Projecting African football to the top

FIFA President Gianni Infantino spoke of “projecting” Africa to the top of world football in the coming years as he addressed the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) 42nd ordinary general assembly on Friday.

Starting with a clear message of strength in unity, President Infantino said, “We are FIFA. ‘We’ means each and every one of us together. And we are working together to make FIFA stronger and better. Because a strong FIFA is, first and foremost, the individual strengths of each and every one of you and of CAF.”

He also directly addressed the recent suspension of CAF President Ahmad: “On a personal level, what happened made me very sad, but from an institutional perspective, we must always respect the decisions of [FIFA’s] independent committees.”

After congratulating CAF and its members on the successful resumption of club and national team competitions following the disruption caused by COVID-19, President Infantino discussed the continuing need for investment in infrastructure, as well as youth and women’s football.

“In the last five years, FIFA has committed over USD 500 million in development projects in Africa through the Forward Programme. More than 300 infrastructure projects were put in place: stadiums, pitches, dressing rooms. And thanks to your hard work, we have only had to contribute.

“We also need to focus on youth, with new youth competitions and academies all over the continent. We need to invest in women’s football: we increased the number of teams in the next FIFA Women’s World Cup™ from 24 to 32, and we need strong African teams to compete. We decided to invest USD 1 billion in women’s football over these four years, and obviously part of that will go to reinforce women’s football in Africa.”

The FIFA President’s main message, however, was on the future of African football. “We are no longer speaking about ‘developing’ African football, but rather ‘projecting’ African football to the top of the world.

“Looking beyond 2022, in 2026 the number of African teams participating will double, from five to nine or even ten. The work starts now and we want African teams to be at the top. The cooperation between FIFA and all of you is crucial and we need to look at national team and club competitions and how we can improve them. For CAF, maybe that means developing club competitions through a pan-African league.

“My vision is to make football truly global, and if we want to do so, Africa has to play a central role. We have to do this all together.

“Under this vision, I want to see at least 50 national teams and 50 clubs from all over the world that can compete for the title of world champions with realistic chances of winning. And why shouldn’t Africa be at the top, with the incredible talent that we see shining every week, mainly in Europe’s top clubs? I am convinced it’s only a matter of commitment, work and engagement by all of us together.”

Concluding, President Infantino expressed his faith in CAF and its members to succeed. “I believe in Africa. I count on Africa, and you can count on me to help you to bring Africa to the top.”