FIFA clears the way for Motsepe at CAF as rivals withdraw in favour of ‘African unity’

By Andrew Warshaw

March 8 – The behind-the-scenes deal-making that for weeks has characterised the election for the top job in African football has resulted in three of the four candidates – Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast, Senegal’s  Augustin Senghor and Ahmed Yahya of Mauritania – pulling out at the 11th hour in favour of giving South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe, the preferred choice of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, a clear run for the CAF presidency.

Last Friday Infantino vehemently denied he had in any way been meddling in the process to elect the successor to Confederation of African Football president Ahmad Ahmad after conducting a whistle-stop tour of the region.

Infantino shot down any suggestion that he had directly or indirectly brokered a deal in terms of who gets elected this Friday but now appears to have got his way after the number of contenders were slashed to give Motsepe a clear run.

It was a thin justification of the politics of an election that saw Infantino criss-crossing the continent with his aides as they visited heads of state and football associations carrying FIFA’s message. The allegations of pre-election manipulation and Infantino’s closest advisors attendance in Rabat, Morocco, at the meetings that turned up the pressure on the three football administrators to stand down in favour of the South African businessman, paints a very different picture.

Having been in Zurich for the IFAB meetings on Friday, Infantino was back in Africa on Saturday as the deal to stand-down was rubber-stamped in Mauritania.

All four candidates appeared alongside Infantino at a ceremony celebrating ‘African unity’ in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, with the FIFA president saying it was the desire of all African football federations “to stop the divisions and get united.”

“The four leaders have reiterated that what unites them is much stronger than what could potentially divide them,” FIFA said in a statement. “This was the reason it was decided that they should join forces and form a team under the leadership of Patrice Motsepe.”

Motsepe, the ninth richest man in Africa and brother-in-law of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, is now in line to be the first ever Anglophone president of CAF, the only stumbling block would have been if the Court of Arbitration for Sport had overturned Ahmad’s five-year FIFA ban.

CAS, releasing its judgement today, partially upheld Ahmad’s appeal, reducing his ban to two years, starting immediately and taking him out of contention for the election.

In his withdrawal statement on Friday night, Senegalese FA president Senghor said the candidates had “decided to accept the proposal submitted to us by FIFA, Morocco and Egypt [FAs] in the superior interest of the unity of African football”.

Senghor and Yahya are expected to assume CAF vice-presidential status with Anouma taking on an undefined ‘Special Advisor’ role.

“I would like to announce the decision I have taken, in agreement with my fellow candidates for the CAF presidency after frank and fruitful discussions where we took the decision to unify the list of candidates for the CAF presidency, and this by personally withdrawing my candidacy and that of my brothers and colleagues Augustin Senghor and Jacques Anouma,” Yahya stated.

“Now, alongside Patrice, Augustin and Jacques Anouma, it is my turn to give back to African soccer what it has given me. This historic alliance is, in my opinion, the greatest honour for the future of CAF and African football. Through this historic alliance, which will be officially announced today in Nouakchott, I have chosen to break with the old ways, divergences and behaviours of the past.”

And in his withdrawal statement Anouma, a former FIFA executive committee member,  told Ivorian tv: “After several reflections and consultations, I decided to give up my candidacy for the election to the presidency of CAF.”

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