Caf hits out as Lagardère Sports dispute rumbles on

The Confederation of African Football has further criticised Egyptian authorities in a dispute surrounding its contract with the Lagardère Sports agency, stating recent developments set a “deeply worrying precedent” for the African sports business industry as a whole.

Caf released a statement yesterday (Sunday) to counter what it claims are a variety of unsubstantiated charges and allegations presented in the media by the Egyptian Competition Authority.

Caf said it understands that the ECA’s claims have led to Egypt’s Public Prosecutor for Financial and Commercial Affairs referring the confederation, president Issa Hayatou and secretary general Hicham El Amrani to the Egyptian Economic Court.

In January, Caf strongly denied allegations that it contravened competition regulations in awarding a major package of its rights and refuted claims that Hayatou (pictured) had been referred to prosecutors for investigation over the matter.

The ECA said it had referred Hayatou to the country’s general prosecutor after alleging that the award of the rights infringed regulations. The ECA claimed that Hayatou violated aspects of the country’s Protection of Competition Act when the Sportfive agency was awarded worldwide rights to Caf events in 2015 without a formal tender process having taken place.

The Sportfive agency signed a 12-year renewal with Caf covering six Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournaments in 2017, 2019, 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027, as well as exclusive rights to Afcon qualifiers, the Caf Champions League and other second-tier properties, from 2017 to 2028.

Caf said in its statement on Sunday: “Any suggestion whatsoever of impropriety in relation to the commercial agreement is utterly without foundation and completely and vehemently denied. Caf will vigorously defend its position, its rights and reputation using all legal means available under international law.”

As with previous Caf deals, no formal tender was issued for the rights and all negotiations took place in private. The Sportfive brand has since been phased out, with Lagardère’s sports-rights agencies falling under the Lagardère Sports brand.

The ECA suggested that Caf would have to unbundle rights across different platforms for future tournaments to meet competition regulations. Caf on Sunday also moved to reject reports that it received a rival bid that was superior to that of Sportfive’s.

Caf said: “It is suggested that a company called Presentation Advertising Agency submitted a superior offer to Caf at the time of the negotiations. For the avoidance of any doubt, the offer submitted by Presentation was submitted in September 2016, 15 months after the signature of the contract; and materially and substantially fell short of the financial, technical, execution and other requirements commonly expected and required for deals of this nature in the sports media industry.

“Most significantly and in addition to the previous points, Presentation’s belated offer was to acquire outright the marketing and media rights held by Caf, which were never for sale and the very holding of such agency rights by Presentation would be in violation of its own articles of association.”

Caf is headquartered in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and has suggested that the actions of local authorities have been timed to disrupt its forthcoming presidential elections, where Hayatou faces a challenge to retain his long-term position.

Caf added: “In the ordinary course of any legal dispute under international norms, Caf would be given the opportunity to present its case to relevant authorities and have the right to be heard in accordance with due process. To date, the Egyptian Competition Authority and the Public Prosecutor, in quite remarkable and unprecedented fashion for regulatory bodies, have attempted to conduct a trial by media offering Caf no right of defence and serving it with no formal charges other than through the media.

“Indeed, the Public Prosecutor has referred its fait accompli case to the Egyptian Economic Court following only a few days of investigations without any communication or engagement whatsoever with Caf. Given the facts, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is a form of interference with general commercial contract negotiations in Egypt under the veil of an unfounded local competition law infringement, which sets a deeply worrying precedent not just for football in Egypt, but for business in Egypt and for sport and business in Africa.

“The timing of the ECA’s media campaign also underlines its attempt to disrupt and undermine Caf at the time of its presidential elections. To be absolutely clear, Caf categorically asserts that all claims against it are groundless and without merit, and will vigorously contest them.”