It is no longer news that long-time President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Issa Hayatou, recently lost his eighth term re-election bid. If he had succeeded in the bid, the victory would have made Hayatou one of the world’s two longest serving sports administrators ever. But that was not to be for the Camerounian born swimmer turned sports administrator as he lost to Ahmad, the President of the Madagascar Football Association. Ahmad probably won the election on the strength of his campaign for administrative reform, financial transparency and a possible reorganization of CAF competitions. Perhaps, more importantly, he possibly won because of the widespread clamour for change in CAF. The campaign for change at CAF is an understandable one because Hayatou has been at the helms at the organization for 29 years.
Before his dramatic loss to Ahmad, most keen watchers of events at CAF were becoming rather uncomfortable at the seeming stronghold that Hayatou had over the confederation’s organizational and political structure. It was not clear as to how and why he welded so much power to have stayed for as long as he as he did as CAF’s numero uno. At the height of his glory at CAF, Hayatou’s words were law. He wined and dined with the high and the mighty across the continent and beyond. He was so powerful that no one dared to contest the CAF presidency with him. His defeat at the last election remains a great shock to many soccer fans across the continent as no one, except perhaps those that were directly involved in the scheme to oust him, actually saw it coming. Hayatou’s eventual ouster is, therefore, a reflection of the dynamism of life and supremacy of change.
As it is usually the case with such historical transition, soccer pundits have tried to explain Hayatou’s fall from different perspectives. For instance, it has been alleged that Hayatou was lethargic in his approach to the election because he was overconfident that victory was certain. This, according to experts, was his greatest undoing as he grossly underestimated the depth and dexterity of the movement that was bent on ousting him from the exalted CAF seat. By the time it dawn on him that the campaign to get him out of CAF has reached a frenzied height, it was rather too late. His last minute effort to get African Heads of States stampede their respective delegates to vote for him couldn’t really save the day as some of the delegates had their minds made already and were ready to damn the consequence of their resolve.
Another school of thought has tried to explain Hayatou’s loss in the light of his perceived frosty relationship with the new leadership at the Federation of International Football Associations, FIFA. In football circle, it is a well known fact that Giovanni Vincenzo “Gianni”Infatino, the new FIFA boss doesn’t have a good relationship with Hayatou. Indeed, some reports had suggested that the FIFA President was in Africa for three weeks to campaign against Hayatou. One source said: “Infantino was constantly on phone with the friendly federations to ensure all the votes were in the basket. He made a three-week tour of African countries to solicit support for Ahmad”.
However, of all the propounded theories, the most feasible one is, possibly, the need for change at CAF. No matter the extent of growth and development that Hayatou has brought to CAF in his 29 years sojourn at the African apex football body, his critics believed he has overstayed his welcome and that his re-election is not in any way good for the image of CAF and democracy. Hayatou’s detractors, thus, wanted nothing but change. Ahmad, no doubt, rode on the wave of a massive clamour for change to clinch CAF top job.
One of the tragedies of leadership in Africa is over personalization of power which is visible across all sectors. In Zimbabwe, for instance, President Robert Mugabe, 93, has been the country’s ruler since 1980, when the country got independence. In Nigeria, it took the intervention of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, for some long serving banks CEOs to relinquish power. Likewise, the Nigeria Football Supporters Club has equally been enmeshed in leadership crisis for some time. In an attempt to work out a leadership structure that will appease all parties, a new power sharing formula was put in place. But then, it is still no longer at ease at the Supporters’ Club leadership hierarchy. This sit tight syndrome attitude is a huge blight on leaders across Africa.
A good leader should know when to quit. Perhaps, more importantly, either in the public or private sector, a good leader must invest quality time and resources in developing new crop of leaders for the purpose of progress and stability. This is where Hayatou and his likes have failed considerably. That he could not put in place a clear cut succession plan after almost three decades at CAF speaks volume of his perception of leadership. It is quite absurd that he never thought of the future of CAF without him.
One only hopes that the new leadership at CAF learns a big lesson from the ignoble exit of Hayatou and chose to follow a nobler path. As the euphoria of his hard won victory gradually wanes, Ahmad and his team must come to terms with the reality of the enormity of the tasks ahead. CAF is in dire need of urgent reforms. There is a need to review rules guiding the tenure of its leadership. The type of arrangement that would have made Hayatou president for life shouldn’t even be contemplated in a 21st century world where democratization has become extremely essential in all sphere of human interface.
It is, therefore, essential that the new CAF leadership embrace transparency, accountability and modernization. It must introduce a new code of ethics as well as extend the ethics checks on football officials in the continent. The level of officiating at CAF competitions has not been encouraging. CAF, therefore, needs to look into training and retraining of its officials to improve the game in the continent.
Aside the crucial need for organizational restructuring, much still needs to be done in the areas of competition, sponsorship and partnership, marketing and TV rights and broadcast. Also, CAF must establish a mutually benefiting relationship with FIFA to enhance the state of the game in the continent. It is good that FIFA boss, Infantino has warmed himself into the hearts of soccer fans across Africa by increasing the size of future World Cup and financial grants to member countries. But CAF must desire to obtain much more from FIFA, especially in terms of acquiring technical expertise required to fully appropriate the business potential of the game in Africa.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos