Region licks CAF-induced wounds
Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe saw their bids to host the 2010 Nations Cup finals being thrown out by the Confederation of African Football leadership at the very first hurdle last week. Only Angola ‘ from the Southern African bloc ‘ got the vote from the Caf executive committee to go into the final round alongside Nigeria, Libya and a joint bid from Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The events in the Egyptian capital on Sunday constituted another slap in the face for this region which had sent in four bids hoping to bring the Nations Cup finals to this part of the continent for the first time in 14 years. Next year the Nations Cup finals will celebrate their Jubilee Year ‘ the 50th anniversary of a tournament that started with just three teams in 1957 but has now grown into the ultimate football showcase on the continent. During that lengthy period, only one Nations Cup finals has been held in Southern Africa when the Rainbow Nation hosted the tournament in 1996. North African countries ‘ where the Caf headquarters is based ‘ have hosted the tournament 11 times since it started. West African countries ‘ where Caf president Issa Hayatou comes from ‘ have hosted the tournament nine times and will make it tenth when Ghana hosts the next edition in 2008. East African countries have hosted the tournament three times but not even once since 1976. Egypt ‘ which hosts the Caf headquarters ‘ have hosted the tournament four times and Ghana will host it for the fourth time in two years’ time. Nigeria, which was selected into the final round of the bidding process on Sunday, has already hosted the tournament twice ‘ including as recently as 2000. Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, who sent a joint bid, have not hosted the tournament before while Libya were hosts in 1982. Given that the Nations Cup finals has only been hosted here once, the mood going into the bidding process in Cairo last week was that the majority of teams from this region would dominate the final list. In fact, Mozambique went into that bidding process looking like the favourites to win the bid but were shocked not to be included even in the shortlist of four nations. Having impressed the same Caf leadership with a smooth presentation ceremony in January, the Mozambicans ‘ also banking on a growing economy ‘ were favourites for this one. But they soon learnt the ugly politics of football administration on the continent. Zimbabwe went in with a plea for sympathy after its rights to host the tournament in 2000 were controversially taken away by the Caf leadership ‘ just a few months before the tournament. But again Zimbabwe lost at the first hurdle despite an impressive presentation. Namibia roped in their founding father Sam Nujoma hoping that his touch would help their bid the way Nelson Mandela had helped South Africa win the right to host the 2010 World Cup finals. But again their pleas fell on the deaf ears of a leadership that has never considered Southern Africa a part of their constituency. Zimbabwean sport analyst Albert Nhamoyebonde even suggested that the Caf leadership appeared to be swayed more by oil than the ability of the countries to host the Nations Cup finals. All the five countries still in the race have substantial oil reserves. “I believe this is all about oil. For how else can one explain this coincidence? “Maybe the Caf leadership were promised some oil revenue to make their decision,” said Nhamoyebonde. There is no evidence, on the surface, of vote buying but, in the corridors of secrecy, a number of Caf leaders have confirmed that money changes hands. “No one used to confirm that International Olympic Committee leaders get kickbacks for voting for a particular country to host the showcase,” said one analyst last week. “But since the Salt Lake City scandal, a lot of people have been forced to concede that the Olympic Movement, in particular, and sport in general is not as clean as we used to believe. “That is why the powerful countries of the west and northern parts of this continent will always get the favours when it comes to such things like bidding to host the Nations Cup finals. “The people of Southern Africa generally play clean games in a dirty field and that is why even their teams do not do very well on the continent. The people from North and West Africa understand the importance of making sure that they should take care of those who have the power to vote in their favour.” The Salt Lake City scandal broke on December 10 1998 when Swiss IOC member Marc Hodler, head of the co-ordination committee overseeing the organisation of the 2002 Winter Olympics, revealed that several members of the IOC had been bribed. A number of high-profile resignations followed within the local organising committee of the Salt Lake City games. As the investigations intensified, 10 members of the powerful IOC board were expelled from the organisation. While the Salt Lake City scandal changed the face of the IOC board, the extent of bribery in African football was only brought to the fore in January during the battle for Fifa executive posts. Fittingly it was one of the continent’s greatest football stars of all time ‘ legendary Malian forward Salif Keita ‘ who blew the lid. Keita had been nominated to fight for one of the two places available for African candidates on the Fifa executive board. But just before the elections in Cairo, Keita withdrew his candidature but asked the Congress for a special address. In his address, Keita shocked the Congress when he announced that he was withdrawing his candidature because he felt that the playing field was not level. He said that he could not stand in an election that was tainted by vote-buying and, as a footballer who had always believed in fair play, he could not indulge in such bad practices. As expected, the Caf leadership ignored his views and carried on as if everything was above board and two candidates ‘ from Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire ‘ won the elections. “I believe we need to break away from Caf,” said Harare sports administrator Bobby Chivaviro last week. Although Chivaviro is a basketball leader, he said he had been following the football scene with interest and believes it is time for Southern Africa to divorce itself from Caf. “Those who are in charge of Caf do not serve our interests in Southern Africa and there is no point for us to remain in the organisation. Anyone who tries to tell me that Gabon and Equatorial Guinea offer better prospects for hosting the Nations Cup than Mozambique and Namibia is really fit for a mental institution. “Anyone who can tell me that Mali offered better facilities for the Nations Cup than Zimbabwe is also fit for a mental institution. “The Caf leadership lives in an imaginary world and they appear to be jealous of the good infrastructure that we have here in Southern Africa.” Hayatou has never forgiven Southern Africa for fielding a candidate ‘ Ismael Bhamjee ‘ who challenged him for the Caf leadership. He has also never forgiven Southern Africa after the region rebelled against orders for the continent to vote for Uefa president Lernart Johannson in his battle against Sepp Blatter for the Fifa leadership in 1998. Hayatou had promised Johannson that he would deliver all the African votes to his side in exchange for him to replace the Uefa boss as Fifa president four years later. But while West and North Africa delivered their votes to Johannson, East and Southern African nations rebelled and voted for Blatter. Hayatou was embarrassed and decided to punish the rebels. Zimbabwe were the first casualty of that whip when Caf withdrew the rights for the country to host the Nations Cup finals in 2000. South Africa’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup finals did not get the support of the Caf leadership which, in turn, supported Morocco. As a consequence, South Africa lost the vote to Germany. Even their winning bid to host the 2010 World Cup finals did not get the full endorsement of the Caf leadership, which again supported Morocco. It has been a tough ride for Southern Africa and there is nothing to suggest that the politics of football will ever sway in this region’s favour.