If disgraced gnomic Swiss Fifa ex-President Sepp Blatter could win a presidential election when he did in 2015, can current African confederation (Caf) president Issa Hayatou win one in Ethiopia on March 16th?
The short answer, to paraphrase a more fondly-remembered president, is “yes he can.” The long answer is “Of COURSE he can. International football administration is rotten to the core, its democracy driven by finance and patronage. But…well…”
African football has been in-vogue since Uefa Champions League draw compere Gianni Infantino became Fifa’s president last February. Infantino’s victory was underpinned by African votes, giving Africa considerable leverage. In such times, Caf needs to elect a president devoted to and capable of maximising that leverage. Sadly, the choice isn’t heart-warming.
Hayatou is a power-hungry relic of international football administration’s old guard…in ill-health. Madagascar FA president Ahmad/Ahmad Ahmad/Ahmad Darw has thus far been miles under the radar. And his ego-maniacal and reportedly self-appointed “election agent,” Phillip Chiyangwa, is as power-hungry as Hayatou.
Chiyangwa is clearly fighting his own future election campaign, whether for Caf or Fifa office, and is certainly a “character.” His dress sense screams for the glory days of monochrome. And his “war of words” with Caf secretary-general Hicham El Amrami continues to entertain.
I last reported that Caf was threatening to sanction Chiyangwa for holding a “gathering” of African national association presidents (the presidential electorate) in Zimbabwe capital Harare on February 24th, to belatedly celebrate his “birthday” (February 3rd) and his Council of South African FAs (Cosafa) presidential election triumph (December 17th).
Caf saw it, correctly, as an Ahmad election rally. They were especially peeved at Infantino’s presence and will “discuss” the matter during the pre-election Caf Executive Committee (ExCo) meeting. Chiyangwa feigned considerable surprise at Caf’s threats, as “at (Caf’s) specific instance and request, I had the pleasure of meeting the president of Caf and the vice-president in Johannesburg on 17th February. The contents of your earlier letter and my response were exhaustively discussed, with issues of mutual concern aptly clarified.”
He added: “I note with concern, that (you) conspicuously and rather curiously, do not at all mention the meeting specially convened by the Caf presidency. This is particularly startling as you had advised that you were writing under the instruction of the Caf president. Surely, if I have since met the Caf president, it would be important for you to capture the record of that engagement. The issues are exactly the same that were discussed in my meeting with the Caf presidency.”
The most striking image from the “not-a-rally” was Chiyangwa and Infantino dad-dancing together. Infantino supplied a not-at-all-rallying-cry: “The motto tonight is let’s celebrate victory. To celebrate victory, you have to win and you need to be brave and there are many brave men here in this room.” And the 2021 Caf presidential campaign began in earnest when Nigerian federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick called Chiyangwa (not Ahmad) “an astute leader and the future of African football.”
Pinnick was at the centre of one of the campaign’s two public candidate endorsement controversies. The first followed South African president Jacob Zuma’s meeting with Hayatou in Pretoria last month, when Caf announced “South Africa’s flawless support for [Hayatou’s] candidacy.” This support had one flaw, though. It didn’t exist. As South Africa’s sports-ministry hastily counter-announced, Zuma “did not pledge his personal support or that of the South African government” for Hayatou.
At the NFF’s February 7th board meeting, Pinnick was given discretion to “vote for the candidate who will best serve Nigeria’s interest” because as “NFF President…he is fully in tune with the political play…and knows what would be best for Nigeria.” He publicly backed Ahmad and called for a “new generation” of Caf leadership. This angered many senior Nigerian football figures, including NFF board members, which rather undermined official NFF claims that “there was not a dissenting voice in the room” and that “there is no division in the NFF board.”
Pinnick was criticised both for supporting Ahmad and doing so publicly. NFF board member Chris Green told the BBC: “We should conduct ourselves in a decent manner and let our votes count on the day. It’s going to be a secret ballot. We must not talk.” Backing Ahmad was “really not the position (of the NFF). Do not think the board sat, deliberated and decided that we should go for a particular candidate.”
Keeping Nigerian politics firmly in Nigerian sport, Minister of Youth & Sport Development Solomon Dalung warned that Pinnick’s “personal opinion” was “not that of the government and people of Nigeria” and advised that people should not “use their positions or name of Nigeria to unduly promote their political ambitions,” a clear dig at current Caf ExCo candidate Pinnick.
And a group styling itself “The Nigerian members of Caf”, including four NFF ex-presidents, claimed they had “consulted widely within the executive of the NFF, the sports ministry and football stakeholders in Nigeria” and “discovered to our dismay…no evidence that Mr. Pinnick was mandated to commit this country to supporting Mr. Ahmad.”
They recognized Pinnick’s individual “right to declare support for whoever he pleases” but “when such support is made in the name of Nigeria there is need for extreme caution, given the political colouration of Caf elections.” This suggested a fear of how a re-elected Hayatou might treat Nigeria.
They were particularly unhappy that “No Nigerian member of Caf has been consulted nor informed out of courtesy about (Pinnick’s) ambitions” and could not remember “Mr Ahmad visiting Nigeria to solicit or canvass for votes” or “any record of (his) pedigree…that would have led Mr Pinnick to dangerously throw all of Nigeria’s eggs in his basket. We stand dangerously threatened.” But they ignored the board decision to grant Pinnock electoral “discretion” while lauding Hayatou as “a pillar of support” and “true friend of Nigerian football.”
The NFF called a special board meeting for February 28th to clarify matters. An un-named “top official” told AfricanFootball.com: “It will be a stormy meeting and the person at the receiving end will be Pinnick. He has upset the Nigerian football establishment and will be told that in no uncertain words. A statement to that effect will be issued after this meeting.”
