By Andrew Warshaw in Paris
June 4 – Under-fire African football chief Ahmad, who unconfirmed reports say is under investigation by FIFA’s ethics gurus, today pleaded for unity among his colleagues with a rallying cry he clearly hoped would ward off mounting attacks on his presidency of FIFA’s largest confederation.
Using Gianni Infantino’s re-election as FIFA president on Wednesday as a way of deflecting scrutiny of his own leadership, saying Africa would “always stand at your side”, Ahmad was almost fawning in his support of Infantino for whom most of the Continent voted in 2016.
Declaring he had received countless messages of support, Ahmad was at pains to point out he had not been rattled by recent criticism of his presidency, much of it from within his own inner circle.
“I prefer to make sure that dirty laundry is not washed in public,” Ahmad told a Confederation of African Football summit in the French capital.
Although FIFA never comments on individual cases it is investigating, there have been numerous reports that Ahmad is being probed by FIFA’s ethics committee for financial irregularities.
The investigation is believed to focus on information provided by former CAF general secretary Amr Fahmy who was personally fired by Ahmad at the opening of a recent CAF executive meeting in Cairo and replaced by Morocco’s Hajji Mouad.
Fahmy was apparently dismissed after accusing his boss of misusing of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and an incriminating internal document that has reportedly been sent to FIFA’s ethics department.
The documentation is said to feature a number of allegations against a man who has only been in office for two years.
Ahmad is believed to be particularly upset over allegations of sexual harassment. Insideworldfootball has seen a letter sent by CAF’s secretariat to FIFA outlining complaints by four CAF employees.
Despite vehemently insisting he has done nothing wrong, such is the pressure on Ahmad in what is the most divisive confederation within the entire FIFA administration, that Ahmad revealed a special extra CAF congress would be held in a few weeks’ time to “explain what is actually going on” .
That would be followed, he said, by a forum to implement a governance committee to “deal with all problems relating to ethics.”
Such a strategy is no doubt aimed at enhancing Ahmad’s flailing image but not everyone in African football will be convinced.
Ahmad told delegates that since becoming CAF president he has demonstrably applied a fairer distribution of funding but couldn’t resist putting his critics, many of whom were in the same room at an exclusive downtown Paris hotel, in their place.
“For the past two years it hasn’t been easy because this administration has been held hostage by certain individuals,” he charged.
This wasn’t the time or place for Ahmad’s enemies to stand up and be counted. Instead they had to listen to him promising he wanted a clean confederation as much as anyone.
“Even if I only stay one more week, I will continue to try and clean up CAF,” he said.
Ahmad was given strong backing by the head of Niger’s FA who urged restraint. “Every time people try to sully the name of president Ahmad, it’s doing the same to all of our federations,” said Djibrilla Hima Hamidou. “Our behaviour must set a good example.”
Unwittingly or not, he then added: “This includes the behaviour of our leaders. Perhaps if things are falling apart, it’s because we are not setting a good example.”
Infantino, no stranger to criticism himself since taking over from Sepp Blatter, reciprocated Ahmad’s “unwavering support.”
“I know what’s happening at the moment and that there is a certain amount or turbulence,” Infantino told the meeting before carrying on his whistlestop courtesy calls to the other regional summits being held by individual confederations ahead of his re-election for a second term.
“But I believe in Africa. Keep your cool, maintain solidarity… and try to find solutions.”
Easier said than done.
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