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Legal dispute threatens African Football League future amid CAF and FIFA questions

Legal dispute threatens African Football League future amid CAF and FIFA questions

The newly-formed African Football League, which aimed to bridge the footballing gap with wealthier regions, already finds itself in danger of crashing before a ball is kicked, City A.M reports.

A legal dispute between the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and its key rights holder, beIN Media Group, has escalated over media contract termination and FIFA’s role in the emergent tournament.

This clash has also raised concerns about CAF’s financial sustainability, the effect of the new tournament on its main events – the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and CAF Champions League – and the extent of FIFA’s involvement.

In April 2021, the European version of the African Football League – Super League – collapsed within days of its announcement amid widespread rejection from the footballing world.

While Africa has been careful to avoid the word ‘super’ in its version, there are still doubts about its viability even before its inaugural kick-off despite being touted as a means of narrowing the wealth divide upon its inception in August 2021.

The draw for the inaugural African Football League was made in Cairo on Saturday, but a legal row that threatens the competition’s launch next month was simultaneously brewing in the background. 

CAF’s partnership with FIFA further underlines the world governing body’s growing influence on the continent but the legal problem stems from the Confederation’s decision to terminate a $415 million (£332 million) contract with beIN, originally due to run until 2028.

This comes after an extended period of locking horns over rebates primarily related to COVID-19 pandemic disruptions and last-minute changes in the previous two AFCON tournaments. 

However, the crux of the matter revolves around the African Football League with the establishment of a new premier tournament for Africa’s top clubs diminishing the value of the CAF Champions League and affecting the worth of beIN’s rights package. 

CAF argues that, as a joint venture with FIFA, the emergent league falls outside the scope of the existing agreement with the Qatar-based broadcaster – an assertion met with resistance in Doha.

The termination has left the 38 territories covered by the beIN deal, including Asia, France, the United States, Canada and North Africa, without a broadcaster. 

CAF’s decision could have significant financial implications. The Confederation reported a $15.7 million (£12.6 million) loss for the last financial year, and it could be more considering the deal with beIN was their most substantial commercial contract.

A new broadcaster is yet to be announced, but beIN has vowed not to go down without a fight leaving the future of the African Football League delicately hanging in the balance.

Amid this uncertainty, the African Football League, initially supported by Saudi Arabian investment, has seen its format reduced from 24 teams to eight for its first season.

The idea is to expand the tournament to accommodate 24 clubs from next year, but there is currently no clear funding plan for that venture.

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