Why FIFA's Infantino Backed African Football League but Not European Super League

Why FIFA's Infantino Backed African Football League but Not European Super League

Jarryd Westerdale
updated at February 13, 2024 at 11:54 AM
  • Gianni Infantino was forced to disavow the European Super League after backlash
  • The FIFA president has since received praise for helping to make the AFL a reality
  • CAF president, Patrice Motsepe and UEFA boss, Aleksander Ceferin were both key

The force of an impact depends on the weight the objects carry.

In the summer of 2021, a few brave businessmen launched an evolution of European football, only to have their ambitions swiftly struck down and ridiculed.

Just over two years later, an African replica emerged and was widely championed by football's leaders and those on the fringes alike - why?

Aleksander Ceferin, Gianni Infantino, Patrice Motsepe, UEFA, FIFA, CAF.
Gianni Infantino oversaw varying outcomes at UEFA and CAF when new super leagues were introduced to the respective confederations. Photos: Jonathan Moscrop, Gongora/NurPhoto and Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images.
Source: Getty Images

Football has long outgrown its place as organised recreation. It has become a global industry that impacts many social and financial ecosystems.

The European Super League (ESL) and the African Football League (AFL) are incredibly similar in structure and purpose. The ESL looked to pool together the biggest brands of European football into one league to lay the cornerstones of a radical future.

The AFL, originally pitched as the African Super League, is by invite only and runs as a parallel competition to the CAF Champions League, effectively a direct competitor with superior prize money.

The announcement of the ESL was met with a biblical backlash against the instigators, yet the AFL was launched and concluded without a single inconvenience, barring a few rumblings from South African interests.

FIFA President, Gianni Infantino wholeheartedly backed the AFL, while The New York Times has detailed how the football chief was one of the 'masterminds' behind the ESL until the pressure became too severe.

Why ESL and AFL had different outcomes

1. Broadcasters and Media Houses

The Premier League's current broadcast rights are worth £5.1 billion, according to The Athletic. This is the largest of the European Leagues, with La Liga close behind before getting incrementally smaller across the leagues.

Any rival league featuring the biggest names of their respective domestic competitions would greatly devalue the existing product, placing livelihoods at stake.

By contrast, CAF just lost a flagship broadcast agreement with beIN Media group worth $415mil, as reported by the BBC. The minimal financial clout of the media in Africa allowed for a smoother run at the desired end result.

2. Fan power and mobilisation

The media that controls the coverage of the competitions also has the fans in the palm of their hands. When the ESL formation news broke, a mass mobilisation campaign began, spearheaded by pundits and former players.

The African media landscape is more independent and competitive with few monopolies able to rally large swaths of the population to demonstrate.

Dissident voices could be heard from the continent but not at the volume that may have burst the eardrums of the ESL elite.

3. Established UEFA competitions

The UEFA Champions League is arguably on par with the international European Championships and fractionally behind the FIFA World Cup.

The CAF Champions League on the other hand lacks global recognition, despite being the continent being home to Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Victor Osimhen.

Two years after the failed launch of the ESL, SkySports boasted that the Premier League's single-season revenue had reached £5.5 billion.

Across the Mediterranean, a revenue report on the finances of the Confederation of African Football - compiled by Statista - stated that the continental body generated just $125.2mil dollars in 2022.

The disparity between earnings and the potential losses for UEFA were worth fighting tooth and nail for.

4. UEFA power dynamics and ultimate control

In football, you can't score if you don't have the ball and likewise, UEFA can not profit if the stakeholders are outside of their circle of influence.

The ESL would make the owners of the world's most important clubs the central figures of the game. With the AFL, the levers of control are still very much in the hands of UEFA and FIFA.

5. Aleksander Ceferin and Patrice Motsepe

Did Infantino learn from the errors of his European ambitions, which led him to find a more pliable African substitute?

The Slovenian bureaucrat said at a UEFA conference in the days after the ESL launch:

"I cannot stress more strongly at this moment that UEFA and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful, self-serving proposal."

One of the richest men in Africa had a different pitch to CAF members in October, as quoted by Inside World Football:

"You have to see the AFL within the context of our goals and objectives. The AFL will significantly improve the quality of the other CAF competitions, including the CAF club competitions. It will have a huge contribution to the improvement of national team football."

Infantino had similar ideas when promoting the AFL in 2022, as quoted by DW:

"This competition will help these teams develop the footballing and financial muscle to consistently match - and perhaps then defeat - the very best the rest of the world has to offer."

Is the European game too bloated and does African football require investment? The answer in both cases is 'yes' but the current European model does not distribute evenly and the AFL will not distribute widely.

UEFA Champions League prize money continues to promote the perennial winners, who are the same teams that form the backbone of the breakaway group.

In Africa, Mamelodi Sundowns just earned $6.7 million for six games and the expanded competition is to feature 24 teams representing just 16 of the 54 member federations.

The ESL possibility has not gone away with the stakeholders having announced in February a revised plan to include a 80-team competition with no permanent members.

The vested interests have taken the matter to the highest court in the land and the European Court of Justice will deliver a final verdict on the fortunes of the European Super League on December 21.

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Infantino applauds Soweto Derby and AFL final

Sports Brief recently reported on FIFA boss, Infantino's recent visit to South Africa.

The football chief praised the energy of the Soweto Derby, won by Orlando Pirates.

The next day, Infantino was treated to the highly-charged final round of the AFL.

Jarryd Westerdale photo
Jarryd Westerdale
Jarryd Westerdale (based in Johannesburg) joined Sports Brief after four years in the community journalism sphere. He is a two-time Alet Roux Award winner and was a finalist in multiple categories at the Forum of Community Journalism Excellence Awards.
South AfricaPatrice Motsepe