CAF boss Ahmad clocks one year in office
CAF boss Ahmad clocks one year in office
THE SouthernTIMES Mar 19, 2018
Harare – On Friday, March 16, 2018, African football marks a year under the leadership of Madagascar’s Ahmad since he brewed arguably the biggest shock in the history of the game on the continent by ousting long-serving Cameroonian strongman Issa Hayatou from his powerful post.
The 57-year-old soft-spoken Malagasy football chief, a rank outsider going into the elections where he faced a man who had ruled African football for 29 years and had also been in charge of FIFA since the forced resignation of the disgraced Sepp Blatter on corruption charges, somehow emerged victorious in one of the game’s biggest boardroom upsets.
It was a revolution that was first torched by the rebellious COSAFA region, under the leadership of fiery Zimbabwe Football Association boss Philip Chiyangwa, who stunned African football with a declaration that they were going to field a candidate to challenge Hayatou.
They picked Ahmad, who qualified for the challenge on the basis that he was a member of the CAF executive committee and, because he was a man who was largely unknown across the continent, many questioned the wisdom of such a move ‑ which they said would end up in humiliation and retribution for COSAFA.
In a world where the winners used to take it all and whip the losers into submission, a number of COSAFA countries still had scars from such bruising battles with Hayatou and his crew infamously stripping Zimbabwe of her rights to host the 2000 Nations Cup finals because of a Southern African rebellion in the battle for the FIFA presidency in 1998.
Hayatou had promised the then UEFA president Lennart Johanssen he would deliver all the 52 African votes to him in his bid to become the FIFA president, in a battle in which he faced Blatter, with the Swede then relinquishing his post – in the event he won the duel – four years later and handing the baton to the Cameroonian to lead world football.
But Southern African nations staged a rebellion against the CAF leadership and voted for Blatter, splitting the African vote and delivering a blow to Hayatou and his lieutenants, with the Cameroonian strongman responding by stripping Zimbabwe of her rights to host the 2000 AFCON finals, which went to Nigeria and Ghana.
And Madagascar also suffered the same fate last year when Hayatou and his cronies withdrew the Indian Ocean island nation’s rights to host the CAF Under-17 Championships, moving them to Gabon, as a form of punishment for the country’s endorsement of Ahmad to stand for the CAF presidency.
Chiyangwa, who became Ahmad’s campaign manager, was threatened with a ban from all football-related activities after Hayatou and his group objected to the Harare property tycoon’s move to invite scores of African leaders to his private birthday bash.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and secretary general Fatima Samoura also attended the high-profile birthday bash in Harare with Hayatou and his cronies charging that the event was, in fact, a campaign platform for Ahmad and threatening to throw Chiyangwa out of the game.
However, Chiyangwa stood his ground and at the elections in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on March 16, last year, Ahmad and his camp delivered a devastating knockout blow on Hayatou with the Malagasy football chief getting 34 votes and the Cameroonian getting only 20.
“We have liberated African football,” Chiyangwa screamed just after the results were read out while Liberia Football Association chairman, Musa Bility, said the continent had chosen light instead of the darkness represented by Hayatou.
“Africa has made a decision, we are moving forward with football and we have chosen change over the last leadership,” he said.
“Ahmad is crying for all of us. I have been through a struggle - I have been suspended. Today, I am very proud of the effort and I want to thank all of my colleagues for making this possible.
“We have proved to the world that we are ready for the change that is blowing in football across the world.
“We believed, we are human, we have seen changes in Europe and in FIFA . . . everywhere in football in the last 18 months there have been changes. We could not allow ourselves to be left behind. We want to be on that train of change.
“Africa has taken an emphatic position that we are going for change and a candidate that has given us a plan. We have chosen a plan over no plan.
“Everything is going to change. Football is going to be governed by the association presidents, we are the real power – power will be restored to the football associations.”
Ahmad had campaigned on a ticket to change African football, which had remained stagnant for a number of years.
“I think many things have to change in African football,” he said. “We need change in the refereeing or officiating, the way we train our coaches. We can’t organise a coaching licence course in 15, 10 days.
“The certificate is just to help you get a work. Our technical development must change.”
And, a year into his leadership, has anything changed?
Of course, there have been a number of changes with the flagship AFCON finals being increased from 16 teams to 24 teams and the calendar being moved from its traditional January/February dates – which have the source of confrontation with European clubs who have wanted to hang on to their star players – to June/July.
This means that the next AFCON finals will feature 24 teams, instead of 16 teams, in Cameroon next year.
CAF, under Ahmad leadership, has also scrapped the old habit where host nations used to cater for match officials expenses in qualifiers for the AFCON and CHAN finals with the organisation taking over the payment of the referees.
There have been complaints in the past that the old system ensured that host nations could bribe the match officials who were at their mercy given they were the ones who paid them for their duties on the field of play.
Ahmad said this posed an “ethical challenge” and things got worse when Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey received a life ban from FIFA for influencing the result of a 2018 World Cup qualifier between South Africa and Senegal which Bafana Bafana won 2-1.
FIFA nullified the result and Senegal won the replay 2-0 and qualified for the World Cup finals in Russia in June this year.
“Effective 2018, indemnities of referees designated for CAF matches will be paid directly by CAF,” the continental football governing body said in a statement.
“This historic decision is a materialisation of a campaign promise by the CAF President (Ahmad).
“(Until) now, the regulations required host associations to pay these indemnities. The decision reduces the financial burden on national associations and also eliminates an ethical challenge because it removes the suspicion perceived between national associations and the referees.”
Ahmad also refused to take a salary from CAF, something which Hayatou had done for 29 years, saying he was merely a servant of the game.
He has brought a number of former internationals into the decision-making chambers of the game, drawing from their experience of having played professional football in Europe, to try and improve the game on the continent.
“Changes are happening and the first year has been a huge success,” Chiyangwa told The Southern Times.
“People are happy and football is moving forward, sponsors are coming in and right now there is a high-profile symposium for women football, something that was never done in the past.
“Ahmad has done wonders.”
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