Just last week, we reported here of a protest letter written by the Chairman of powerful CAF Referees committee Souleiman Waberi, to CAF President Ahmad Ahmad about a raft of proposals specifically targeted at match officials that were to be tabled at the last CAF Exco meeting in Cairo.
Apparently, the agenda included an item that Waberi construed to imply that certain decisions regarding Referees reform had been arrived at internally in CAF but to the exclusion of his committee.
The letter stated “I wanted to draw your attention that up to now, the CAF Referee committee, which in statutorily responsible for all refereeing-related matters, nor myself who is the President, have been by far been associated with the development or design of such a design project…”
He goes on to add that this was going on despite his physical presence in Cairo since 5th November 2019 for the U23 AFCON cum Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.
Nothing much has been reported after the Exco meeting other than that the meeting ended peaceably and without acrimony.
Only this past week did FIFA President give a glimpse of what some of the Referee proposals may have been, when he addressed the press in Lubumbashi, DRC on the sidelines of the 80th anniversary celebrations for the super club TP Mazembe.
Infantino let the cat out of the bag when he intimated that the CAF Exco had agreed to what must be a veritable “fuck you” to both the Referees and competitions committees, that FIFA would create a professional and elite group of African referees who would be independent of administration and political bodies.
This was just one of three pillars he mentioned that would comprise Refereeing, infrastructure and competitions, in close cooperation with CAF, all of its 54 member associations across Africa and other stakeholders.
The big news however, was the possibility that FIFA would work its magic and galvanize a kitty of upwards $1Billion from which it would fund a FIFA –standard stadium in each of the 54 members of CAF and FIFA in Africa.
This would not be the first time that FIFA has thought up a legacy program for the development of infrastructure in the least developed member countries.
20 years ago in 1999 at its FIFA Congress held in Los Angeles, California, it was agreed that a program dubbed “FIFA Goa!l Project” be rolled out in specifically identified FAs.
One of the key objectives of the FIFA Goal! Project was (quoting FIFA) construction and renovation of football pitches, training and tuition centres, office premises, hostels etc.
In order to execute this, Development Offices, which were to be managed by highly qualified FIFA experts (Development Officers), were set up all around the world to strengthen cooperation with the associations.
Paraphrasing FIFA, each Development Office was entrusted with the development of a cluster of approximately 15 to 20 national associations. The geographical proximity of these Development Offices to the FAs supposedly enabled the needs of the associations to be analyzed better and the projects to be supervised and monitored more easily.
The modalities for the FIFA funding were a bit more complex though, mainly because FIFA wisely would not agree to construct such facilities on land that was not in the name of the respective FA.
It would probably have been egg in the face to discover that facilities had been constructed an African FA President, considering that African football has been and continues to be the Wild West of FIFA.
Whilst the few organized African FAs were able to get multiple phases of the FIFA Goal! Project going, where they now have magnificent FA offices, hostels for National teams, training centres and fields, majority were looted ruthlessly via collusion between the FA officials and the approved contractors.
In Rwanda, the FA had a plan to construct a 4-star hotel at the main stadium that would help supplement Federation income while hosting the National team and any visiting team all at a cost of $ 3 million.
Since inception of the project around 2015, it transitioned between the original Goal! Funding to the new FIFA Forward Project of Gianni Infantino in 2017.
In the meantime, the Rwandese Government also splurged a generous $30 million on English Premier League club Arsenal, as a shirt sleeve sponsorship for the tourism promotion effort aptly named “Visit Rwanda”.
Nigeria is yet to occupy its offices despite the millions of dollars spent on the facility, while the Zambian project (which also houses Football House) was done with reckless amateurism as to cause plenty of head-shaking all around.
By 2018, Gambia FA officials were the focus of a police enquiry on the money spent and opacity of the country’s Goal! Project, while in Kenya successive FA officials were constantly accused of inflating the costs of the construction which they eventually left incomplete and unoccupied before 2016 when the Kenya FA took possession and ownership of the site.
