Africa is one of the places on the globe where the FIFA Club World Cup is taken seriously. This competition usually presents a rare chance for fans to find out how good the CAF Champions League winner really is. Unfortunately, the CAFCL is yet to produce a winner of this competition and in fact performances have deterioriated over the last few editions. Those editions are the last of the 8-team format.
FIFA decided to revamp the competition to a 24-team contest from 2021. This is part of their plan to get into the club football business. The new FIFA Club World Cup will replace the FIFA Confederations Cup that acted as a precursor to the World Cup – and is the only thing Brazil wins these days. But it won’t start in 2021 as scheduled since the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted everything football. We are still waiting for the date update from Zurich.
How will the new FIFA Club World Cup work? It will be a cup competition of 8 groups with 3 teams then transitioning to knockout format from the quarterfinals stage. UEFA and CONMEBOL will have 8 and 6 representatives respectively. The rest of us, CAF, AFC and CONCACAF, will get 3 spots in the competition. This means the best 3 teams of the CAF Champions League will qualify.
And you should love these changes because they lead to good things for football in Africa. Here’s how:
1. Prize Money
Football is an industry with very thin profit margins. In fact, many football clubs do not make money at all. They operate in a weird way of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I believe you have witnessed how Covid-19 has revealed just how unsustainable things are. Prize money is one of the income opportunities football teams rely on. But you don’t get too much of that in Africa.
The CAFCL guarantees your club $550,000 for qualifying to the group stage. If your team is really good and goes on to win the CAF Champions League then you get $2.5 million. This is in comparison to a guarantee of $1 million just for qualifying to the Club World Cup. We do not have figures for the new FIFA Club World Cup but we know FIFA intends to make it lucrative enough for European teams to “take it seriously.” We hope African clubs that get this money don’t waste it on transfer market spending.
2. Increased Leverage
I am always happy to see African clubs show ambition. I do not why Kaizer Chiefs is choosing to be left behind. At least they have made public their intention to build a stadium. They are not the only African club with this goal. We know that TP Mazembe wants to expand Mazembe stadium and that Simba and Al Ahly are figuring out ways to finance new stadia. We are also aware about major sides like Club Africain and Gor Mahia who struggle to pay the bills.
This is just the thing. Our football is still not attractive enough for investors to bet on or launder money through (haha). The increased visibility brought on by a successful new FIFA Club World Cup could launch top CAFCL teams to the stratosphere. We have seen Gulf money itch to get into North Africa. We also know that there is a lot of money in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya that is simply not considering football right now.
3. Hosting Opportunity
Do I really need to say more? We do not get a lot of opportunities to host international football competitions in Africa. We have had a few in the 2000s. The U20 World Cup in Egypt, Club World Cups in Morocco and the big one itself in South Africa back in 2010. We still lack the infrastructure and event management experience to host these kinds of tournaments.
The new FIFA Club World Cup will be a good entry point for us to that level (youth events as well). The tournament only requires 4 to 6 stadia like your standard Africa Cup of Nations. This means that it is a realistic situation to see countries picking between the events. It is also going to trickle down lessons like matchday experience, venue security to the CAF Champions League itself and the numerous domestic leagues we have in Africa.
4. Beyond Europe
This is an extra point. We need to evolve beyond the ridiculous notion that only Europe can be home to the best of club football. Yes, I can understand the challenge of standing up to the ‘Big Five Leagues’ of Europe. But there is no valid excuse for Africa and the rest of the world to continue playing second fiddle to the numerous second-tier and lesser European football leagues. I do not like it at all to see a CAFCL contender lose a player to Belgium or Switzerland.
We have to take advantage of the pull the biggest African clubs can afford to muster. And as the Europeans continue to see the threat in the new FIFA Club World Cup, we must stick to sharing the narrative of opportunity.