Issa Hayatou has led the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for almost 30 years. By August 9 this year, he will be 71 and should by now have retired to his sleepy village in Garoua, Cameroun to enjoy a deserved rest after the rigorous and sometimes, slippery activities of leading the affairs of football in our continent.
Under the Cameroonian, the CAF champions’ league grew in stature, acceptance and credibility. Attracting good sponsorship, it became a major source of attraction for various football clubs qualified to partake. And the winner is further exposed to the rest of the world through the World Club competition featuring the overall winner of each continent.
Importantly, AFCON, under his leadership grew from only eight participating countries to the current 16. Taking place every two years, the AFCON is now more covered than in the past. While organization and activities leading to selection of host nations have always been plagued with controversies; it will not be easy to deny that genuine efforts were made in the past to ensure transparency and acceptability within participating countries once a choice has been made.
Notwithstanding all the achievements that the Hayatou led CAF can point to and the validity or contention of such; the general consensus on the continent is that there is need for fresh air and that things must move much faster than the snail speed permanently encrusted as a feature of the current executive. The argument is that both UEFA and FIFA had witnessed major changes in the past two years and CAF should not be an exception.
There is also the negative inference of the political bent of Hayatou’s CAF to dissention. Once it was clear that Ahmad Ahmad, Madagascar’s FA President was interested in contesting the CAF presidency come March 16, 2017; the Federation withdrew the hosting right to the Under 17 competition from that country. A reflection of Sepp Blatter led FIFA; CAF sometimes played politics to the detriment of the game in Africa.
Opposition to Hayatou’s aspiration seems to be building up as Nigeria had already rejected his candidacy. It is not too difficult to understand this as there had always been a rather cagey relationship between Nigeria and CAF. Nigeria’s FA Chairman, Amaju Pinick stated in clear terms that Nigeria is backing Hayatou’s opponent in the elections. Similarly, South African Football Association
While seeking re-election for the eighth consecutive term is not a crime by any interpretation and knowing the setup of things in Africa; Hayatou may still win – It should be clear to the Septuagenarian that there is a serious shift in global football towards youthful but competent administration. He should borrow a leaf from the election of Gianni Infantino as FIFA’s President and look towards Aleksander Ceferin who are both under 50 and leading the world’s two most powerful football bodies.
Ahmad Ahmad is a 59 years old former Sport’s Minister and current deputy senate president of the East African country. While speed with BBC Sports in January; he articulated his vision for African football declaring that it was time for a change on the continent. He also spoke of the support of his Head of State for his aspirations.
Instructively, Hayatou’s contemporaries in FIFA, UEFA, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL have all exited the stage in the wake of the terrible corruption case that engulfed FIFA in October 2015. World football has moved ahead notwithstanding the challenges. CAF cannot be an exception!