CAF’s $1bn TV rights deal – COSAFA bosses thrust into body’s controversial agreement

By Robson Sharuko

HARARE – Three months after toppling long-serving CAF president Issa Hayatou, the leaders of that revolution met in Harare this week to try and cast light on the controversial $1 billion televison rights deal signed by the old regime.

COSAFA president Philip Chiyangwa hosted three of the region’s most powerful men in football. The three are South African Football Association boss Danny Jordaan, Football Association of Zambia leader Andrew Kamanga and Namibia Football Association boss Frans Mbidi, who also doubbles as COSAFA vice president. Chiyangwa held the meeting specifically to unpack and digest the said deal, which was also been discussed with members of the COMESA Competitions Commission.

Despite it being a two day event, observers believe it could be a turning point in the new CAF leaders’ bid to get answers to whether the deal to sign off the continents football TV rights to a French company two years ago was above board.  The move comes after allegations of irregularities sourinding the deal surfaced after Hayatou’s ousting.

CAF signed the $1 billion with French media company Lagardere Sports, for the worldwide television rights of the continent’s football governing competitions, like the African Nations Cup and the CAF Champions League, for a further 12 years.

Those agrieved claimed that the playing field was not level during the bidding process and that deserving service providers lost out as a result. Hayatou’s administration stands accused of pushing the deal through and extending the French company’s monopoly on football on the continent.

Egyptian authorities raised red flags when they referred the case for prosecution earlier this year, amid concerns that some CAF leaders might have personally benefited from the decsion to award the deal to the French media company.

Sources said the reference of the case for prosecution meant that Hayatou could not travel to Egypt, where the CAF headquarters are based. His aides and allies allegedly fear that he could face the humiliation of being arrested in that country. This is said to be the reason why the last CAF Congress was moved to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Of course, the old CAF leaders vehemently denied any wrong doing and defended all aspects of the process leading to the signing of the television rights’ agreement. Those who served in the Hayatou administration have claimed to be victims of a smear campaign at a time when football bosses, around the world, were being accused of corruption.

They said the deal “represented an enormous increase in the revenues guaranteed to CAF for its marketing and media rights, which guaranteed funds for the benefit of African football over the next 12 years,” and that they settled for a company that had delivered in the past.

“Further, with an unrivalled track record in delivering African football for over 22 years, Lagardère Sports is also an agency that can deliver and execute CAF’s vast programme of events – including the Africa Cup of Nations, the African Nations Championship and the African Champions League, such is the scale and complexity of the events across the whole of the African continent.

“Any suggestion whatsoever of impropriety in relation to the commercial agreement is utterly without foundation and completely and vehemently denied.

“CAF will vigorously defend its position, its rights and reputation using all legal means available under international law,’’ CAF said in a statement.

The French company also said everything was done above board.

“Although Lagardère Sports is not the subject of the correspondence from the Egyptian competition authorities, any allegations that the agreement breaches local Egyptian competition laws are wholly unfounded and we have clear and categorical legal advice to that effect,” the company said in statement

But new CAF president Ahmad Ahmad and COMESA want a thorough investigation into how the French company ended up being given rights for such an extended period.

“The contract was signed by the previous CAF president. Right now there are procedures against this contract, we just got elected and I’ve appointed people to look after this contract, people who are specialised in TV and in marketing, to study this case about the contract,” Ahmad said last month.

“We took a decision after a discussion with the previous general secretary, and we did this to protect the Confederation of African Football against any wrongdoing. This is why the previous general secretary left the office, and we agreed.

“We’re living in an environment where everything must be transparent and with a democracy. The new CAF will follow up with everything that is not a transparent or democratic. This is why I’m waiting for the analysis to come back to me before I make any decision.

“Everyone is completely agreed that it is not a good contract, and is not good for African football. Right now I can guarantee you that I will never sign any long contract regarding CAF.”

And, for those who want to see things moving fast, in relation to a thorough investigation into this explosive case, a start in the region where its football leaders plotted the downfall of Hayatou was probably the best move.

“You don’t need rocket science to see that those who want to get to the bottom of this case believe they can get immense help by, first, tapping into what the COSAFA leaders can say about this deal because this is a region that has already distinguished itself as having men who are not polluted by all the controversy related to the old leadership,’’ a source told The Southern Times.

“In your region, there are men who speak their minds because they don’t carry any baggage, which is the case in other regions, and that is why you find the starting point of this process had to be in the COSAFA region.

“But, make no mistake about it, this is significant and when people start to speak, the pillars of fear which had been frightening them from doing so begin to fall apart one after the other and the most important thing is that the world has to know whether or not everything was done above board.

“Clearly, a lot continues to be said and that’s not good for either the sponsors or for football in Africa and, who knows, maybe there is nothing untoward about all this but let there be a process that gets to that conclusion.’’

May 2017
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