THE race to select the next president of the Confederation of African Football has entered the final stretch with four candidates vying to lead the continent’s biggest sporting discipline.
South African billionaire businessman, Patrice Motsepe, whose money and vision have transformed Mamelodi Sundowns into one of the strongest clubs on the continent, is part of the quartet battling for that post.
The others are Jacques Anouma of Cote d’Ivoire who, at the age of 69, is the oldest member of the field, Ahmed Yahya, the president of the Mauritania Football Federation and Augustine Senghor, the leader of the Senegalese Football Federation.
The four men are battling to replace Ahmad Ahmad, whose bid for re-election, has been halted by FIFA amid a cocktail of allegations that the incumbent CAF boss conducted himself in a manner that is not consistent with such a powerful leadership role.
The Malagasy football official was a surprise candidate, in the last CAF presidential elections, where he took on long-serving Cameroon strongman, Issa Hayatou, who wanted to extend his rule beyond the 28 years he had been in charge of African football.
However, powered by a group of countries who felt Hayatou, had outlived his welcome, and preached the gospel that the game was crying out for a new leader, with fresh ideas, to take it forward, Ahmad upset the Cameroonian to win the elections.
The 34-20 victory margin was as emphatic, as they come in such boardroom battles, and provided confirmation that, indeed, Africa wanted to chart a new course for its number one sport.
Southern African countries, under the banner of the COSAFA umbrella, played a leading role in ending Hayatou’s time as CAF boss, with the then ZIFA president, Philip Chiyangwa, working as Ahmad’s election agent.
However, before even the celebrations had died down, across this part of the continent, happy that one of them had, for the first time in the history of CAF, assumed the role of president, Ahmad started to drift from the course which he had promised the electorate.
First, he abandoned Southern Africa, even though his home country Madagascar had paid a huge price, to support his candidature, with Hayatou and his cronies hitting back by withdrawing the country’s rights to host the African Under-17 Championships.
Instead, Ahmad, seduced by the charm and riches of the Moroccans, set camp in that part of the continent and, gradually, started to lose his way, making some questionable decisions and drawing a picture of himself of a man who could not resist the temptation of the big money which flows in the game.
Soon, he was being embroiled in scandals, including a questionable pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, where CAF was asked to bill part of the costs of that trip by Ahmad and some of his closest lieutenants.
FIFA were left with no option, but to hand him a five-year ban from the game and although he has appealed against that decision, with a final verdict set for early next month, it’s clear his image, and by extension CAF’s image, have been badly injured.
Against that background, it’s important that a reputable person, who can help repair the damage which the game has suffered under Ahmad’s poor leadership, in the last four years, should be elected to lead CAF.
It’s a shame that, because of the shortcomings of Ahmad, and those who have been in charge of the game on the continent, in the last four years, African football fans can’t even watch their national teams play, on television these days.
We believe Motsepe represents the kind of leader which this game has been crying for, someone who has already shown, in transforming Sundowns into such a powerful force in African football, that he has the capacity to take African football to the next level.
Unlike the other three candidates, the South African mining tycoon, is a fresh addition, someone who is not tainted by what has been happening, in the past four years, in particular, and the time under Hayatou, in general.
Yahya, the Mauritanian candidate, might be a good administrator, but he can’t escape criticism that, given he was part of the CAF executive committee led by Ahmad for four years, without criticising the Malagasy football official, he is complicit to the rot in the game today.
If, he felt that what was happening was wrong why didn’t he raise any alarm, and tell the world, that Ahmad was running down African football?
And, if he was a principled man, why didn’t he chose to leave his position as an executive member of CAF to show he was in opposition to the madness that was taking place?
Instead, Yahya is the same man who accompanied Ahmad to Saudi Arabia on that controversial trip.
The same can be said about Senghour, who has been part of the CAF executive, in the last two years.
Anouma is someone, who in the past served on the FIFA Council, trying to make a spectacular comeback, but we believe this isn’t the time to go into the past, for us to find solutions for the future.
Instead, we pick a leaf from UEFA, the most powerful and richest confederation in the world, who decided to go with a lawyer from Slovenia, Aleksander Ceferin, as they tried to find ways of repairing the image which had been battered by the negativity related to their time under Michel Platini.
That’s why we believe that Motsepe is the perfect candidate for CAF, a fresh face and voice in their corridors, to make a big difference, someone who comes in not lured by the money, which he has in abundance, but by the call to serve the game he loves with a passion.Someone who, unlike Ahmad, knows he has a reputation to protect and will fight to guard it jealously.