Former CAF 1st VP Patel opens up on a leadership that has ‘shamed’ Africa

By Osasu Obayiuwana

December 12 – As CAF’s first Vice-President for seven years (2011-2017) and the Chairman of its Finance Committee, Suketu Patel was regarded as the financial brain-box of the African football governing body, during the latter stages of Cameroonian Issa Hayatou’s 29-year presidency. 

Patel, a former footballer and ex-President of the Seychelles FA, who is a chartered accountant and financial expert, was central to the $1 billion deal that CAF signed with Lagardere Sports, which was recently terminated by the current CAF administration headed by Ahmad.

Now out of football administration and running his accounting firm in Mahe, Patel responded to the emailed questions sent to him by Insideworldfootball’s Osasu Obayiuwana – following a series of phone calls between the two over the last few months, on the state of African football governance.

Patel offered his thoughts on a range of past and present issues in the organisation he was once a key member of.

Surprisingly frank about his “cold and hot” relationship with his old Cameroonian boss, the Seychellois was unsparing in his views about the character and performance of Ahmad, the incumbent CAF President.

On his CAF career, and “disagreements” with Issa Hayatou…

I first felt comfortable to participate in international football – after 16 years as President of the Seychelles FA – in 1996, when I went to the CAF congress in South Africa.

At that time, the congress was every two years and all expenses were borne by the member associations.

I was subsequently nominated to become a member of the CAF Finance Committee in 1998. At my first meeting, I raised a number of questions on financial management and highlighted a number of weaknesses.

I was then invited to go back to Cairo to restructure the whole financial system of CAF. In 1999 we went online with purpose-built software, which was used by CAF until 2016, when it was upgraded.

Never, during my period of responsibility for CAF’s finances (De Facto from 1999 and from 2004 as Chairman of the Finance Committee), did we fail to comply with the statutory requirements of publishing our financial statements.

I was first elected as a CAF Executive Committee member in February 2004 in Tunis. Whilst I was still a member of the Finance Committee, I was not in football for my financial capabilities, as I was a football person through and through.

It was at this time that I saw CAF only had perfunctory development activities and it was decided there was a need to put together a comprehensive development program for CAF.

We started work on a project that was presented to the General Assembly in Marrakech, Morocco, in 2005, as the “Contract with Africa.”

CAF_Contract with Africa presentation 2005

This document became the benchmark for our various activities and helped CAF to upgrade all its activities, which resulted in us obtaining a Minimum Guarantee of $1 billion in 2015 – this was at a time when nobody wanted to touch football, due to the FIFA scandals.

It was in 2005 that I had my first serious disagreement with President Issa Hayatou. I proposed the cancellation of the six planned CAF regional academies, estimated to cost $15 million. At that time, we only had $18 million in the bank. At that time, the FIFA ‘Goal Project’ was financing each national association to build its own training centres (the reason Patel was against CAF’s plan).

At an executive committee meeting, Hayatou lost his temper and asked me who was I to question previous decisions. He apologised to me the next day and the six academies were reduced to three, which could not be scrapped due to commitments made to Governments.

In 2007, I was nominated to oversee the organisation of the 50th anniversary of CAF which I did successfully – holding an event in each founding country and publishing a book on the history of CAF.

Fekrou Kidane [of Ethiopia] was responsible for the organisation but he had an issue with the General Secretary and subsequently resigned from his position, as a special adviser to the CAF President.

In 2008, I was asked to work with the General Secretary and later joined by Hani Abou Rida of Egypt [FIFA Council member] to look at all the marketing options for CAF.

At this time, rights for the Africa Cup of Nations, as well as the Champions League and the Confederation Cup were sold to the [Jean-Claude] Darmon Group for around $2 million each – an achievement in itself in 1999.

It was felt that CAF should retain all its rights and seek a marketing expert. But after talking to various actors in the industry, we reached an agreement with Sport Five with whom we were already working, in some competitions, for a minimum guarantee payment of $150 million.

That was an enormous sum at that time, as not many people wanted to work in the difficult conditions in Africa at the time.

It is with this contract we started increasing the prize monies from a few hundred thousand dollars for the winner to $1 million in the Champions League and $1.5 million for the winner of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Things were reasonably calm and pretty normal until 2010 when I received a message from Issa’s political aide (Tarek Bouachamoui, now a CAF executive committee member) to put forward my nomination for the upcoming FIFA executive committee post, which was reserved for the COSAFA (Southern African) zone.

But despite the agreement of sharing different positions by CAF zones, I noted that Mohamed Raouraroua [of Algeria, then Federation president of the country] presented his candidature, when North Africa already had one FIFA exco member.

All along, until the day of the elections, Issa [Hayatou] never pronounced his support for me, despite being asked to stand. I later learned he had supported Raouraoua’s nomination.

I was angry for being betrayed and threatened to leave CAF, as I do not play political games. On leaving Khartoum (in Sudan) we agreed to meet in Marrakech, Morocco, to discuss the issue (in April 2011) and eventually I was offered the post of CAF first Vice-President in May 2011.

The last issue I had with President Hayatou related to the 2015 FIFA presidential campaign.

