CAF President Hayatou battling to survive Ahmad Tsunami
The wind of change blowing across global football could claim yet another big victim as the continent goes to the polls to elect the new Confederation of African Football (CAF) President and members of the Executive Committee.
Madagascar Football Federation chief Ahmad Ahmad is seeking to topple Cameroon national, Issa Hayatou, from the seat he has held uninterrupted for 29 years and scuttle his bid for an eighth term in office.
Hayatou survived the Tsumani that hit world governing body FIFA in 2015 that swept away long-serving President; Sepp Blatter and some of his top lieutenants as his 17 year rule ended under a deluge of scandal and disgrace.
The CAF chief was named interim president as FIFA organised fresh elections that ushered hitherto unknown Gianni Infantino to the top seat after favourite and former UEFA President, Michel Platini went down with Blatter after they were accused of bribery.
During the turbulent period, the North American football association CONCACAF President, Jeffrey Webb and his South American CONMEBOL counterpart, Juan Ángel Napout as well as the Asia Football Confederation leader Mohammed bin Hammam also lost their seats.
That left CAF as the only continental body that survived the purge on FIFA but Hayatou’s board could be up on Thursday when member federations go to the ballot in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Hayatou was born into an influential family in Cameroon in 1946 and at just 28; he had risen to the post of Secretary-General of his country’s football governing body, FECAFOOT.
The former basketball player became CAF President 13 years later ironically in Addis Ababa when he stepped into the shoes of his predecessor, Ydnekatchew Tessema of Ethiopia who had passed away from cancer.
Hayatou has served as a member of the powerful FIFA Executive Committee (now Council) since 1990, FIFA Vice-President since 1992, Senior FIFA Vice-president since 2014 and finally occupying the top seat in interim capacity from October 2015 to February last year.
Outside football, he has been a member of the International Olympics Committee since 2001 and serves as the chairman of the Organising Committee for the Olympics Games.
During his extended tenure as CAF boss, Hayatou has seen African slots in the FIFA World Cup increased from one to five and there could be another place or two if the competition is expanded to 48 countries as Infantino wishes.
The Cameroonian played a heavy hand in the organisation of the 2010 Mundial in South Africa- a first for the continent- that continues being plagued with corruption allegations.
Under Hayatou, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) flagship has risen from eight to 16 nations and has overseen the introduction of the U-17, U-20, U-23 and women football continental competitions.
During the last CAF elections, Hayatou was expected to bow having attained the age of 70 but he swiftly engineered a review of the statutes to hand him another elective term.
The former Cameroon 800m national champion has faced little opposition to his rule until now when a new generation of leaders led by Infantino are determined to sweep the old guard from running the game.
Infantino is 47-year-old; Alejandro Dominguez Wilson-Smith, the president of CONMEBOL is 45; Aleksander Ceferin of UEFA is 49 while Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Asian Football Confederation is 51 and Hayatou does not fall under this bracket.
In 2013 Hayatou got all his opponents disqualified to get re-elected unopposed but Infantino has thrown his weight behind the candidature of Ahmad in the most telling sign that his run as CAF boss could be over.
Over the years, Hayatou has employed patronage and installation of his cronies in top positions to remain in power, having forced the requirement in the CAF constitution that no one outside the Executive can run for top office.
Ahmad took his boss by surprise when he declared his candidature in an announcement that was met with a swift clamp down when his Madagascar was stripped of the rights to host the CAF U-17 Nations Cup.
But Ahmad has received the backing of among others, South African regional bloc COSAFA with Infantino touring 14 countries lobbying for the challenger but in a subtle manner since the FIFA boss should uphold neutrality in public.
“I am a candidate for change and the majority wants change. I’m the only one who could dare present a candidacy for change. And I’m vying to bring this change,” Ahmad announced when launching his election bid.
“Our football has been relying too much on its official course since 1957 when CAF was created. It is now high time for it to free itself and to update itself with the current situation,” Ahmad charged.
A former Cabinet minister and Vice-president of the Madagascar Senate has pledged to promote financial transparency, foster youth and women football development and focus on new governance of FIFA.
Ahmad also said that a compliance department will be established to ensure accountability at all levels of the continental body.
“I will be a president who will share the burden of the CAF finances with the presidents of the member associations. This body, called the Special College of Presidents, will meet twice a year and will dictate the various expenses rules and general operations of CAF,” he pledged.
Ahmad has promised to streamline the process of selling broadcast rights for continental championships to counter accusations levelled against Hayatou that he influences the awarding of the lucrative deals.
“All calls for interests on TV rights of all the competitions and marketing must be done and communicated to the public.
“We are strongly advocating for change, but it will not happen without your rich experiences as presidents, as managers, as educators, as players, as observers, as referees, technicians, media representatives, women and men who have a strong passion for African football and most of all, who have such an awesome love for our beloved continent,” he underscored.
-Jacob Icia is reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
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