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‘Hayatou does not look like a prince but more like a king’

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‘Hayatou does not look like a prince but more like a king’

African football has been plunged into further difficulty, following the CAF congress in Morocco, where Issa Hayatou secured, unopposed, another four-year term as its president – his seventh in a row – reports our Associate Editor, Osasu Obayiuwana, who was there.

But for the incontrovertible geographical reality that Marrakech is in Morocco, I would have thought that the Ordinary General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which I attended in the North African country, was in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania. Speech after speech at the Palais du Congrès eulogised the CAF president, Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, who has been at the head of CAF for 25 years, and who secured, unopposed, a record seventh four-year term in office on 10 March.

It ensures that Hayatou’s record, as the longest serving president in CAF’s 56-year history, will be hard, if not practically impossible, to equal. “Hayatou does not look like a prince but more like a king,” commented FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who gave Hayatou a certificate, commemorating his 25 years on the FIFA executive committee. The 67-year-old Cameroonian, from the Northern town of Garoua, close to the Chadian border, grinned widely, in appreciation of the remark and had no hesitation in launching a subsequent broadside against his critics.

“I am called a dictator and all kinds of things,” he said. “I am open to criticism, even when it is very difficult to accept, especially from the media, who often don’t know anything about CAF and its procedures. I didn’t think that I would be in charge of CAF 25 years later. I did not have a particular career plan,” he insisted. Reviewing crucial decisions taken whilst at the helm, Hayatou said the punishment imposed on Togo, during the 2010 Cup of Nations in Angola, was the most difficult decision of his presidency.

It was certainly the most controversial in CAF history. Togo was initially banned from the 2012 and 2013 tournaments, as well as given a $50,000 fine, for withdrawing from the competition, following the killing of some members of their delegation in the Angolan region of Cabinda, whilst travelling by road to the tournament. CAF, and Hayatou in particular, received worldwide condemnation for that decision.

Three years on from that tragedy, Hayatou is unrepentant about the draconian penalty imposed on the Togolese. “[The media] accused CAF of being heartless. We were accused of not protecting the team. How could we have done that? CAF has no army or police force. They were supposed to travel by air. But they travelled by road…”

It took the direct intervention of Sepp Blatter to convince CAF, following a discussion with Hayatou, to overturn the ban. None of the 54 national federation presidents at the Marrakech congress uttered a word, in public, about the prevailing state of the African game, nor was any idea raised or debated on how to improve its state. How does Africa stem the worrying exodus of its top talent to Europe, which destroys any chance of creating viable domestic leagues? Why has African football failed to attract desperately needed finance for growth, even when, after Christianity and Islam, football is arguably the continent’s third religion and has a huge following? Why, since Cameroon’s historic World Cup quarter-final run, at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy, has African football failed to go beyond this 23-year-old barrier?

And why has the continent been unable,since the inception of the World Cup in 1930, to have two teams in the tournament’s knockout phase, something that Asia has been able to achieve?

The absence of debate on these thorny issues, at African football’s most important “political” gathering, goes to the crux of the matter, concerning its management – the refusal to address the proverbial elephants in the room and speak truth to power. The empty chair of the former Ivorian FA chief, Jacques Anouma, who refused to attend the congress, following his failed attempt at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, to reverse the eligibility rules for the CAF presidential contest, was certainly one of those elephants. Not a single reference was publicly made to his absence. “If we can pick, fairly, those whom we want to run our football, then there is no problem,” says Joseph-Antoine Bell, the former goalkeeper, who won the 1988 Cup of Nations with Cameroon. “But when you see that they will try to trick, and even cheat [to get into office], there is something wrong. We are cheating ourselves.”

The million-dollar question, of course, is why there is a clear conspiracy of silence at the top? “It is difficult to stand for what is right when you stand alone or are very few in number,” said a CAF executive committee member, during a private conversation I had with him, on the sidelines of the Marrakech congress. “Until Hayatou goes, it will be impossible to implement meaningful reforms for the management of African football.”

He continued: “Before we go to executive committee meetings, it is clear that certain decisions are already taken before we formally discuss them. When you try to raise your voice, against certain things that you know are wrong, you can see the futility of it once you see that it is the wish of the president.”

