When two [or more] elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers” – African proverb.
When FIFA, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL and the OFC were brought to their knees, in 2015, as a result of the financial scandals that exposed shocking levels of graft and maladministration in the game, informed watchers of the African football landscape always wondered when the continent’s inevitable moment of reckoning would come, as it was virtually unscathed during this tumultuous period.
Five years later, that day, with the publication of the forensic audit of Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), on the finances and governance (mal)practices of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), is finally with us.
The shocking revelations, which make for extremely grim reading, reveal the rot that has eaten deep into the heart of the 63-year old organisation.
Rules are broken, with flagrant disregard for the laws of the organisation, as CAF’s accounts are deemed by PWC to be “unreliable,” because of several “manual entries.” There is no question that CAF is facing an existential crisis, unknown since its start in 1957.
It is telling that after Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s President, launched a scathing attack on the integrity of CAF, at the congress of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) in Budapest, Hungary, describing Africa’s football governing body as “lacking the basic principles of governance,” CAF has only responded with the silence of the graveyard, to Infantino’s withering remarks.
CAF did not hesitate, however, to blame the media for some of its woes, as if they manufactured the shocking findings of the PwC audit that has exposed the unflattering underbelly of the organisation.
“The CAF Executive Committee reserves the right to prosecute all authors of false and unsubstantiated claims in the media and social networks,” it threatened, in a comically hilarious fashion.
While the African – and indeed global – football community continues to examine and debate the shocking contents of the PwC forensic audit, and its possible impact on the career of CAF President Ahmad (who has been the subject of a FIFA Ethics Committee investigation for over one year) and many members of the 23-man executive committee, a set of people have been forgotten in the midst of the storm: the 70-something technical and administrative staff, who oil the daily wheel of African football governance.
“We, the staff, who just want to do our jobs, and see that African football is run well, are the collateral damage in all of this trouble,” said a leading staff member of the organisation.
The staff member admitted their naiveté about the ruthless nature of the power games being played in the sport’s political corridors.
“I don’t understand why people keep fighting… In Africa, football is sometimes the only hope for many kids. It’s (the intrigues) one of the reasons why I have thought of resigning,” the person said.
And the despondence, as another member of staff told me, is widespread throughout CAF’s Cairo headquarters.
“I came to Cairo for football, Osasu. For football, nothing else… I have never imagined that I will find myself in this horrible [political] situation.”
“We are doing our daily work, as best as we can. We are still trying to make a difference each day, but at the end, when you read news like this [the findings of the PwC audit]….”
Freely admitting to a culture of fear, amongst the staff of the organisation, the person tongue-lashed the CAF leadership, for its refusal to accept criticism for poor governance.
“Why do they all take things so personally? If people tell you that you are messing up, repeatedly, make sure that you fix whatever it is you are doing that is wrong. But here (in CAF) everything is personal. That’s why people are not saying or talking [to the leadership, about the problems within the organisation].”
Mouad Hadji, CAF’s Secretary-General – who is the administrative head of the organisation – has also been at the end of withering criticism for his performance, which this source did not hesitate to confirm.
“He is not just incompetent. He is not interested [in the work problems of CAF’s staff] and he is not available [to help]. It’s unbearable.”
I have also been told that the CAF President has asked – and succeeded – in getting journalists to reveal the identities of staff that have informed them about the on-goings within the organisation – a cardinal sin in journalism, where the protection of sources is a sacred responsibility to uphold.
“I’m sorry to say this, but most sport journalists in Africa will sell their soul for a chance [of money or an appointment within the CAF system]… This guy (the CAF President) goes and gets journalists to tell him who gave them the news [about CAF’s internal issues.] There are colleagues who have gotten into big trouble because of it.”
I have no reason to doubt this person’s story, because of a personal experience that I had with the CAF President, on the day of the final of the Club World Cup in Doha, Qatar.
In the presence of three FA presidents – one from North Africa, with the others from central and southern regions, Ahmad surprisingly asked me, repeatedly, to reveal the names of executive committee members that are the sources for the series of stories I have written for IWF.
He criticised my “negative” reports but never disputed their veracity. I need not bore readers with the reply that I gave to him.
At this particular juncture, in CAF’s history, it is extremely difficult to say what the consequences of the PwC forensic audit will be, for the simple reason that the normal consequences for such shocking revelations in the regular business world – resignations, bans, arrests, prosecutions and jail terms – for those violating the public trust, are very alien to the African football world, where truth is, more often, stranger than fiction.
“Football is a very special place,” a member of CAF’s governance committee told me. “I am yet to be convinced that anything will come out of this PwC report.”
And some key members of the 23-man executive committee give credence to the pessimism expressed by him.
“We are all to blame for the situation in CAF, including myself,” one of them told me in Doha, last December.
“We are afraid to speak up, because no one wants to take risks. We are all protecting our positions. That is the plain truth.”
Such a pathetic and unacceptable betrayal of trust, by the group of 23 men and women, given the responsibility to lead the continent, is squarely responsible for where CAF is, at the moment.
As the leader of African football, who sought and was given a mandate, in March 2017, to defend the continent’s interests, honour and dignity, Mr Ahmad must certainly take the lion’s share of the blame, for what has gone on, over the last three years.
The buck, without question, stops at his presidential table.
But each and every other member of that 23-person executive committee cannot distance themselves from the hot mess that has turned African football governance into a global laughing stock.
Posterity is likely to render a very harsh verdict on their guardianship of Africa’s football patrimony.
In the meantime, we can only watch how the unpredictable, disturbing political drama in CAF will unfold, in the forthcoming days, weeks and months.
The proverbial ‘Night of the Long Knives’ certainly beckons. And blood – hopefully just in the figurative sense – will be spilt. But whose will it be? And what will happen thereafter?
As the French say, “Nous allons le voir.” (We will see).
Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. Follow Osasu on Twitter @osasuo