Football in Africa has transcended mere sport, evolving into a cultural phenomenon akin to a religion. Beyond the fervent cheers and abundant talent, the sport has increasingly become a lucrative business, attracting some of the wealthiest individuals on the continent.
Among these notable figures are Patrice Motsepe from South Africa and Mohammed Dewji from Tanzania, both featured on the 2024 Forbes list of Africa’s top 20 billionaires. While their primary wealth comes from ventures outside football, their recent forays into the sport are seen as strategic investments rather than acts of philanthropy.
Motsepe, the current President of the Confederation of African Football (Caf), boasts a net worth of $2.7 billion. As the owner of Mamelodi Sundowns, he has played a pivotal role in transforming the club into a continental powerhouse, securing six successive league titles and making significant investments in player acquisitions.
The influence of Motsepe extends beyond South Africa, evident in the representation of Sundowns players in the national team, Bafana Bafana.
Notably, Sundowns’ recent signing of an Argentinian player for $47 million underscores Motsepe’s commitment to elevating African football standards. Journalist Tokelo Mokhesi asserts that, thanks to Motsepe, Sundowns is a decade ahead of its competitors in South Africa.
In the 12th position on the Forbes list is Mohammed Dewji, Tanzania’s youngest billionaire at 48. Nicknamed “Mo,” Dewji is the majority shareholder of Simba SC, a football giant in East Africa. Despite his prominence as the head of the MeTL Group, Tanzania’s largest private employer, Dewji’s impact on African football is most evident in Simba SC’s rise to continental prominence under his leadership.
Dewji has emphasized the need for greater recognition and fair representation of African football globally, reflecting his commitment to advancing the sport. Nqobile Ndlovu of Cash ‘N Sport highlights Dewji’s role in turning Simba into a continental force, competing successfully in Caf competitions.
Motsepe and Dewji are actively involved in initiatives such as the Africa Football League (AFL), aimed at raising football standards across the continent. Sundowns’ victory in the AFL’s debut season illustrates Motsepe’s financial influence and dedication to attracting top-tier players globally.
Despite the positive contributions of these wealthy individuals, African football has grappled with long-standing issues of mismanagement and corruption. A financial report by Caf in the previous year acknowledged the need for reforms to address governance challenges.
Observers speculate that the involvement of wealthy individuals like Motsepe and Dewji could inject much-needed discipline into the sport, making it an attractive investment opportunity. Ndlovu notes that their impact is already redefining football events in Tanzania, South Africa, and continentally.
The financial outlook for Caf appears promising, with a reported 17 percent increase in commercial revenue for 2022, reaching $125.2 million. High-value TV rights deals have significantly contributed to this growth, boosting tournament prize monies by five percent.
The sponsorship of Afcon by TotalEnergies and the involvement of major broadcasters like Sky Sports further exemplify the increasing commercial appeal of African football.
Caf’s recent mandate for clubs to have women’s teams, along with the establishment of the Women’s Champions League and increased prize money, signals a commitment to gender inclusion and further financial development. Motsepe has expressed his ambition to make African football self-reliant, aiming to break the tradition of seeking handouts from donors.
The entry of figures like Patrice Motsepe and Mohammed Dewji into African football marks a significant shift, not only in terms of financial investments but also in raising the standard and global appeal of the sport on the continent.
As they actively contribute to initiatives and address governance challenges, their influence holds the potential to reshape the landscape of African football for the better.