New CAF boss – Southern Africa stands tall amid the CAF wreckage
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – When a Southern African-backed rebellion delivered the knockout punch on the world’s oldest football monarchy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last Thursday, it signalled a seismic shift in the dynamics of the game on a continent that has, until now, been controlled by its Western and Northern alliance.
In the end, not even a stirring speech by the outgoing emperor, just minutes before the crucial vote, insinuating that those who were pushing for his removal, after 29 years in office, were agents of Europeans who wanted to control African football, could stop the raging tide from sweeping him from power.
And, in the end, Issa Hayatou – for decades the most powerful man in African football – was toppled by a movement, which started in Southern Africa, and raged throughout the continent with Madagascar Football Federation boss Ahmad Ahmad winning the battle to become the Confederation of African Football president.
This means that FIFA, who welcomed a new president in February last year when Gianni Infantino defied the odds to become the leader of the game in the world, and CAF, its biggest confederation, both have new leaders in a game which, until now, had been dominated by Hayatou and Sepp Blatter for decades.
What started as a rebellion by the COSAFA region when it announced it would back Ahmad for the CAF presidency, gradually transformed into a hurricane, which gathered momentum as it swept through all the corners of a continent crying out for change but unsure if it could topple Hayatou who had perfected the art of winning these elections.
With the Cameroonian strongman having the advantage of the machinery of the incumbency, and reported support from the CAF European sponsors who rolled out funds to back him and keep their man in the job, the odds were heavily staked against Ahmad who did not have the heavyweight profile to match the bravado of his backers.
But what Ahmad lacked in appeal, he certainly had in support and when Djibouti broke ranks with its CECAFA partners – whose leaders had decided to vote for Hayatou – to join the bandwagon and Nigerian Football Federation boss Ahmaju Pinnick led a West African revolution to push for the Cameroonian’s ouster, the writing was on the wall.
And when some North African countries also rebelled against Hayatou, with the Egyptians inviting Ahmad’s campaign manager Phillip Chiyangwa, the brash Zimbabwe Football Association boss, on the eve of the elections for them to exchange notes, it became very clear that something big was about to happen.
However, Hayatou, being the wily old fox, waited for the right moment to try and strike a code of defiance by insinuating that the movement which was calling for his removal was being pushed by Europeans, especially FIFA president Infantino who had toured the continent just before the elections, hoping that saying these things, in a city that symbolises the freedom of Africans from colonialists and which is the home of the African Union, would make a difference.
“I cannot go on without equally expressing admiration for the tremendous beauty and majesty of this hall, the Nelson Mandela Hall, in which this 39th General Assembly is taking place,” Hayatou told the delegates just before the vote.
“This name brings to mind the sacrifice of a lifetime for the abolition of all segregation vis-a-vis blacks and Africans specifically speaking.
“In this hall, leaders and African Heads of States regularly come together to deliberate and take decisions that impact the development of our dear continent. It is expected of us today to do same for the development of our football.
“Like the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity, or even our forerunners at the presidency of CAF, we would never be transigent, as concerns the emancipation, independence, emergence and the respect due to Africa and to Africans.
“The future of African football must be decided by Africans, you, members of the General Assembly, in the interest of Africans.
“To us this means having an African Nations Cup that is played every two years, at a climatically convenient time, in a format that makes it possible for many countries to vie for its organisation.
“We urge African leaders to never sway from the path that has been traced by all the pioneers of the pan-African movement, whose memory I here pay homage to.
“In fact, in February 1957, CAF, just hours after its creation, was the first sport organisation to exclude South Africa, although the country was one of its founding members along with Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. FIFA or the CIO had not even envisaged doing that.
“In 1965, Africa decided on the boycott of the qualifiers for the 1966 World Cup. At that time, FIFA reserved only a single position at the finals for Africa, Asia and Oceania.
“The boycott resulted in an immediate allocation of a direct position to Africa as from the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. So it has always been with great self-esteem that Africa asserted itself onto the global football platform, sure of its right. Without compromising, she was able to contract partnerships when that was necessary to increase her presence.”
But while Hayatou, who also chronicled the success of African junior teams at the FIFA World Cups as a sign of how he had changed the game on the continent, might have hit the right tone with his passionate address of independence, the majority of voters felt that – after 29 years in charge – it was time for change.
And, soon, they delivered it in emphatic fashion.
And South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan, who won a seat on the CAF executive after years of failing to make that breakthrough, reminded the world where this revolution started.
“COSAFA played a tremendous role in supporting the drive for change, including having a party in Zimbabwe,” said Jordaan.
“There was an agreement for change, and Morocco, Egypt and many other West African countries supported it. It was an African issue, not necessarily an Anglophone matter.
“There is no time to celebrate the victory because the hard work starts now. We must roll up our sleeves and get on with it. One of the things we are looking for at CAF is a more balanced approach, where everybody must feel there is a place and space in African football,” Jordaan said.
Southern Africa is standing tall amid the CAF wreckage.