But an anonymous “board member” suggested that, bar one or two members, Pinnock had solid board support. They told the Thisday website: “We have given the president the go-ahead to use his discretion. Why are they now fretting that Amaju has openly declared his support for Ahmad? If anybody is thinking of interfering in the activities of the board, they are wasting their time. The era when certain individuals discredited worldwide in the administration of football can use any of us is over.”
It seems to be. In Abuja. For now. “Nigeria officially dumps Hayatou” ran the stark Vanguard newspaper headline on March 1st. And a day later, Ahmad was the NFF’s feted guest, greeted at Lagos airport by Pinnick and outlining his “vision for a transparent, accountable Caf” to the NFF board.
“Nigerian member of Caf” Amos Adamu had simultaneously contrasting fortunes. He was banned by Fifa’s Ethics Committee for two years for “his involvement in the organisation of an event in 2010,” while a Fifa ExCo member, in violation of Fifa Ethics Code articles on “general rules of conduct, loyalty and conflicts of interest.” The proceedings against Adamu, who was previously banned for three-years for accepting bribes, were of normal length, so the announcement’s timing was likely co-incidental.
But it was a timely reminder that African football’s “old guard” do indeed “stand dangerously threatened.” Chiyangwa currently claims that Ahmad has 35 votes in the proverbial bag, seven more than required. Vanguard suggested that “twenty-one member countries and more have pledged votes and loyalty to Ahmad,” though this included “the whole of Cosafa, which has 15 members.” It has 14.
Chiyangwa’s, ahem, ‘enthusiasm’ for the Caf fight is not, however, solely about ego/megalomania. Hayatou, the Mugabes and Zimbabwe go back a long way. Many “time to go” editorials have emanated from Zimbabwe, with bitterness dating back to Caf’s decision to withdraw Zimbabwe as 2000 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) hosts.
In the Standard newspaper on February 19th, Michael Kariati recalled that “Zimbabwe invested heavily in upgrading” three stadia, giving them five up-to-scratch venues. But Caf claimed they “did not have up-to-standard stadia facilities.” In 1998, Burkina Faso hosted, “with only two stadiums” which “did not even come close in standards.”
“However,” Kariati added, “Hayatou was pursuing a personal vendetta after the then Zifa president Leo Mugabe was accused of voting for Blatter (as Fifa president) against Caf’s decision” in 1998. Leo Mugabe. Robert Mugabe’s real nephew, rather than Chiyangwa, who is nephew, cousin or completely unrelated but close associate of Mugabe, depending on the day of the week.
The previous day’s Zimbabwe Herald newspaper editorial congratulated Infantino for “refusing to be swayed by the political battles” between Hayatou’s Caf and Chiyangwa’s Cosafa and lambasted Hayatou for wanting to “dictate to Infantino who and when he should visit in Africa.”
And this was about more than football, hence the delight “that in an era where Western countries have adopted a hostile stance towards Zimbabwe, there are global leaders who are willing to see beyond the curtain of lies and are willing to come here and explore how they can play a part in helping a key sector of this country develop.”
But it still hammered Hayatou’s maltreatment of “a huge constituency…which feels the game could be better managed by someone who is not Hayatou (and) watched for years as Southern and Eastern African nations were treated as second-rate Caf members by Hayatou…while Western and Northern parts received preferential treatment.”
Hayatou’s financial scandal history has further fuelled “time for change” pieces outside Africa. In December 2011, Hayatou received an International Olympic Committee “reprimand” after he appeared on a list, discovered in 2010 by irrepressible journalist Andrew Jennings, of senior sports administrators paid “kickbacks” by Fifa ex-marketing mucker International Sport and Leisure (ISL).
He said the c$20,000 ISL paid him in 1995 was a gift to fund Caf’s 40th anniversary celebrations…two years later. But this did not explain what Hayatou did for the cash. And he spurned the opportunity to clarify matters when Jennings poked a microphone under his nose for the now-famous BBC Panorama documentary Fifa’s Dirty Secrets.
Hayatou faces potential contemporary scandal too. In January, Egypt’s Competition Authority (ECA) announced an investigation into the renewed award of broadcast rights for Caf tournaments from 2017-2028 to French-based sports-marketers Lagardère Sports. Hayatou was suspected of failing to put the rights out to open tender as per Egyptian law, which applies as Caf is Cairo-based. And Caf was accused of “abusing its dominant position.” Caf denied wrongdoing, claiming that the ECA’s letter to them mentioned “no prosecutions against (Hayatou) for acts of corruption or something else.”
Still, scandal envelops Chiyangwa. A lurid April 2014 Nehanda Radio ‘profile’ centring on Chiyangwa’s ‘love life’ recently (timeously?) emerged. But more superficially credible sources noted his ‘complicated’ lifestyle and finances. Doubtless more such material will emerge in direct proportion to Ahmad’s campaign successes. But whether Chiyangwa is a star or a bastard is not yet clear.
“Ahmad let Chiyangwa provide the razzmatazz, while he dealt with the minutiae of his manifesto,” noted another recent profile.
On broadcasting rights, he will “widely broadcast” all financial details to the “public, press and member associations.” Competition hosts will be decided by Congress not the ExCo. And Ahmad will “share the burden of Caf finances” with member association presidents, forming a “Special College of Presidents” to “meet twice a year and dictate (Caf’s) various expenses rules and general operations.”
Thus far, Hayatou’s campaigning has been low-key-and-a-half. But respected British-Nigerian journalist Osasu Obayiuwana warned recently that “it would still be foolish to underrate the ability of African football’s ultimate survivor to pass his sternest test yet.”
So, while international football administration winds of change…and Chiyangwa’s inexhaustible hot air supply…may carry Ahmad to victory in Addis Ababa, nothing is certain.
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