I have wondered, since March, after Issa Hayatou secured an unprecedented seventh term as Confederation of African Football (CAF) president in Morocco – with the ‘luxury’ of having no opponent to challenge him – when retribution will be visited upon those who challenged the controversial changes to the election rules, which made the Cameroonian’s continued stay in power a mere formality.
CAF’s disciplinary committee eloquently answered my nagging question, by handing a six-month ban and a $10,000 fine to Musa Bility, the Liberia Football Association chief, for using the minutes of a CAF executive committee meeting ‘without permission’.
Whilst CAF did not bother to explain, in any particular detail, how Bility ‘violated’ Articles 2 and 7 of its statutes – which have 15 sub-sections in total – it does not take the IQ of a rocket scientist to figure out that the Liberian was being hammered for challenging, at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), new presidential eligibility rules, which the CAF Congress passed into law in the Seychelles last September.
Those rules, as keen followers of the continent’s political terrain will recall, ensured only the 13 elected members of the CAF executive committee were eligible to contest the last election in Morocco, to the exclusion of other stakeholders.
The details of those executive committee minutes, in the Seychelles, in which members robustly discussed their thoughts on the controversial rule change, were logically – and, in my view, legitimately – used by Bility to buttress his case at CAS.
Unsurprisingly, the CAF executive committee member or mandarin, who sympathetically leaked the document to the Liberian, remains in the shadows.
When the Liberian took up the daunting (many would say foolhardy now, I am certain) challenge of taking on the CAF hierarchy last November, he made scathing remarks about the quality of leadership in Cairo.
“We cannot be living in the 21st century and trying to administer football as though we were in the 18th century,” he said.
“Because of the way African football is run, it is very difficult for African football association presidents to openly disagree with the system… the organisation is run on fear tactics. It is brave for anyone to stand up and question the way African football is being run.”
With CAS deciding to reject Bility’s cases, he was left in a particularly difficult position at the last congress in Marrakech.
In what was clearly a belated effort, to ward off punishment from ‘the establishment’, for dragging them to CAS, Bility took to the stage at the Palais de Congrès, in an attempt to mend fences with CAF high chiefs.
But the Liberian’s promise, before members of the congress, “to work with the CAF leadership” and end his battle, over the election rule changes, did not prevent the axe from falling.
“Bility was wrong to take CAF to CAS,” argued a CAF executive committee member, when I bluntly told him that the sanctions imposed on the Liberian would appear, to neutrals, as a clear case of revenge.
“You have to fight that cause in Africa, where you are,” he said.
That is a rather hard ask, when the harsh realities of the African game make it very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to successfully use CAF regulations to call its leaders to account.
The treatment meted out to Bility only buttresses the argument of those who believe the current CAF leadership is intolerant of opposition and will crush those who try to stand in their way.
This hardly serves the cause of good governance or creates an environment for the robust discussion of the serious problems that confront the African game.
When are things ever going to change for the better? Are things ever going to change for the better?
Questions, questions… I wish I had the answers.
Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org
Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s newly convened anti-racism task force.