15 March 2017

Africa: Wily Hayatou All but Assured of Yet Another CAF Presidency

Photo: CAF Online
CAF elects new president.

Cameroonian septuagenarian Issa Hayatou is once again favourite to win the Confederation of African Football presidency when the continental body holds its polls in Addis Ababa Thursday.

But he will face his biggest threat yet in his 29-year, iron-fisted reign of African football.

Madagascar's football boss, Ahmed Ahmad, is challenging Hayatou for CAF's top position and it has been said that he has the backing of Fifa boss Gianni Infantino who wants to see new leadership in Africa.

"If people want change there is no other choice. Only I can dare (to challenge Hayatou). My programme is the reform of the administration of Caf to avoid the involvement of politics in the organisation," the 57-year-old Ahmad said in an earlier interview with AFP.

But, ironically, his campaign has already taken political dimensions.

Firstly, some 24 heads of African football associations attended an event hosted by Zimbabwe FA boss and president of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa), Phillip Chiyangwa -- Ahmad's campaign manager.

PREFERRED CANDIDATE

The event was ostensibly to celebrate Chiyangwa's 58th birthday, but it is not lost to observers that Cosafa has pledged to vote en masse for Ahmed. Caf, in fact, wanted the meeting called off charging it was geared towards destabilizing the African body.

Then just two weeks back, Nigeria Sports minister Solomon Dalung unilaterally contradicted Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick's asserting that Ahmed was their preferred candidate by saying the giant African nation would vote for "their interest" -- read support their Cameroonian neighbour.

Dalung said Hayatou was a pillar for African football and had made immerse contributions to its growth.

Closer at home, Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa has been heard talking about the need for change in African football leadership, but is yet to publicly state who Kenya will vote for.

In contrast, the 12-member Council for East and Central African Football Associations, that FKF is affiliated to, has been rather forthright in who their man is.

At an extraordinary meeting held in Libreville on February 4, on the sides of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations that was on going then in Gabon, Cecafa members unanimously expressed and reiterated their support for the candidature of Hayatou and urged members in other zones to rally behind the veteran football leader.

Cecafa secretary General Nicholas Musonye -- a long time Hayatou diehard -- has pleaded with regional FA's to evaluate Hayatou's achievements and appreciate what he has done.

The long-serving Cecafa Secretary General noted that the Cameroonian President has been a good friend of the council for many years.

Hayatou, 70, has been quietly doing his campaign, and his record does speak for itself.

It is not in doubt that he has transformed African football from a moribund organization a couple of years back into a big industry worth millions of dollars.

Hayatou took over CAF leadership in 1988 during the confederation congress in Casablanca, when its flagship competition, the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) was an eight-team affair.

There was little money in the organisation, whose headquarter was then housed in a private property in Cairo.

Under his watch, CAF has been turned into a highly successful sports organization while several competition have been introduced and expanded.

During his tenure, Afcon has grown into a 16-nation high profile final contest staged after every two years. Big money has come in. For instance, the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations winner pocketed $4 million (about Sh400 million), the losing finalist $2m (Sh200 million) while both semi-finalists were rewarded with $1.5 million (Sh150 million).

YOTH FOOTBALL VIBRANT

Quarter-finalists to group participants also got a cheque. The total prize money was $16.4 million (Sh1.64 billion) making it the richest football tournament in Africa.

The African Champions league and the Caf Confederation Cup have also expanded and become highly lucrative and competitive, while international women and youth football is vibrant.

During Hayatou's eventful tenure, Africa's slots at the World Cup have increased from two to five and a good number of Africans are sitting on the high table of the Fifa Council.

The enumeration could continue, but the wily Hayatou will certainly have something extra up his sleeve.

He has been challenged seriously for the presidency twice, prevailed, and come out even stronger.

In 2000, Hayatou was re-elected after soundly beating Angola's Armando Machado by 47 votes to four and in 2004, in Tunisia, he floored his Batswana opponent Ismail Bhamjee by 46 votes to six.

In the 2013 elections he was voted in unopposed after Caf amended its statutes to conveniently knock out the candidature of serious rival Jacques Anouma. CAf resolved to only permit those who had held positions of responsibility within the institution to run for presidency. Hayatou then said that it was going to be his last term only to rescind the decision.

Handily, Caf in 2015 again changed their statutes allowing for officials to serve past their 70th birthday. So, despite the noise for change, Hayatou looks certain to retain his post and the status quo.

And considering his and African football history, he will be looking forward to serving two more terms in line with the amended CAF constitution. Meaning he could still be at the helm at 80 years of age.

Be assured he will have his faithful backers pulling to his bidding.

Nyende, a former Kenya rugby international, is an award-winning sports journalist and sub-editor at the Nation Media Group's Sports Desk.

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