Will Africa’s richest man invest in the continent’s favourite sport?

Robson Sharuko

Harare – Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote made headlines around the world when he announced his ambitious takeover bid of English Premiership giants Arsenal included the firing of the London club’s long-serving coach Arsene Wenger.  

The commodity Nigerian billionaire, who is reported to be worth a staggering $12,5 billion in net value according to Forbes magazine, says he will consider bidding to take over the Gunners once he completes building an $11 billion oil refinery in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

So, when he recently opened the doors of his Dangote Group headquarters in Lagos to host the Confederation of African Football president Ahmad, it provoked a wave of speculation across the continent about what the powerful duo discussed.

“On Monday, 25 September 2017, Mr Ahmad, president of the Confederation Africaine de Football, was received by Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa,’’ CAF said in a statement released on their official website.

“The meeting took place in the offices of the Nigerian businessman in Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria.

“The CAF president was accompanied by CAF second vice-president, Constant Omari. The discussions focused on the development of football in Africa. A sport for which Aliko Dangote is passionate, like hundreds of millions of Africans.’’

But the big question remains – what did the two powerful individuals really discuss behind the closed doors of the billionaire’s headquarters?

Was it the possibility of the Dangote Group coming on board to invest in African football before the billionaire businessman decides to pump his money into his bid to take over an English football giant valued at about $1,9 billion by Forbes?

Already concern has been raised about heavyweight companies which predominantly make their money on the African market investing it into European football while investment in the game on the continent remains limited.

For instance, Cameroon pocketed just $4 million for winning the 2017 African Cup of Nations in Gabon this year while Mamelodi Sundowns received only $2,5 million for emerging as the best team in the last CAF African Champions League.

In sharp contrast, Spanish giants Real Madrid walked away with about $105 million for winning the UEFA Champions League crown earlier this year while Italian powerhouse Juventus, who finished as runners-up, banked about $118,75 million.

This is because UEFA have a complicated system in which the financial rewards given to the clubs are calculated based on performance and the market pool and a team which would have done very well, in getting to the final, could reap more financial rewards than the team which beats them in that final.

Last year, Middlesborough and Brighton played in the English Premiership play-off game, widely regarded as the richest game in the history of football in which the winner was guaranteed not only a place in the top-flight league but a cool $264 million.

The tendency by heavyweight companies, whose business is largely centred in Africa, to invest their money in European football has been generating a lot of debate across the continent with many journalists now taking them head-on.

SportPesa, a sports betting firm with operations in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa and whose headquarters are in Nairobi, have invested about $13,24 million into English club Hull City and this year poured about $63,58 million into English Premiership side Everton to be the team’s shirt sponsors.

The investment is spread over five years and Everton have already described it as the “biggest commercial partnership in the club’s history.’’

Dangote has poured more than $250 million into various charitable organisations around the continent with his focus being largely on health, empowerment, education and disaster relief.

The Nigerian billionaire made headlines around the world when he announced his ambitious bid to take over as the main shareholder at Arsenal.

He also told Bloomberg he would sack Wenger should he become the Arsenal owner.

“The first thing I would change is the coach,” Dangote told Bloomberg. “He has done a good job, but someone else should also try his luck.”

“If they get the right offer, I’m sure they would walk away (he said of the present Arsenal major shareholders).

“Someone will give them an offer that will make them seriously consider walking away. And when we finish the refinery, I think we will be in a position to do that.”

Stan Kroenke, who has a 67.05% stake in the club, is the majority shareholder while Alisher Usmanov, owns 30.04% of the club.

Ahmad has been on a charm offensive around the continent, visiting the continent’s leaders, including a courtesy call on Ghanaian Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia in Accra.

“I want to assure you on behalf of His Excellency President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo that government will continue to support the development of sports and for that matter football in Ghana.

“Your visit here shows that you are living up to your promise of listening widely to help improve the game in Africa.

“Ghanaians are football loving people and we will support your initiatives to ensure that the game gets better here in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa,” he said.

Meanwhile, three nations – Morocco, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia – made the cut in submitting their bids to replace Kenya as hosts of the 2018 African Nations Championships in January next year.

“At the end of the deadline for submission of applications on Saturday 30 September 2017 at 23:59, three federation’s had submitted their bids to the General Secretariat of the Confederation Africaine de Football for the organisation of the 2018 Total African Nations Championship – Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Morocco,’’ CAF said in a statement.

“At its meeting on September 23, 2017, CAF Executive Committee decided to complete the process of selecting a new host country for the tournament scheduled for January 2018,  within 15 days. After Kenya, the initial host, failed to meet the requirements.

“Total CHAN is a competition that brings together 16 national teams made up of players selected in their national championships. The 5th edition is to be held in 2018.’’

October 2017
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