What exactly constitutes the African Football League?

Originally envisioned as a higher-tier continental competition for African football clubs, the AFL was initially planned to include 24 teams. However, due to financial shortcomings, it will commence with only eight participating teams.

The African Football League (AFL) is set to commence on October 20, marking the realization of an idea that was first proposed four years ago.

CAF, the governing body of African football, handpicked eight top-tier teams from various corners of the continent. Originally named the African Super League, CAF decided to alter its title following a suggestion by UEFA, the European governing body, in order to steer clear of any negative associations linked to the unsuccessful European Super League initiative undertaken by some clubs in 2021.

“Our European counterparts recommended against using the term ‘super league,'” remarked CAF President Patrice Motsepe. “This counsel was influenced by the unfavorable connections to the unsuccessful 2021 European Super League launch.”

The concept of a new pan-African club competition was initially introduced by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in 2019 during his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, it wasn’t until 2022 that the comprehensive plan was unveiled at a CAF general assembly held in Tanzania. At that assembly, Patrice Motsepe, CAF President, revealed that 24 teams would be chosen to compete for a total prize pool of $100 million, with the champions claiming a prize of $11.5 million.

Nevertheless, these ambitious aspirations have been scaled back due to difficulties in securing willing sponsors. As a result, only eight teams will commence the inaugural competition, with hopes of expanding to the original two dozen participants by 2024. The prize money for the winners is now set at $4 million, while the runners-up will receive $3 million. Additionally, the four quarter-finalists are slated to be awarded $1 million each, with the semi-finalists receiving $1.7 million each.

Which teams are set to participate in the AFL?

Prominent teams from the continent have been chosen to participate in the inaugural tournament. These teams include Al Ahly (Egypt), Enyimba FC (Nigeria), Espérance Tunis (Tunisia), Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), Petro Atletico de Luanda (Angola), Simba SC (Tanzania), TP Mazembe (DR Congo), and Wydad Casablanca (Morocco).

The competition will be conducted in a home and away format, with the initial round functioning as the quarter-finals.

The AFL will coincide with the CAF Champions League, which features the victors of each of the continent’s domestic leagues. All the teams in the AFL have participated in this year’s Champions League. Last season’s CAFCL winner, Al Ahly, was awarded $2 million as the prize money for their victory. The underlying objective of the AFL is to provide additional financial resources to clubs and national associations for the enhancement of local infrastructure.

What are the controversies?

Nonetheless, despite CAF’s aspirations to increase funding for domestic clubs and elevate their status, it has struggled to secure the level of sponsorship required to support its initial vision. This is the primary reason behind the significant reduction in the prize amounts for the winners.

Although it falls under CAF’s jurisdiction, the AFL board includes FIFA representation and operates as a private entity headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda. This competition is viewed as a reflection of FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s significant influence in African football. This influence was notable after he appointed Fatma Samoura as General Secretary to oversee CAF’s Cairo headquarters, following allegations of corruption and mismanagement against former CAF head Ahmad Ahmad.

Moreover, there is uncertainty surrounding the participation of South African team Mamelodi Sundowns, as their domestic league voted against it. The Premier Soccer League’s Board of Governors expressed concerns that the AFL’s introduction would disrupt the local football calendar, attributing this to CAF’s late communication regarding the new competition.

Additionally, Angola’s Petro Atletico de Luanda recently faced a two-year suspension by the country’s football governing body due to allegations of match-fixing. While the club has vehemently denied these allegations, their eligibility to compete in the AFL remains uncertain.

CAF holds high hopes that the AFL will evolve into a captivating tournament, capturing the imagination of fans both within and beyond Africa. The forthcoming weeks will play a pivotal role in determining whether this vision can be realized, with the final match scheduled for November 5th.

CAF’s financial desperation

The finances of the football governing body have been hit after it made losses of $44.6m in 2020/21. In 2019, it canceled a 10-year $1 billion agreement with French media and marketing agency Lagardere Sports, earning it a $50 million fine.

This year, CAF also canceled its $415 million broadcast deal with Qatari company beIN Sports, stating a breach of agreement as the company failed to remit owed funds.

The organization therfore has no broadcast partner with its flagship Africa Cup of Nations starting in about four months.

Edited by Matt Ford

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