The proverbial ink had barely dried, after writing last week’s column, when Liberia became the eighth African country to be investigated by FIFA, for using an ineligible player in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Goalkeeper Nathaniel Sherman, who received yellow cards in games against Uganda and Senegal, was fielded in their final qualifier against Angola, which they lost 4-1.
Should they be found guilty, as they most likely will be, the West Africans will be paying a $6,300 fine for their avoidable error.
Fortunately, the revelation, and FIFA’s decision, whatever that may be, cannot alter the final 10-team play-off list, as Senegal, the winner of the group in which Liberia featured, topped the standings with an unassailable lead.
FIFA’s inquiry into Liberia is the welcome dish being served to Hassan Musa Bility, the returning president of the Liberian FA, who was given a reprieve, on September 22, from the six-month ban imposed on him by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The discomforting fact that Africa is the only continent to have fallen foul of player eligibility rules, during the entire World Cup qualifying series, is certainly a less-than-pleasant feeling, if not a downrightly embarrassing one, for Egyptian Mustapha Fahmy, FIFA’s Director of Competitions.
One can only imagine the private jokes being cracked at the continent’s expense in the Zurich corridors.
During Fahmy’s return to Cairo, for the play-off draw at CAF headquarters, the former CAF general secretary, who served in the position for 28 years, said FIFA is ‘concerned’ about the recurring problem.
“We have noted, with some concern, what has happened with a number of teams, falling foul to the rules of the competition, WHICH ARE CLEARLY SPELT OUT (emphasis mine).
“This only happened with one continent… Others, like Europe, Asia or South America, did not experience the same problems,” he observed.
“We need to look into what happened and work on finding solutions and ways to assist, [in] avoiding similar occurrences… We will come up with possible solutions and discuss them in our next relevant courses [for] member associations.”
But if, as Fahmy commented, the eligibility rules for featuring in the World Cup qualifiers, are ‘clearly spelt out’, what exactly can be done to rescue national association officials that are clearly incompetent and cannot do their jobs?
No amount of FIFA courses or seminars can replace the primary responsibility of national associations, who have the obvious duty to obey competition rules.
At the risk of flogging a dead horse, after stating, in no uncertain terms, my views on the subject last week, what has happened is a predictable consequence of the poor quality of people charged with the responsibility of running football in many FAs across the continent.
Nigeria, the reigning African champions, is not on the list of countries that fell foul of the qualifying rules. But the country’s federation, which has one of the ten teams in the World Cup play-offs, has a huge stink of its own to get rid of – it has been unable to pay any of its national team coaches for over half a year.
The last time manager Stephen Keshi, assistant coach Daniel Amokachi (the ex-Everton forward) and the rest of the staff received a salary was just before the start of the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
That Keshi and his team have been able to stay focussed on the quest to earn their country a fifth World Cup appearance, despite their difficult personal circumstances, is a testimony to their commitment.
Working without wages is a situation that is untenable in any football association that is serious-minded and professional in the discharge of its responsibilities, to the people in their employ.
But it is hardly raising a furore, as the federation has never had a record of promptly paying its staff in recent years. As some other coaches would testify, they have been owed wages for as long as 18 months and are still waiting to be paid.
A lasting solution to the problem of incompetent leadership, as evidenced by the recurring World Cup administrative debacle, can only be found within the continent’s national associations.
Those responsible for putting people into positions of leadership must ensure only the right calibre of people are elected to run its affairs. They can subsequently enthrone the right values and plot a trajectory of progress that can ensure a brighter future.
The issues stopping African football from realising its potential – as a thriving concern, off the field and on it – will only be tackled when those with their hands on the levers of power have the political will and a genuine concern to confront the problems, many self-inflicted, that has left many countries and the continent as a whole in a state of underachievement.
“Destiny”, as the late American politician, Williams Jennings Bryan, pointed out, “is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice.”
Are African football leaders prepared to make better choices, in order to secure a brighter and more prosperous future for the continent?
Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at email@example.com
Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.