Can Motsepe meet CAF challenges?

On March 12, Patrice Motsepe became the new president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). He replaced Ahmad Ahmad, who was banned from world professional football for two years by FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), the sport’s global governing body. Motsepe, a South African mining magnate and owner of the Mamelodi Sundowns club in Pretoria, must now work to restore African football’s reputation, oversee the continental tournaments, and try to sort out their entangled broadcast rights and bring some financial stability to CAF. Chuka Onwumechili, a seasoned football analyst and a professor of communications at Howard University in Washington, sheds light on those challenges.

Q: What are Patrice Motsepe’s key challenges? 

South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, new president of the Confederation of African Football, is owner of the Mamelodi Sundowns club in Pretoria, which has won the South African Premier League title 10 times in the past 25 years and took the African club championship in 2016.

A: This is a four-year term. A person may serve for no more than three terms (a total of 12 years). So it’s really a long period to influence the agenda for football. The CAF president has a tough term ahead of him, given the prevailing situation. In my view, Motsepe’s many tasks include the financial health of the organization. That is, for example, raising sponsorships.

Secondly, restoring confidence in CAF leadership after a period when FIFA took over the running of CAF. Number three is improving the organizational stability of CAF as per African football competitions. Number four is also stability – in the administration of the organization. Here we are talking about problems with the CAF secretary-general job. There were several turnovers in this position and it is really the administrative position in CAF.

Q: How will Motsepe compare to his predecessor? 

A: The expectations are quite high, given the qualities that Motsepe will bring to the position. One, he is a multimillionaire, having made his wealth from the mining business. This background is quite important, because at least he does not depend on his position at CAF to become wealthy. This is a bit different from the kind of leadership we’ve had previously. The problem with CAF right now is mainly one of corruption.

Two, Motsepe also owns a successful football club, Mamelodi Sundowns, which actually won the African championship. This designates Motsepe as a football man. There is an expectation that he may have an easier time attracting business interest to African football. This is needed, given the state of finances in African football today.

However, having said all of this, it must be acknowledged that there is some ambivalence. One, given the fact that Motsepe has assumed the position on the coattails of FIFA (which backed his appointment), would he be independent enough to focus on African interests? Or is he already captured by FIFA’s interests, which may not exactly correlate with Africa’s? A second concern is, will Motsepe’s mining business provide him with enough time to focus on African football?

Q: What do you think of his 10-point manifesto? 

A: There’s a lot to like in Motsepe’s 10-point agenda, but the reality is that there is nothing in there that is new. What he has done is understand the current problems of CAF today and design a plan to rectify those problems. I agree that investing in African football is paramount. Because the last four years have been really, really heartbreaking. There is room obviously for growth, particularly in attracting investment and working with business partners to improve support for football in the continent. I like the first point in his agenda: to make all 54 countries self-supporting financially. I doubt that this can be achieved in Motsepe’s four-year term, but there should be a genuine effort to start, at least. Rather than the current situation where football depends on the state for funding.

To address this is to encourage government disengagement from top-tier football in the continent. To allow room for private interests to build confidence and also to participate in growth in that area. It may mean reducing the number of league clubs in several countries, or even changing their competition structure – and the great distances teams must travel to compete – to reduce costs. But the key thing is to strategize on ways to make these leagues and clubs of interest to private investors.

Q: Can Motsepe help fix African football broadcasting rights? 

A: I am not sure that this is an easy fix for anyone. In my view Motsepe should first focus on rights at the continental level. CAF was earning a pittance from a contract that sold rights to its primary competitions for several years in the future. That contract pales in comparison to similar contracts in Asia and South America where contracts are signed for shorter terms. However, I think Motsepe is an astute businessman and I do not expect that he will be party to CAF signing for such a long period when there is an emergence of new technologies or monetary depreciation that could render the value below par. Beyond that, attracting private interests instead of state entities may create fewer challenges, continent wide.

Q: Can he make African football thrive? 

A: If things are falling apart all over the place, I think it’s really very easy for Motsepe to reclaim the high ground and do well. That will be an easy thing to do, because it’s not going to take much to do better than the previous leadership.

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