These are indeed very interesting times for African football, as the Ordinary Congress of the Confederation of African Football holds in Africa’s celebrated capital (for many reasons), Addis Ababa, on Thursday, 16th March 2017.
Embedded in the two –day Congress are elections into the CAF presidency, the CAF Executive Committee and Africa’s representatives on the FIFA Council – the elite panel of 37 persons who determine the direction of world football.
As I write this, various schemes and alliances have taken their final shape, with those who are determined to change the complexion of African football administration at the topmost level arraigned against the army that intends to have the status quo sustained.
However, one issue likely to have the 53 Presidents of CAF’s Member Associations (actually 54, but Eritrea’s Tesfaye Gebreyesus, the former FIFA referee, cannot travel to Ethiopia for political reasons) coming to Addis Ababa in a flux is the fact that they will be flying economy class to the Ethiopian capital.
On their own, when they travel on official assignments, the FA Presidents fly business class. All over the world, FA presidents fly business class, and other Confederations fly their MA chieftains to Congresses in business class.
Is CAF saying, that in spite of multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts signed with a number of companies recently, that it has no money to fly its MA bosses business class?
Strangely, the same body (CAF) has some ill-gotten wealth stacked in envelopes for the MA presidents (or at least, the known loyalists) when they get to the Congress. Proxies have been arranged to carefully stuff the sum of $20,000 (Twenty Thousand US Dollars) among Congress files and souvenirs to be presented to the delegates (and also drop the word).
These items would be slipped under the hotel bedroom door of each delegate in the small hours of the night.
These monies are petro dollars shipped into town from Angola, thanks to candidate Rui Eduardo da Costa, and by Lagadere, the French company that earned a first Broadcast Agreement with CAF in 2009, and which has now been renewed till 2028 (an incredible span of 20 years)!
Only a month ago, the same FA bosses were treated like something the cat dragged into the living room, on invitation to watch the final stages of the 31st Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. The stunned administrators were each paid a paltry $300.
If the excuse was related to the need to frugal in the face of unfolding economic reality across the globe, how come the driver of Mr. Issa Hayatou, the 71 –year old CAF President, who was flown from Paris to Libreville in maximum comfort, was paid his full allowance for the entire duration of the tournament – a sum amounting to over $10,000?
I have spoken to a couple of chaps who have boldly etched the Hayatou-Must-Stay on their brows.
“In truth, the man has stayed for far too long. African football needs new blood, a new set of directors at the top. But we know what we are doing. At the end of the day, we will have the change because there are circumstances that have assured that the man will not last more than a few months after the election, if he wins.
“At 71, you would expect him to opt out, voluntarily. He has done his bit and should go to his village and rest well and enjoy life in blissful retirement, but he doesn’t want to. He went to so much trouble to tweak the Statutes and come up with various edicts to prolong his stay.
“If we come out to say we are against him, he could train his gun nozzle on us if he wins. We don’t want that situation. We will support him but we know he cannot remain in post for more than few months because of issues of ethics (various deals with French companies) and health troubles.”
One of those who fall into the vote-status-quo-and-hope-for-change is Tarek Bouchamaoui.
Not much qualified for positions in the top echelon of world football. However, he inherited a vast fortune from his father, and quickly aligned with the government of Zinedine Abidine Ben Ali, which was overthrown during the Arab Spring.
Bouchamaoui adroitly exploited his connections to get to the top.
Today, the Bouchamaoui is lapping up privileges as Member of the FIFA Council, having served as Chairman of the influential CAF Referees Committee between 2011 and 2013.
It is not surprise that he is campaigning for Hayatou, while hoping that the man comes unstuck quickly one way or the other, for his (Bouchamaoui) own progression to move at a rapid pace.
The well-known unforgiving spirit of Issa Hayatou is also at play as elections come to the door. One of those who have done his bidding for several years now is Omari Constant Selemani, President of the DR Congo Football Federation. The tall and clean-shaven Congolese administrator, highly experienced and knowledgeable, has been one of Hayatou’s foot soldiers for ages.
Now, he is being discarded like dross. In what is no more than an arrogant intuition to prove something to an old foe, Jacques Anouma, Hayatou is backing the President of Cote d’Ivoire FA, Augustine Sidy Diallo against Selemani, for Selemani’s seat on the FIFA Council!
Some years ago, the principled Anouma stood up to Hayatou, and announced his intention to contest the CAF presidency against a man who fears elections. Pronto, the CAF Statutes was reworked to state in unequivocal terms, that only Members of the CAF Executive Committee could contest for the CAF presidency.
Anouma was a Member of then FIFA Executive Committee (now FIFA Council) and was therefore knocked out. His attempt to enter into the CAF Exco was smothered.
“Hayatou is backing Diallo just to spite Anouma. He wants to show Anouma that he can get his (Anouma’s) boy into the FIFA Council, even after he (Hayatou) got him (Anouma) out of the same elite panel. We shall see how this plays out,” said one of the FA presidents.
In truth, Hayatou’s train appears doomed. Decades of tinkering with the Statutes, ensuring that nobody was able to come forward to challenge him, have come to haunt him.
His opponent, Ahmad Ahmad, seems to be gaining a lot of ground at a time that the world is changing, younger people are assuming power in other Confederations and Member Associations and the Cameroonian’s irreconcilable differences with the FIFA top echelon have come to the fore.
Just as I am about to conclude this piece, a couple of questions come to mind: Why, despite the flush of cash from broadcast agreements, is CAF unwilling to take up a few responsibilities that are crippling its Member Associations?
The clubs participating in the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup competitions expend huge amount of cash doing so. For the Champions League winner, the prize money has just been increased to $2.5 million, which might look like some big money until you being to compute how many matches the teams have to play across Africa, in a continent where connections to some cities by air can only be done through Europe.
The winner of the Confederation Cup will now get $1.5 million, and only one club can win. Those who suffer financial and other losses are too many, which is why some clubs prefer not to take up the offer of playing in the continent.
Beyond their own travel and logistics arrangements, clubs are further burdened with payment of indemnities of match officials handling their own games, as well as cost of these officials’ travel.
What is CAF doing with all the monies it makes in the name of these competitions?
And pray, what stops CAF, as is done by other Confederations, in paying for the travels of teams taking part in qualifying competitions for its junior tournaments, viz U17, U20, U23 championships? If this comes to play, countries like Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome e Principe, Djibouti and other impoverished terrains would be happy to be part of the fiesta.