The new CAF – change is in air!

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THE recent announcement by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that their premier event, the Africa Cup of Nations, will be increased to 24 teams is already creating animated discussions amongst football enthusiasts on the African continent.        

As expected, the Ahmad regime has wasted no time in wringing the changes in the running of the “beautiful game”. Change was long overdue in the way supreme African football.

These changes offer a huge incentive for smaller African nations to invest in their football teams in the hope of participating in the Africa Cup of Nations Cup, which is perhaps the single biggest sport event on the continent, commanding a television audience of hundreds of millions of people.

Definitely change is good for any organisation or event. This particular change brings the excitement of the involvement of teams which probably could never have qualified for the AFCON in its current format.

The tournament will be offering 8 more slots in the proposed new format.

Chances of Southern African teams progressing into the latter stages of the tournament will not necessarily be guaranteed but will be enhanced.

The other meaningful change coming from the recently CAF symposium in Morocco in terms of governance is the age limit to people bidding to be CAF President to 70.

This initiative is very good as it removes the prospect of self-serving cliques of geriatrics leading the game on the continent. Furthermore, greater transparency in the running of the game can only be good for CAF and its institutional development.

However, the trump card in the CAF reforms is the increase of AFCON. This actually makes business sense, in terms of ticket sales and broadcast revenue.

It could help to improve the standard of the football as more and more countries learn practically and realise what is needed to compete at the highest level. 

For the 2013 AFCON, in South Africa, Cape Verde did not need much encouragement and incentive to dump the famous Indomitable Lions out of the tournament en route to their first ever qualification for the tournament.

Their performances were like a breath of fresh air, full of energy, creativity and innovation compared to the dull chess-like matches of the traditional heavyweights characterised by too much caution and defence.

In most cases, the traditional heavyweights just limp into the semi-finals or final without any entertainment value.

Increasing the number of slots at the finals brings a lot of diverse footballing strategies and types of play which increases the entertainment value of the event.

Of course, others might be hammered heavily resulting in rugby score-lines. However, that is exactly how people learn. 

Adversity teaches a lot of valuable lessons. When it comes to Africa, there are a quite a number of teams who have shown good potential and need to be thrown into the deep end to sink or swim.

The new arrangement will certainly throw the cat amongst the pigeons. It is a serious game changer.

It means four more additional slots for Africa which can go to some countries playing free flowing attacking football which Africa is renowned for.

Countries such as Kenya, Gabon, Zimbabwe, Mali and Guinea deserve their shot at glory and fame at AFCON glory.

These are countries with excellent talent as well as great traditions of football.

However, due to bad luck and the intricacies of qualifying for the AFCON have always found themselves out of contention somehow. Given the talent at their disposal, they can certainly cause a few heartbreaks at the event.

When one assesses the individual and collective talent at the disposal of a good number of African nations, the 24 team AFCON idea is not such a crazy thing after all.

It gives hope to Dennis Onyango, Victor Wanyama, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Rainford Kalaba, Khama Billiat and Jonathan Pitroipa and others from previously disadvantaged countries to be regulars for the event representing their countries.

However, Africans would still have to work very hard in order to make a meaningful impact at the pinnacle of world football competition and actually win the tournament. It is not rocket science!

Investigations that have taken place at FIFA are needed at CAF in order to safeguard the integrity of the game on the continent.

It’s a pity there is no strong CAF Ethics Committee to investigate the leadership for possible transgressions! As the Africans say, “When a fish begins to rot, it starts with the head”.

Football is indeed “the beautiful game,” “jogo bonnito” as the great Brazilian player, Pele, described. However, the game in Africa had sunken to its lowest doldrums.   

CAF is not a private club for the privileged few. It is the custodian of the game in Africa. 

The issue of preserving the “status quo” has not served the African football but the interests of the leadership. There is need to rattle the cage for development to take place in any organisation because progress is rarely made when people are in their “comfort zones”.

There is need for support for those   calling for change in the organisational culture of CAF. The philosophy of “business as usual” can no longer hold water. Well done, Mr Ahmad and team!

July 2017
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