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Confederation of African Football

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. FIFA magazine looks back at the difficult birth of a confederation and some of the stunning success stories that bode well for the future of African football.

Five African teams qualified for the final competition of the 2006 FIFA World Cup TM in Germany, showing that Africa has certainly come a long way since 1934 when Egypt qualified for the World Cup in Italy by overcoming Palestine in a winner-takes-all play-off. In fact, ever since the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was founded in 1957, African football has gone from strength to strength on both the African continent and the international stage. CAF General Secretary Mustapha Fahmy struggles to contain himself when he says, “In 1957, the African Cup of Nations was contested by four teams over a period of just six days. Since than, CAF has organized more than 8,600 matches across the entire continent in spite of the political crises, financial problems and transport limitations that have stunted development and growth in Africa.”
The wheels that led to the birth of CAF were actually set in motion outside Africa – in Lisbon in June 1956, to be precise. The Portuguese capital was playing host to the FIFA Congress, and it was the four African nations in attendance (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and South Africa) who carried the African confederation to the baptismal font having noticed that they had scarce opportunity to meet up to discuss matters of common interest. With that in mind, the four associations resolved to convene again in Khartoum in February 1957 to draft statues and to discuss staging of the first African Cup of Nations.
It should, however, be noted that the FIFA Congress in Berne (Switzerland) in June 1954 had already voted to recognize Africa as a confederation, thereby giving the continent the right to appoint its first representative to the FIFA Executive Committee. That man was Egyptian engineer Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem
CAF’s constitutional act was signed in Khartoum, Sudan on 8 June 1957 and Abdallah Salem was named as the confederation’s first president. On 10 February, two days after the confederation’s first constitutive assembly, the Sudanese capital also saw the birth of the first African Cup of Nations, an event won by Egypt. It would prove to be the start of an exhilarating adventure and one that is still continuing today with countless unforgettable moments along the way to help define the characteristics and traits only associated with African football.
The African Cup of Nations, originally a small, closed tournament between a group of friends, has long since developed into a major international event. Contrary to the wishes of some European clubs, who seldom seem to have good intentions when signing one African player after another, the continent’s flagship competition now takes place every second year. CAF president Issa Hayatou is a fervent supporter of this two-year cycle, and with good reason too. “Africa is still lagging behind other continents when it comes to sporting infrastructure,” he says. “We hold the Cup of Nations every two years because it is, at this moment in time, the only way to encourage our countries to build stadiums of youngsters. It is in Africa’s best interest for the Cup of Nations to be played every second year! When it comes to deciding on host nations, CAF’s confirmed policy is to give priority to countries that have not yet hosted the event as it gives them the opportunity to build suitable stadiums.”
That is not financial claim either. Take 2010, for example, when a Portuguese-speaking country, Angola, who brilliantly pipped Nigeria to qualify for last year’s World Cup, will host the event for the first time. Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, two relatively small countries in central Africa, will co-host the tournament in 2012 before passing the 2014 baton to Libya, a country that also hosted the event back in 1982. This form of democracy in African sport’s biggest event speaks volumes for CAF’s intention to use the power of football to bring unity to the African continent.

But it was the start of the late Ydnekatchew Tessema’s presidency back in 1972 that truly set CAF firmly on the road to reform. Ten years later, in 1982, CAF sold the television rights for the African Cup of Nations in Libya for the very first time and in the same year, Africa saw another first with two representatives at the World Cup in Spain. However, there can be no question that is under the reign of Issa Hayatou, who has presided over CAF ever since 1988, one year after the death of Tessema, that Africa has enjoyed its heyday.
Under Hayatou’s guidance, the African Cup of Nations has doubled in size from eight teams (up until 1990), to 12 in 1992 and finally to 16 teams in time for the 1996 event. Africa’s club competitions have also changed beyond all recognition. The African Championship’s Cup, which was launched in 1965, was rebranded as the Champions League in 1997 along the same lines as Europe’s premier club competition. In 2004, the Cup Winner’s Cup, first played in 1975, was merged with the CAF Cup (launched in 1992) to become the Confederation Cup. At the start of each year, more than 100 clubs enter these two relatively new competitions, safe in the knowledge that substantial prize money awaits the eight teams that reach the final stage of each competition, which both comprise two groups of four teams vying to make the final itself. CAF is in a position to offer such financial rewards thanks to the sale of TV rights and sponsorship deals. The strategy has borne fruit too, as seen at the FIFA Club World Cup 2006 in Japan when Cairo-based club Al Ahly’s sterling performances proved that African clubs no longer need to have an inferiority complex when faced with European or South American opposition.
The only thing left to do is for Africa to prove once and for all that it can live with the “big boys” at national team level, especially as teams from Europe and South America continue to dominate the World Cup. Having said that, ever since Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions” roared onto the scene in 1990 by becoming the first African team to reach the World Cup quarter finals, African football has been making constant progress. In 2002, Senegal marked their first appearance in the World Cup by emulating Cameroon in reaching the quarters, and both Nigeria and Cameroon defeated all-comers en route to Olympic gold in 1996 and 2000 respectively.
The icing on the cake, however, was undoubtedly Africa getting the nod from FIFA to host its first World Cup – in South Africa in 2010. It was a historic achievement and CAF president Issa Hayatou beams with pride when he says he would not want to miss it for the world. “My mandate as the president of CAF will expire in 2009, one year before the World Cup,” he explains. “It would not be right for me to step down just seven months before the first World Cup on African soil, the culmination of a project that I have led ever since taking over as a president. That is the only reason why I will be standing for re-election in 2009.”
That day is two years away though, and before than, a number of football academies will have been opened in various African countries. CAF intends to use development programmes not only to build football academies in member associations, but also to devise a training programme for each country, focusing on the areas of coaching, referring, administration and sport medicine. CAF will also be footing the bill for each member association to have its own official to coordinate the “Contract for Africa” programme.
Now that CAF has decided to pass its FIFA funds on to its associations and to look into new ways of assisting African clubs, CAF general secretary Mustapha Fahmy believes that Africa may soon find a way to stop the massive exodus of young African players to foreign climes, a trend that is still a major thorn in the side of African football.