The Confederation of African Football (CAF) recently formally launched a competition that the organisation says will propel Africa to the upper echelons of world football – the African Football League.

Announcement of the audacious project was made by CAF president Patrice Motsepe in Arusha, Tanzania, a fortnight ago following a general assembly of the guardian of African football.

What is the African Football League? Why does CAF feel it is a necessary addition to the inter-club competitions in place?

One objective of the African Football League, according to Motsepe, is to position the continent’s football in the global upper echelons by ensuring Africa’s best clubs can compete financially with the rest of the world.

“African clubs have never had a good foundation, financially, to be able to keep some of the best players in Africa, from an income perspective. Because they [the players] love the continent, they want to be in Africa,” explained Motsepe at the launch.

“So, the financial part of club football is a critical issue and what we’re hoping to do is improve the quality of football. We need to get the spectators excited to watch local football, because it is as good as watching the best football in the world,” said the 60-year-old South African businessman.

The tournament, slated for an August 2023 kickoff, is set to accommodate 24 teams from three CAF regions. This includes North, Central/West, Southern/East. Each region will provide eight clubs, with a cap of three clubs per country.

The competition will not replace the existing CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup. CAF hopes the Super League can compete with the European Champions League in future, something the body feels the current continental flagship club competition has been unable to do.

It reckons the solution is to launch a completely new competition that will potentially entice new sponsors, new eyes and hopefully reach a wider global audience.

“One of the biggest problems of the top clubs in the current CAF Champions League is they pay a lot of money on transport, on accommodation, and when they win, the money they get does not justify or compensate for the huge expenses they’ve undertaken,” Motsepe said.

A matter of money

As the CAF president alludes, club owners have long bemoaned the costs of competing in the Champions League. The winners of the 2022 edition of Africa’s club showpiece pocketed $2.5-million (R41.5-million).

In contrast, Motsepe said, the winner of the inaugural edition of the African Football League may well walk away with a prize of $11.5-million, while the overall prize money pool is likely to stand at $100-million – about R1.7-billion.

“Football is about business, and every time more money is coming in this is very positive. As a club, we are very happy that the African Football League has now been launched and we can’t wait for it to start next year,” said Barbara Gonzalez, the CEO of Tanzanian club Simba.

Apart from the clubs, CAF itself is in need of the potential financial boost that would result from the success of the Super League. CAF’s latest audited accounts show losses amounting to just less than $45-million for 2020/2021.

Should this tournament reach the heights that CAF envisions for it, such financial woes might become a thing of the past.

Participating clubs?

CAF has said it is hoping to source a significant amount of the funds for the project from global broadcast deals. Hence the inaugural showpiece is likely to feature some of the historically best clubs in Africa.

These include Gonzalez’s Simba, as well as the likes of Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek, Champions League title-holders Wydad Casablanca, fellow Moroccan club Raja Casablanca, and Tunisia’s Esperance.

Five-time African champions TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo are sure to be among the Central/West selections, while 2016 African champions Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa are likely to make the cut, too.

With CAF playing its cards close to its chest as administrators continue to conceptualise the finer details of the tournament, the impact on domestic leagues around the continent is still unclear.

Ironically, although world football’s governing body Fifa joined Europe’s mother body Uefa in opposing a Super League on that continent, the organisation’s president, Gianni Infantino, initially first proposed such a competition for Africa back in 2020.

“We have to take the 20 best African clubs and put them in an Africa league. Such a league could make at least $200-million in revenue, which would put it among the top 10 in the world,” Infantino said at the time.

Now that vision is a reality.

The key difference between Fifa lambasting the concept in Europe while endorsing it in Africa lies in the contrasting foundations of the two Super Leagues.

In Europe, it was a result of what Uefa termed “rogue” clubs trying to break away from the current continental format of a Champions League and form their own money-spinning fiefdom. Fifa backed Uefa.

Within the international football pyramid

In Africa, it is the custodian of the continent’s football that is the leading light for a Super League, with clubs following.

“African club football needs to be brought to the next level and, to do that, it is important to be innovative and to have new ideas, while fully respecting the existing institutional framework,” said Infantino at the launch of the tournament.

“The African Football League, built within the international football pyramid structure, is a project which will make African club football shine in Africa and beyond,” added Infantino.

Whether it will live up to this vision will become apparent only when the tournament finally kicks off, a year from now.

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