The future of African football: Crossing the Rubicon

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

IT is difficult to run away from the topic that is trending in African sport circles, the issue of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) elections.      

This column has in the past dedicated acres of space on African football, pointing out the glaring deficiencies of the game on the continent as well as the leadership. It is not surprising that the incumbent president, President Issa Hayatou, from Cameroon, is again standing for re-election at the helm of African football.

It is therefore important to note that power is addictive.

The 19th century British politician, Lord Acton was correct when he stated that “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Hayatou has for a long time wielded absolute power in African football.

One can surely wonder what is it that the he intends to achieve as president of CAF that he has failed to do in the past 29 years in power.

However, blaming Hayatou alone is taking a simplistic approach.

National Football Association (FAs) of Africa have allowed themselves to be divided into Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone and Arab-speaking groupings whereby allegiance is not to football development on the continent but to Hayatou himself.

For example, the awarding of the rights to host the Africa Cup of Nations to Cameroon in 2019, Ivory Coast in 2021, and Guinea in 2023 is a sign that CAF does not care about the English-speaking members of the organisation.

How can the tournament be restricted to countries of West Africa and French-speaking countries, for that matter?

It is indeed a divide and rule tactic, which all the FAs on the continent must realise for what it is worth.

The English-speaking countries must, therefore, seek higher ground of dealing with the issues of African football development.

It is not the Francophone countries that are a problem. It is Hayatou himself who is, without a shadow of doubt, the biggest impediment to the development of African football.

Being as cunning and manipulative as he is, The Southern Times Africa Sport Forum, will only be convinced that Hayatou is gone after the elections at the CAF meeting in Ethiopia on 16 March 2017.

It is also sad that some prominent football personalities in Southern Africa have been Hayatou’s hatchet men bring a lot of confusion in the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA).

They have done nothing but destroy the game on the continent.

When one looks at football development globally, Africa continues to lag seriously behind.

Administrator training and coach education programmes are in short supply. Very few development programmes are supported by CAF on the continent.

If it were not for FIFA and Sepp Blatter, most African FAs would not have proper headquarters or national technical centres.

There is nothing stopping CAF from using its enormous leverage on the continent to mobilise resources to support football development, especially among the so-called “smaller nations”.

South America has always been ahead of Africa in terms of football development but now even Asia is overtaking Africa.

The rise of lucrative leagues in Asia, especially China, is indeed a sign that Asians are serious about the development of the game in their region.

African players are also now plying their trade as professionals in places like Kazakhstan, Vietnam and Malaysia.

This shows that the standard of football is improving globally. It is not just about money but it is about policies and programmes to develop football.

When one looks at a small country like Costa Rica, one would not give them a chance against the traditional giants of the game.

However, they played very well at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, causing lots of upsets and surprises along the way. This is good for the game.

African FAs must be bold enough to take control of the destiny of the game on the continent.

It should not be left to one man to decide what is good for Africa.

In this connection, elections in important continental sports federations such as CAF  present opportunities for electorates to drive the organisations forward and not slide them back into the Stone Ages.

Instead of examining good leaders, all what you see are battle lines drawn by the various regional confederations and FAs.

This is pathetic. This can never be good for transformation or commercialisation of football for the benefit of millions of children and youth all over Africa.

In actual fact, people are beginning to realise that football politics is becoming increasingly vicious, controversial and diabolical in nature.

What is currently differentiating football from mainstream conventional politics is the absence of murder, assassinations and genocide but the other variables are exactly the same.

This paints a gloomy picture for the future of the “beautiful game”.

However, football lovers should not despair but continue to work and attract business-like, focused, visionary and transformational leaders regardless of their language, gender, religion, ethnic and cultural background.

Football lovers on the continent are waiting with bated breath. Is there going to be change in CAF after 16 March or it is going to be “business as usual”, same old style under Hayatou? It is up to the African FAs to decide!

March 2017
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