Leodegar Tenga, the president of CECAFA, the Council for East and Central African Football Associations, learnt this, to his great cost last September, in Seychelles. The outgoing president of the Football Association of Tanzania was the only one to raise a strong, principled voice in the CAF executive committee last September, against the change of the eligibility rules, which ultimately excluded Anouma. But even Tenga, knowing the rule change was undemocratic, fell to immense pressure to vote in support of the change at the general assembly, which followed, when he saw that he was desperately alone.

Two – or rather, four – things that took place at the congress also serve as pointers, indicating the deeply saddening and dangerous direction in which African football is going, putting it at severe risk of reversing the great gains, in terms of the increased global respect, it has earned over the last two decades.

First is the return of Mali’s Amadou Diakite to the CAF executive committee. Having been banned by FIFA for two years, from “all football activities”, for his unethical behaviour, in the prelude to the vote for the 2018/2022 World Cup host, one would have thought that the global opprobrium, following such a ban, would have automatically knocked Diakite out of the contest.

But the former FIFA executive committee member, whose two-year exile ended on 20 October last year, got a resounding endorsement during the Marrakech election. Diakite’s return hardly indicates that integrity and an unblemished reputation are the qualities needed for earning a place at CAF’s top table.

Second, is the mind-boggling but unsurprising failure of South Africa’s Danny Jordaan, arguably Africa’s best-known football administrator, to win a seat on the CAF executive, for the second time in two years. Jordaan was beaten by Ahmad Ahmand, the president of the Madagascar Federation. Before Marrakech, Jordaan, the former 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee CEO, widely praised for the way in which South Africa hosted the FIFA tournament, lost his initial bid for the CAF post, in addition to a FIFA executive bid, at the 2011 congress in Khartoum, Sudan. Jordaan subsequently abandoned an attempt to challenge Seychelles’ Suketu Patel for the presidency of COSAFA, the Council of Southern African Football Associations, by withdrawing from the contest at the lastminute in Botswana.

“My loss [in Marrakech] was not a personal one,” Jordaan told New African. “I was representing the interests of my country and region. The fact that South Africa and Nigeria are not on the CAF executive should concentrate minds as to what is going on at the moment.”

Jordaan, according to informed sources in CAF politics, was double-crossed by the North African members of the CAF executive committee. In an understanding between Jordaan and Hayatou, the South African, who had his eye on the FIFA executive committee post held by Egypt’s Hani Abou Rida, was convinced to abandon his ambition and allow Abou Rida to return, unopposed, for a second term, as it eventually happened at the congress.

In exchange for abandoning his quest for a FIFA executive committee seat, Jordaan was “promised” that the extra CAF executive seat, for the Southern African region, would go to him. That did not happen. Ordinarily, the election of Anjorin Moucharafou, the controversial president of the Benin Football Federation (BFF), beating Aminu Maigari, president of the Nigeria Football Federation, after two rounds of voting, would be the third clear indicator of further regression in the quality of governance.

Anjorin, an unapologetic loyalist of Hayatou’s, printing promotional T-shirts and calendars for him over the years, was detained for several months in a Beninoise jail, following the “disappearance” of sponsorship revenue from the BFF’s coffers. He was restored to his position, after FIFA threatened to sanction Benin’s government for political interference.

But it is what followed the inauguration of the CAF Hall of Fame, at the Marrakech congress, that is, to my mind, the greatest cause for worry. Whilst it is not a felony to honour administrators who have made an indelible contribution to football, there is no question that the first two inductees of the CAF Hall of Fame should be those that have excelled on the pitch – the players.

That Issa Hayatou and Sepp Blatter were the Hall’s first two inductees, rather than Cameroon’s Roger Milla and Liberia’s George Weah for instance, two legends that represented Africa with pride and distinction on the pitch, shows CAF’s pyramid of priorities is inverted.

“In Africa, administrators put themselves ahead of players… They think they are more important than footballers,” says Joseph-Antoine Bell, the former Cameroon goalkeeper.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, opined that “people don’t want to hear the truth, because they don’t want their illusions destroyed”. But without the destruction of this dangerous illusion, that all is well with the African game, realising its potential and supposed destiny – to become the third force in world football – will never happen. It is a shuddering, disturbing thought which ought to concentrate the minds of those shouldering responsibility for the future of football in Africa. But will it? As the French say, “nous allons le voir” (we shall see)…

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