.

“The point is that we signed a contract, with our agent, for a minimum guarantee of one billion dollars for the next 12 years (the contract starts in 2017).

“That agent’s job is to ensure that we get double that amount over the next 12 years, so that we can get the entire continent to benefit from it.

“When you get them to secure Total, or XYZ Company, there is a market value [on each particular contract]. By providing a lot of details [about the value of a particular contract], it can have a negative impact on the negotiation of other contracts…

“It is the preferred position of our agent not to disclose the amounts, as they are also negotiating with other partners.”

“If we were not transparent, we would not provide the details of the minimum guarantee and how it is paid,” Amrani said.

Total deal 'shows trust in African football’
Many argue that the $1 billion guarantee, over an unusually long 12 years, which obliges Lagardere, CAF’s agent, to pay a minimum revenue of $83.3 million per year, is quite low, when compared to what UEFA and the AFC, the Asian Football Confederation, get for their competitions.

It is an argument Amrani does not have particular time for.

“Comparing what we earn, with what Europe and Asia get, does not make sense… Everything is reflecting the economic environment in which we are operating.

“If you look at the multiplier effect, UEFA is probably about 300 times richer than us, so we can’t compare ourselves to them.

“In Asia, the majority of the revenues are drawn from South Korea and Japan. These are mature markets with high advertising spending…

“For us, over the 2007-2016 cycle, we had a $150m guarantee. The current deal represents a 450% increase. That not only highlights the fact that the new contract is of decent value, it also shows that there is trust in the future of African football,” Amrani claims.

Waiting for Godot
While there is no doubt that revenues will increase for CAF, even if not at the level that many expect, few can argue with the hard fact that there is no resolution to the question of long-term leadership for the African game.

Cameroonian Issa Hayatou is now in his 28th year as CAF president, an unprecedented length of time in the position. And there is no indication that he has any intention of stepping down.

CAF’s statutes once made it mandatory for all members of the executive committee, including the president, to retire at the age of 70.

But with just over a year for Hayatou to face compulsory retirement, all 54 FAs unanimously voted, in April 2015, to remove the mandatory 70-year age limit.

The vote was a truly ironic moment, because several FA presidents across the continent have privately told me that they have had enough of Hayatou in office.

Not surprisingly, none of them had the courage to vote against the removal of the age limit, which could have compelled him to retire.

Under the new rules passed, which sets out a maximum 12-year limit for any CAF president, Hayatou is eligible to seek a further three terms, which could see an incredulous extension to 41 years in office, with him retiring at the age of 82.

With five months to CAF’s presidential election in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, not a single person has declared an intention to stand against Hayatou at the March 2017 CAF Congress.

An attempt to amend the presidential eligibility rules, which would have permitted a certain class of FA presidents to contest for the office – those who have spent a minimum of four years in their positions – failed to pass at last September’s extra-ordinary congress.

And with only members of the executive committee eligible to contest for the CAF presidency, expecting one of them to challenge Hayatou for the presidency would be akin to waiting for Godot.

When I covered the 2013 CAF presidential election in Marrakech, Morocco, for this website, I finished my report with these words:

“Without honest and cerebral leadership, African football, undoubtedly possessing an incredible depth of talent, that ought to end the domination of Europe and South America at global competitions, such as the World Cup, will never realise its potential.”

I will not remove a single comma from that conclusion, because, sadly, nothing of substance, concerning the way in which CAF manages its affairs, has changed. The governance of African football remains in the deep, dark night.

*Osasu Obayiuwana, an Associate Editor for the London-based NewAfrican Magazine, has been reporting on football for the BBC for the last 21 years.

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