Moment of truth in the battle for CAF presidency
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – In just a few days’ time, a Southern African-led rebellion to topple the world’s longest-serving football dynasty faces a stern test in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in a watershed election for CAF presidency, which has generated interest around the world.
Asummer of politics has seen the battle for the CAF presidency between long-serving African football boss, Issa Hayatou, and challenger Ahmad Ahmad dominate everything in the game on the continent and even overshadow a thrilling CAF Under-20 Nations Cup tournament in Zambia.
The CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup tournaments, which roared into life three weeks ago, have also been pushed into the shadows and it is difficult to imagine that this weekend the first legs of the final qualifiers for the Champions League group will be played across the continent.
The big boys of African football, who were given byes in the previous round, now enter the fray in the battle for the CAF Champions League with 32 teams in action this weekend and defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns starting the defence of their title with a home tie against Kampala Capital City Authority of Uganda.
Five-time African champions TP Mazembe, who won the 2016 CAF Confederation Cup tournament, have a tricky introduction in their return to the Champions League when they take on Zimbabwe champions CAPS United in the first leg of their first round showdown in Lubumbashi.
Bidvest Wits of South Africa make the long trip to Egypt for a date with record African champions, Al Ahly, while Ferroviario de Beira of Mozambique have a home first-leg tie against Liberia’s Barrack Young Controllers.
A feisty showdown between Zambian champions Zanaco and Young Africans of Tanzania should provide a lot of fireworks.
But all this has been overshadowed by the politics of the game, which will come to a head next Thursday in Ethiopia when the battle for the CAF presidency explodes with Ahmad hoping to write a Cinderella tale, as good as Leicester City’s success in the English Premier League title race last season, by toppling Hayatou from the most powerful post in African football.
“We are set for an upset bigger than anything that you have ever seen,” Ahmad’s campaign manager Philip Chiyangwa, the COSAFA president, told The Southern Times.
“It’s a movement like nothing that you have ever seen in the game in Africa and there is no stopping the train now because we have passed the point where we could have been stopped and we were gathering momentum with every stop.
“When we told the world that we had 35 votes already secured, people looked at us as if we were joking but I can tell you, loud and clear, that we could even get far more than that because a lot of brave men are now coming out and preaching our gospel.”
But, one of southern Africa’s greatest players of all-time, Zambia’s Kalusha Bwalya, will not be pursuing his dream of getting a place on the FIFA Council.
The former Football Association of Zambia boss announced he would not be fighting for that position anymore.
“I have decided to withdraw from the race, to concentrate on retaining my (CAF) exco position,” said Bwalya.
He was meant to fight against Ghana Football Association president Kwesi Nyantakyi and Leodegar Tenga of Tanzania.
Some analysts feel Bwalya, who is believed to belong to the Hayatou camp, might have read the signs that he was not going to beat his opponents and was set for a big defeat in Ethiopia next week.
Nyantakyi has not revealed whom he will vote for in the battle for the CAF presidency but his presence in Harare recently for Chiyangwa’s celebrations, where the guest of honour was FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, appeared to suggest he will be backing Ahmad.
“The Harare Declaration was a big one,” an insider told The Southern Times. “Kalusha chose not to come to Harare and Kwesi did and there was a feeling the Zambian legend didn’t want to be seen to be upsetting Hayatou.
“The others felt he couldn’t have his cake and eat it too and if he wasn’t with them, or was afraid to be seen with them, then they didn’t deserve their vote and that was the game-changer for Kalusha in his bid to be a FIFA exco member.
“It’s sad, though, because he is one of the brightest individuals in the game who could make a big difference at the very top but that is the way football is mate.”
The continent has seven places on the FIFA Council with one place reserved for the CAF president and another for a female representative.
The other five places have to be filled in at the indaba in Ethiopia.
South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan is fighting for one of those places and his chances have been boosted after Egypt Football Association president Hany Abo Rida‚ who has been a FIFA executive committee member since 2009‚ was barred from contesting in the English grouping category.
Rida had originally entered in the Arabic grouping but decided to change after realising he would be up against Tarek Bouchamoui of Tunisia‚ the favourite who has been on the FIFA Council after winning a landslide poll the last time out.
Jordaan objected to Rida’s request, which had been accepted by the CAF leaders, but after getting legal advice, the game’s leaders were told that the Egyptian’s change was not permitted.
Jordaan is up against Almamy Kabele Camara, a CAF vice-president who is in Hayatou’s camp, and Chabur Loc Alei of South Sudan.
ALei’s return to the big stage has been stunning after he suffered the embarrassment, last year, of being suspended by his country’s football controlling body for alleged embezzlement of funds, a charge that he denies.
Camara is a CAF vice president while Goc Alei was last year suspended by his own country’s football association on alleged embezzlement charges that he has denied.