These legacy projects have a darker side to them, and to be honest and fair to Infantino, he would not be the first to have thought up such a caper.
One newspaper columnist once observed that “the Confederation of African Football (CAF), for example, has traditionally voted for Sepp Blatter because it believes he alone cares about the continent”.
He continues, “the FIFA Goal! project has provided funding for “essential football projects” including pitches, technical centres, youth academies and IT. Officially they are no strings attached, but many feel a debt has to be repaid even if means voting for Blatter indefinitely”.
By 2012 FIFA reported that Africa was the biggest beneficiary of the FIFA Goal Project, with 166 of the overall 600 global projects already allocated to the continent followed by Asia (147), Europe (111), North, Central America and the Caribbean (99), Oceania (42) and South America (35).
By this time, the 600 Goal projects in 199 member associations had been implemented at a cost of US$250 million by FIFA.
Infantino therefore has earmarked slightly more than $18.5 million per African FA over and above the annual grants from the FIFA Froward program that have doubled for this 2nd cycle. This proposed increment would be four (4) times bigger in magnitude for Africa alone than what was spent for the entire Goal! Project in 199 countries.
With such money seeming to come out of the ears of African football, you would be excused for wondering why it is such a desolate place football-wise.
Couched in the acceptable language of assisting African football, we notice a skewed advantage towards the 54 members of FIFA to the detriment of the remaining 157 members.
As long as FIFA continues to throw money at African FAs without a commensurate system of strict audits and instant punitive action for misappropriation of funds, this legacy project will remain a glorified vote-buying exercise, based purely on the favoritism towards Africa and disenfranchisement of the other 157 FIFA members.
Obviously for the infrastructure to be built, the FAs must at least own the land, with proper verifiable ownership documents in the name of the FA.
How many African FAs are known to own such tracts of land, or which of them can petition their Governments for access to land on which to put down the stadium?
Will the FAs and FIFA be petitioning the same Governments that are often reminded and threatened by FIFA of Government interference? The same Governments who are disallowed from actively being the guardians of the aspirations of their people on how football resources are utilized by elected FA officials?
How will the funds be applied for the eventual construction of the stadiums?
Will FIFA ask the FAs to shortlist and vet local contractors to carry out the work as happened with the Goal! Projects or will FIFA hire global contractors to execute the works on its behalf as it did with another African legacy project by FIFA by the name WIN IN AFRICA WITH AFRICA?
‘Win in Africa, With Africa’ was a project initiated by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and South African President Thabo Mbeki. The initiative was aimed at ensuring that the 2010 FIFA World Cup ™ in South Africa left a lasting legacy both for the country and for the African continent.
Between 2006 and the start of the qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, 52 countries throughout the continent – all the member countries with the exception of South Africa – were to be equipped with a FIFA RECOMMENDED Football Turf.
The total budget of the project stood at close to $38 million and was passed by the Congress in Munich around the 2006 World Cup. An invitation to tender was therefore issued to all licensees who are part of the FIFA Quality Concept for Football Turf.
This was a great idea for a World Cup legacy program, to bridge the resource problems in Africa and place an artificial turf field in specific stadiums in each FA.
The FA and the Government obviously had to sign an agreement that would allow for access to these stadiums, and they certainly did play their part football training and matches all over Africa.
Unfortunately, this was also a huge rallying cry for Blatter at the 2011 Congress which got him re-elected. It was also at this congress where he assured delegates that it would be his last term and that he would not be seeking re-election in 2015, that is, before hubris and selfish interests of his kitchen cabinet derailed him.
Where will this $ 1 Billion come from?
Will it be part of the commercial deal being peddled by FIFA to Chinese media company Dalian Wanda for the various rights of African competitions? The same rights that probably prompted a quid pro quo from FIFA to shockingly award China the hosting rights for the first ever Club World Cup in 2021?
FIFA has obviously decided that African football is too corrupt to reform itself and therefore taken measures to remote control it by proxy for the foreseeable future, while keeping a tight grip on the 54 vote honey pot.
Clearly for Africa, same shit – different day!