In 2014, Michel Platini, who was and remains a friend, asked me to forward a letter, requesting for support, to all COSAFA members. I was the COSAFA President at the time and believed that COSAFA should allow all FIFA candidates present their views on football to the presidents of our region.

But the innocent forwarding of Michel’s letter to COSAFA members was seen as my promotion of Michel’s candidature, when CAF had yet to take a position on. This was not to President Hayatou’s liking and he threatened to remove me as COSAFA President, though I am not certain how this could have been possible, as COSAFA had its own constitution.

We had an acrimonious few months on this issue until we met in Cairo and managed to put this behind us.

Despite our disagreements from time to time, I have the utmost respect for President Issa Hayatou and for the sacrifices he made – at cost of time spent away from family and his own health – to drag African football from what it was in the 70’s and for giving me the freedom to introduce new ideas towards development and bringing financial stability to CAF.

Unlike the current situation, where North Africa seems to be driving the rest of Africa, President Hayatou always protected and put the interests of Black Africa first.

Reflecting on his football career in Seychelles…

As a player, I used to look at football officials with scorn. I never had an intention to be a football administrator. But circumstances saw me become President of a Federation at the age of 28 in 1980, at the same time when I was still a player in the national team and a player-coach of a top team in Seychelles.

I must have done a reasonable job, as I left the presidency voluntarily in 2011, with three years of my mandate still to go – when appointed as CAF’s first Vice-President.

I’m probably the longest serving FA president in Africa. And at present, there is a group asking me to return to Seychelles football.

Reflecting on his tenure as the chairman of CAF’s finance committee…

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to serve African football in my professional capacity [as a chartered accountant]. It was not common in the old days to get many football administrators with a professional qualification in finances.

It was never easy at the beginning, as my work involved making many changes to an old system. But in the end, I had a great working relationship with Mrs Karam Mustapha, Mme Heba and Mr Mohamed El Sherei, the heads of CAF finance department at different periods.

Whilst we did not share the same level of financial expertise, we had one thing in common, which was to make CAF financially transparent.

I am immensely proud of the numerous changes I brought about in world football (including FIFA), especially centralising rights and distributing them to include solidarity payments to the smaller Associations, who received a minimum of $40,000 per home match, so that they could at least manage to meet the minimum costs of participating in CAF competitions.

How ironic now that CAF has ceded the World Cup rights to FIFA, when CAF had the capacity to do its own marketing many years back and we were anticipating to have a fully-fledged TV and Marketing Division over the current contract (referring to the recently terminated $1 billion marketing contract with Lagardere Sports), eliminating the need for employing third parties.

On CAF’s cancellation of the $1billion contract with Lagardere Sports (which Patel was an integral part of negotiating)

The Memorandum Of Understanding, with Lagardere, was agreed by a team I led with Hicham (Amrani, then CAF General Secretary) in May 2015, in Zurich. This was on the same time that people were arrested at the FIFA hotel.

Also on that same day, we met with Infront. Their indicative offer on the table was a $450 million Minimum Guarantee (MG) for eight years, as opposed to the $ 1billion, for 12 years, from Lagardere.

If you look at our earlier contract of 2009, we had a MG of $150 million, but our income for the period was actually around $350 million. We anticipated that the 12-year contract would have yielded around $1.3 billion.

I know Lagardere. They will not take this lightly and will rightly extract their pound of flesh. The lack of clarity (with regards to CAF’s situation with LS) is already hurting, vis-a-vis the sponsors, with whom, besides Lagardere, CAF have a contract to deliver a fixed number of tournaments.

I fear CAF will become embroiled in legal cases for the foreseeable future, which will detract from its core obligation to develop African football. Recently there was a declaration from BEIN Sport that football properties are overvalued and not sustainable, due to piracy and changes in the medium used to disseminate matches. One has to see if the timing for the change is right, as shown by SuperSport.

SuperSport, the Pan-African Pay-TV broadcaster, which has a $130 million contract with CAF (which is CAF’s second largest single commercial contract, after the $400 million deal with BEIN Sport), seeks to terminate its contract with CAF, as a result of the CAF-LS dispute.

It is clear Infront (owned by Chinese company Dalian Wanda) have deep pockets. But do they have the expertise to deliver quality production of matches, knowing the peculiarities of the African environment? Moreover, what message do we give to the world – that CAF will prostitute itself, irrespective of contracts made, if better offers come along?

More on Issa Hayatou and his 29-year stint as CAF President

I have the utmost respect for what President Issa Hayatou did for African football. We may not have agreed on issues from time to time, but he was man enough to say to me, if required, after reflection a day or two later – ‘Patel tu a raison’, as I also did to him, whenever I was wrong.

I look at the opportunities he gave me, as somebody from the smallest Association from Africa and certainly not looking like a typical African. He gave me an opportunity to serve our great continent and I will always be grateful to him and Marie-Claire (Hayatou’s wife) for adopting me in into their family with open hearts.

I know people have questioned the length of his tenure and that he should have stepped down in Morocco in 2013. But it was his wish to end his career with the AFCON in Cameroon, before stepping aside.

After all he had done for African football, that is the least he deserved.

