Patel new COSAFA boss

Each of the 13 national affiliates cast their vote at the COSAFA General Council meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, last week. Voting was by secret ballot with the media invited in as observers. Patel polled seven votes, to Namibian Petrus Damaseb’s four. The much-touted Zambian football ace Kalusha Bwalya secured only two votes.

It was a fair and transparent vote. However, several journalists present openly grumbled.

“Why should we be ruled from the small and far-away island of the Seychelles? This reflects the poverty of ideas so prevalent in our media.”

Yes, Bwalya, the former Africa Footballer of the Year, has strong credentials as a player. After a short stint as Zambia coach and technical director, Bwalya is currently Football Association of Zambia vice president and a commentator on the DStv’s Supersport channel. Some in the media felt this was enough to make the mark. Was it?

Then there was Damaseb, the COSAFA vice president and a member of the recently constituted FIFA Ethics Commission. After the commission’s inauguration, nothing more seems to have happened.

“Since the commission came into being, I have never attended any of their meetings. Besides, I do not have a copy of the minutes from that inaugural meeting. I did not attend the inauguration because I had my hands full with judicial work in Namibia,” Damaseb confided to The Southern Times in Gaborone.

Africans are asking if this is FIFA’s way of silencing the criticism that arose after the Ismail Bhamjee ticket scandal at the World Cup. FIFA president Sepp Blatter was quick to blow the whistle on Bhamjee. Is it fair he remained conspicuously silent about similar indiscretions by the America FIFA executive member Jack Warner?

Unlike Bhamjee, Warner was not set up by European journalists and yet his ticket sales indiscretions are in six-digit figures. His son was involved in a conflict of interest situation regarding ticket sales to the England-Trinidad and Tobago World Cup fixture.

Blatter ought to have blown the whistle at Warner with far more vigour. Or is there a standard of morality required of people from Africa which does not apply when it involves Europeans and Americans?

Perhaps the COSAFA delegates sent a clear message to Damaseb to focus on contributing towards making FIFA’s Ethics Commission more than a paper tiger.

What is little known to the media, is that Patel has a credible resume in football. He was elected to the Seychelles Football Association while still a national team player some 30 years ago. He served on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) finance committee for 10 years. He also worked on the women football committee.

“I have been involved is shaping CAF’s Contract with Africa.

“Presently, I am in the team overseeing the implementation of the programme. I am not a flamboyant person and prefer my work to do the talking for me,” Patel told The Southern Times in Gaborone.

What the COSAFA leaderships appears to have agreed on is that they want a leader who can rejuvenate football starting from the less glamorous grassroots level. Focussed attention on growing the sport at the under-17, under-19 levels as well as women’s football is crucial to sustainable development of the game. CAF’s Contract with Africa programme is all about developing football at the grassroots level. It is now time to rally behind the elected COSAFA leadership. Clearly, the lesson from events in Gaborone is that those who rely on international media monopolies to gain mileage when seeking elective office in football are bound to be disappointed.

It is one’s track record at the grassroots level that counts most among football leaders in the region. In this regard, COSAFA has set a good example for the rest of the continent. This is especially true as some are already vying for the 2008 CAF presidential elections. Their scouts were in Gaborone to monitor the elections. One hopes football administrators and journalists alike have learnt something from the COSAFA presidential elections.

December 2006
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