By Andrew Warshaw
November 9 – Under-fire African football supremo Ahmad Ahmad’s already tenuous grip on power has come under further threat with not one but two dramatic and unexpected challenges to his leadership of the Continent.
At the 11th hour ahead of this Thursday’s deadline for nominations for president of the African Football Confederation, billionaire South African businessman Patrice Motsepe and former FIFA executive committee member Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast have both declared their intention to run against Ahmad at elections next March – just when it appeared the present incumbent would be standing unopposed.
Last week, Ahmad announced that he was running for a second term because of the backing of 46 out of the 54 African FA presidents. But that now seems like fanciful optimism, coupled with the fact that FIFA’s ethics apparatus is reportedly close to issuing a decision on the multiple investigations into his presidency.
Allegations of financial corruption and sexual harassment have plagued his leadership, including his own detention in France in 2019 to answer questions about supply contracts involving French company Tactical Steel.
Motsepe, who owns 2016 African club champions Mamelodi Sundowns, was nominated by CAF vice-president and South African soccer association (SAFA) boss Danny Jordaan.
Nigerian federation president Amaju Pinnick, who initially considered standing himself, has also backed his bid, as has Sierra Leone’s federation chief Isha Johansen.
Like Jordaan, Pinnick and Johansen are on CAF’s executive committee. Botswana has been revealed as a fourth main supporter of Motsepe though whether the four of them can garner enough support from elsewhere must be open to question.
“We will work night and day in ensuring he gets elected. And I can assure you 100% that Patrice Motsepe will be the next president of CAF,” a bullish Pinnick told a news conference via videolink at SAFA headquarters in Johannesburg.
Motsepe did not attend the announcement because he was in self-isolation having possibly contracted COVID-19. Ironically Ahmad is also in self-isolation, holed up in a Cairo hotel after testing positive.
Explaining why SAFA had nominated Motsepe to move “from the boardroom to the dressing room”, Jordaan said Ahmad’s regime had not done nearly enough to develop the game in Africa either on or off the field.
On the field the fact that at the 2018 World Cup in Russia no African team qualified for the knockout stages for the first time since 1982 meant, said Jordaan, “a huge loss of revenue for African football.”
Jordaan said he had tried to reach Ahmad to inform him of Motsepe’s nomination before the news broke but been only to reach him by text.
Referring to Ahmad’s suspect record off the field, Jordaan said Motsepe’s “business acumen, observance of governance, legal training and commitment to African football makes him a revolutionary choice for the leadership of African football.
“CAF must improve its global profile and standing as a confederation of FIFA and we believe Patrice can achieve this. Africa and CAF must be one of the leading continental bodies in FIFA.”
South Africa’s sports minister, Nathi Mthethwa, took up the same theme. “It’s about being in the news for all the right reasons,” he said, adding that it was time “petty politics” did not “divert and distract” African football from its core values.
Ahmad was virtually unknown in 2017 when he upset the odds to take over from Issa Hayatou, who had led African football for 29 years and was considered almost unbeatable.
But Ahmad’s leadership has been fraught with scandal and unrest, so much so that CAF was effectively taken over by FIFA and run by its secretary general, Fatma Samoura, for six months last year amid claims the African confederation had become dysfunctional.
Although he has strong political connections (his wife is the elder sister of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa), the fact that Motsepe is not a member of a national federation could count against him. The CAF president automatically becomes a vice-president of FIFA as well as a member of the decision-making FIFA council.
Jordaan shrugged off the suggestion that having no federation affiliation would make his man a firm underdog.
“Gianni Infantino was not a national association president,” he declared. “Not was Blatter . Nor was Hayatou, nor was (former FIFA president Joao Havelange), and so on. It is not a requirement to be a national association president.”
“Motsepe has a formidable chance to win this election without reference to what anyone says,” Jordaan continued before adding, tellingly, “An English (mother tongue) speaking person has never been CAF president. It’s a matter of principle rather than personalities.”
Although he entered the same race with little of the same fanfare, Anouma, who has been formally backed by the Ivorian federation, could well pose a serious threat to both other contenders, potentially splitting the African French-speaking countries in the process.
This will be his second attempt to run for the top seat after his 2013 election bid which was blocked, cynically according to his supporters, by then boss Hayatou.
“Let me be clear, I want to finish what we started,” said Anouma. “We have come too far to walk away now. I have thought long and hard on this, I believe in the road we started, I believe in the moments I shared with people all over Africa, who told me their hopes and dreams.”
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com