His thoughts on Ahmad, the current CAF President

I have known him from day one and have always tried to help him over the years. Ironically, I even went to Madagascar, on behalf of FIFA, when he was in serious trouble with his government.

Even in 2013, it was normal that as Indian Ocean people we showed solidarity, as he was also President of the Indian Ocean Regional Football group.

I am however ashamed, but not surprised, of how he has wasted a wonderful opportunity to serve African football and brought shame on CAF, an organisation I worked tirelessly to give credibility.

His integrity and mannerisms has been questioned and well publicised lately. Knowing him, and his accusers, I am inclined to believe the latter.

He says he wants to reform CAF… That sounds great but what exactly does that mean? 

Developing and reforming football is not organising a couple of make-believe events for the sake of the media. He was at CAF for eight years with me – I cannot think of one instance where he put forward a proposal to advance the game.

A person is judged by the company he keeps – he has an unenviable record of having the most first, second and third Vice-Presidents in the history of CAF.

People like him and Kwesi [Nyantakyi – the former CAF VP, banned for life by FIFA] only came to Cairo for bare minimum time at executive committee meetings and the CAF headquarters. But thereafter, they claimed they were kept in the dark, when in reality they did not make an effort to know what was happening at CAF.

Ahmad declared that he would undertake a comprehensive audit of CAF’s finances as soon as he became President. Where are the findings of this audit? Or there is nothing to report?

His first words to me on being elected was that he was going to name me as Honorary first Vice-President, in recognition of the work done for the Indian Ocean zone, COSAFA and CAF. Thank God I am not holding my breath for that to happen. Even more shameful is his non-recognition of Issa Hayatou, whom even FIFA has made honorary Vice-President.

It is either that Ahmad has a very thick skin or he has yet to realise that he was, and is, being used as a lackey by people like [FIFA President Gianni] Infantino and Fouzi Lekjaa (the second VP of CAF). They financed his election and I am told FA Presidents were being offered $40,000 for their vote, besides the company of a harem of Moroccan girls at the Hilton.

When one listens to Ahmad’s pre-election speech to the congress in Addis Ababa, before the election in 2017, with FIFA observers present but keeping their mouth shut, Ahmad openly offered FA Presidents an allowance of $20k each per year and promises of business class travel paid by CAF. This is clearly against FIFA code of ethics.

Ahmad and his cronies have brought shame to African football, especially with the last episode of handing over the reins of CAF to FIFA. We might have been the poorer Confederation but I can tell you we were proud of our ability to look at any one in the eye and keep our heads held high. Where have you heard people who asked electors to make them trustees of your organisation and, after being elected, then say they are not competent and hand over their responsibilities to a third party? The right thing would be for these people to step aside and let those who can manage African football come forward.

On his tenure as chairman of CAF’s Finance Committee… 

I am immensely proud of what we managed to achieve during my tenure. I believe we brought credibility to our financial reporting and built our equity from under $10 million to $131 million, without compromising football development.

It is customary for Africans to be stereotyped as being corrupt when it comes to finances but not once during my tenure did I hear even a murmur of any impropriety, regarding our finances.

I used to work 12-hour days when in Cairo, to ensure we never missed a single statutory reporting deadline.

You saw the spread-sheet and long-term forecasting I did for CAF, which was adopted by the executive committee, as an indicator of how much attention was being paid to CAF’s finances and its transparency, with the central theme of doing our maximum, to percolate the wealth we created to all levels of football.

I have to question the capability of current FA Presidents to hold the CAF executive committee to account, especially when they approved overwhelming financials [for 2019/2020] at a [Cairo July 2019] congress, almost one year after the closure of the accounting period and without having received and not approved prior years (the 2018/2019 and 2017/2018 financial years being in contention).

One also has to question the integrity of the procurement process – after the latest disclosures of the Ex Director of Finance, concerning the President’s override of controls.

I can tell you that whilst President Hayatou and I had differences on political matters, we never had one on the management of CAF finances. He did not interfere with the processes established for good governance.

His thoughts about the current state and future of African football…

I have already talked about the “Contract with Africa” – the CAF Development program, which became the foundation of all our developmental activities.

Unfortunately, because it was part of the old regime, it was suspended by Ahmad for over two years. I now understand they want to restart the coach licencing program.

Presently, I do not believe there is a long-term plan for development. For me, development has to be undertaken with a long-term view by each FA, with the parent organisation (CAF) acting as a facilitator.

When we had football people running football, there was very little money. But there were a lot of genuine people, with a voluntary outlook. Now, with lots of money being made available by FIFA and CAF, football people are being replaced by a lot of greedy and non-football people.

In many African FAs, I see a lot of expenditure towards administration but very little getting down to grass roots and long-term and sustainable football development.

Football attracts two kinds of undesirables these days – those with bucket loads of money but use football to become known – such as the pink-suited buffoon from Zimbabwe. And secondly, there are people who see football as an opportunity to make money. At the end, it is the game that is the loser.

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1600624732labto1600624732ofdlr1600624732owedi1600624732sni@a1600624732nawui1600624732yabo.1600624732usaso1600624732


Suketu Patel CV