The Future is Now: Sentiments on Football Governance in Africa - Part 1

28 March 2023



Sports Business

“There is nothing more important than an environment and a culture that says everybody is needed and wanted. The farmer doesn’t spend 80% of his time massaging the individual seeds; he spends 80% of his time preparing the soil; the environment.”

~ Bonang Mohale (author of Lift As You Rise)




It is election and appointment season in Southern African Football. If the time to change the narrative is not now, then when? The governance of football is a topic that is always in the news, albeit for all of the wrong reasons. Now is thus an appropriate time to address what governance means and the tasks that lie ahead for those who will or have been appointed to Standing Committees and those seeking election. My country of birth, Zimbabwe, is currently suspended by FIFA for third-party interference which means that they will not be participating in the COSAFA elections; something which is unfortunate but entirely avoidable. The South Africa Football Association (“SAFA”) will be having its football governing body elections where they will be electing the President and executive committee members soon. Whoever wins will have a real task to transform football’s fortunes in the country. The Confederation of African Football (“CAF”) has appointed members of Standing Committees, and they have a mandate to be custodians of football for the next two years and fulfil President Patrice Motsepe and CAF’s vision. This article will critically assess the extent to which the governing structures have a crucial role to play in ensuring the sustained future success of African football.


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Contextualising the Analysis


My sentiments and analysis are guided by Dambisa Moyo’s book, "Boards". In the preamble, Dambisa states that the book is intended for current management and employees so that they can know what their boards do; for investors so that they appreciate the limits and possibilities of the board; for policymakers and regulators so that they see what trade-offs boards face; for current board members to guide them through their reform agenda; for the future board members to help them grasp what their board role is; and to the general public so that they understand why successful boards and well-governed corporations are crucial to society.


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While I will not deal with all the topics discussed by Dambisa, I have focused on what I believe will be necessary for those starting their mandate; whether as returning incumbents or first-time office-bearers. I am writing to football management and employees to understand what their governing bodies are meant to do, and for governments so that they understand the governing bodies’ limits and possibilities. For sponsors and strategic partners so that they understand the trade-offs, and cost-benefit analyses, that governing bodies face. For current Executive Committee Members and General Assembly Members, to help them with their reform agenda. To the newly elected and appointed Executive Committee Members and Standing Committee Members to help grasp their governing body roles. To the football fans, to better understand why a successful football governing body that is well-run is critical for the development and success of football in your country or region.


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Africa’s Broad Burgeoning Backdrop


We must acknowledge that Africa is a large 52-country continent with tremendous uncertainty and heightened complexities. Others might strictly look at these as hurdles and challenges. I look at this as an opportunity. There is nothing in the world that brings people together like football. As members of football governing bodies, you will have been granted the opportunity to tell a different African story. A story that is rich in diversity. Our diversity is our strength. Dambisa Moyo argues that the prosperity of society relies on corporate boards succeeding. The same applies to football. If football is to succeed on the pitch, change is imperative. Change is underpinned by the creation of strong, independent, diverse, technologically-savvy and socially responsible governing bodies. Studies have shown that a diverse board is stronger because it doesn’t fall into the trap of group thinking.


As an appointed or elected Board member you have the strategic function of providing the organisation's vision, mission, and goals with the assistance of Standing Committee members. As African football, our “true north” is codified in the CAF Statutes:

  • The promotion and development of the game of football; and
  • To increase its popularity while considering its global educational, cultural and humanitarian impact by implementing youth and development programs.

With a median age of 19.7 years, the African continent is the youngest globally. Developing your vision and strategy should reflect long-term thinking that shows you have considered what the future looks like, and, indeed, could look like. In an address to the Forbes Africa 30 under 30 Conference in Botswana, CAF President Patrice Motsepe said his primary concern is the 300 million African youth between 15 and 25. CAF must be able to connect with them as they are the future, and football is an important platform for affording them opportunities to develop and grow.


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FIFA – The Watchful Custodian of Football


The vision of FIFA as the global governing body is to truly globalise, popularise and democratise football for the entire world. It is common knowledge that we are at the bottom end of development in Africa. As a board member, you are responsible for establishing a policy-based governance system that allows this vision to be implemented. FIFA, for example, has provided the framework for football development through the FIFA Talent Development – Give Every Talent a Chance Report.


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It is now the job of governing bodies and their standing committees to develop policies that will define the rules and procedures to implement the recommendations on how the programme will work on the continent, in regions and at the member-association level. The board and management will use these policies. The policies must be broad and not rigidly defined, to allow for flexibility, taking Africa’s diversity and complexities into account. This should not, however, be at the expense of quality and excellence. While far easier said than done, your mandate reminds you of the challenges and responsibilities which you assumed. Not just towards your associations, but to Africa, to football. So then how should such a policy/framework look? It all starts with looking inside, both within yourself, and your community. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.


Part 2 is now available to be read here.

- Authored by Francis Makonese, with editorial work by Shane Wafer And Nick Flowers