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Apr 8, 2014

How FIFA can help make African football better

African football is going to get help, whether it wants it or not. At a FIFA seminar in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week, the organisation’s secretary general, Jerome Valcke, promised not only $900 million for various development projects around the continent, but also an increased focus on assisting Africa in professionalising its game, from infrastructure to governance.

Twenty-six African countries were present at the three-day event and some of the recipients have welcomed FIFA’s offer. South African Football Association CEO Dennis Mumble called it a “wonderful project,” while Ghana Football Association president Kwesi Nyantaki said the conference was a “huge success for the development of the game in Africa.”

If the benefits pay off as planned, Valcke hopes to see an African World Cup finalist “soon.” With that in mind Football Africa takes a look at the two things FIFA should prioritise in the near future.

Total member participation

Most teams have a mantra that they will improve only by playing more. Apart from the odd friendly, national fixtures are largely confined to qualifications for either the African Nations’ Cup (ANC) or the World Cup and not everybody can afford to or has the resources to play.

Already two countries have indicated they will not be on the road to ANC 2015. Malawi’s government has given their FA a choice between funding the national side or a youth side and all signs are that they will choose the youngsters. Initially, Malawi’s FA confirmed they would pull out of the ANC qualifiers, but then said they are searching for a sponsor to try to take part. Eritrea have withdrawn without reason, although it is strongly suspected defection of 17 squad members has something to do with their unavailability. During qualifying for the 2013 edition of the competition, Swaziland and Benin both pulled out for financial reasons.

At club level, the same thing has happened with the CAF Champions League. This year Steve Biko FC from Gambia could not participate because they did not have the money.

While FIFA cannot subsidise every national and club team, they can monitor where the grants they provide to their members go. A new independent audit and compliance unit is set to do just that, with random assessments for various nations. Perhaps it should not be so random. The countries who have struggled to meet commitments in the past should be the first ones whose books are examined, and if they need help with financial management, FIFA could provide it.

It would also be worth examining CAF’s regulations for the Champions League. Currently, they stipulate that the host team must pay for the visitors' and the match officials’ transport and accommodation. Often this is not sustainable and FIFA may have a recommendation that could assist teams who cannot afford this to still take part in the competition.

Education and sanctions

Some teams have no problem getting themselves on the field, but mess things up when they are there. Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso were docked 2014 World Cup qualifying points for fielding ineligible players during their campaigns.

The first two of those countries allowed players who should have been suspended to take the field, the other two let men they thought qualified to represent them play when, in fact, the players did not meet the required criteria. Either the teams were guilty of brazen cheating, in which case they should face harsh FIFA sanctions, or their record-keeping and understanding of the rules went awry.

FIFA can help with both. Through CAF, if need be, they can create a database of players who are suspended which can be accessed easily. They can also involve themselves in overseeing the process of naturalising players who are born in one country and choose to play for another. If these things are taken care of before game time, teams will not have to lose matches they should have won and those who are good enough to qualify for major tournaments, will.

There is much more than just these things that needs to be done in Africa -- leagues must be professionalised, shady agents found and punished, and equipment and facilities improved. But the above pair would be a good start to taking what’s already there and improving on it.

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