Is Infantino losing Africa? CAF furiously questions FIFA ‘partnership’ over Gueye ban

By Paul Nicholson

January 19 – Cracks look to be appearing in FIFA’s suffocating dominance of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), divisions that could signal a weakening FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s powerbase within his core support.

In a letter dated January 15, seen by Insideworldfootball, CAF general secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba wrote to FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura, furiously questioning the timing of why FIFA only informed Senegalese player Papa Gueye of his ban from competition on the team bus on the way to his country’s opening match.

Mosengo-Omba said CAF noted “with surprise and dismay of the notification, in the middle of the African Cup of Nations, of the suspension by FIFA of the Senegalese player Pape Gueye in connection with a case that has lasted for more than a year at least.”

Pointing out that CAN is Africa flagship competition, he goes on to “wonder if this body (FIFA’s disciplinary) or these FIFA employees are aware that the CAN exists and that it is being played at the moment.”

He also questions whether CAF is being given the same equality of treatment and respect that would be afforded to other regions. “Would they (FIFA disciplinary) have published in this way without waiting for a suspension against a Mbappé in the middle of the Euro?” he asks.

The current edition of the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon has met with plenty of pre-tournament challenges, but both CAF and its president Patrice Motsepe never waivered in their conviction that the tournament would take place, despite FIFA and Infantino’s last minute suggestion that the competition might be postponed following the issues with the spread of covid, the complaints of European clubs losing players to the competition, and FIFA’s own Club World Cup starting as soon at AFCON ends.

CAF nevertheless insisted that the show will go on, made accommodation with Europe’s clubs over the release of players, and returned its top nations to much-needed competitive action with the tournament kicking off on January 9.

That FIFA then chose to ban a player in these circumstances suggests more political muscle-flexing from a FIFA that shamelessly uses its disciplinary functions as a weaponised solution for political control.

The letter suggests that a gap has opened up between CAF’s billionaire South African president Motsepe, Infantino and FIFA. Motsepe has widely been regarded as FIFA’s African puppet, bending to the ideas and demands of FIFA unquestioningly. But Motsepe is also a businessman who is meticulous about his reputation and does have an ambition for Africa that is perhaps showing to be more important to him than FIFA’s imperialist requirements.

Mosengo-Omba is a former member of Infantino’s inner circle in Zurich, and did much of the political manoeuvring for Infantino in Africa, before he was then parachuted in to run CAF.

The tone of the letter will not be lost in the ebb and flow of political power building within FIFA.

“The inopportune moment of the notification of this decision gives a bad perception of the good relationship between FIFA and CAF,” says Mosengo-Omba. “It lends itself to those who say that FIFA does not respect Africa, when we know that is not the case. I am well placed to say so,”

For CAF to thrive and for its nations to improve their competitiveness, they need to be playing. “This unfortunate notification destabilises not only the team concerned but also the competition, knowing that the player in question is in the marketing plan of CAF,” says Mosengo-Omba.

“This incident undermines the spirit of collaboration that we expected from a leading partner for CAF.”

Infantino was in the news over the weekend over his decamping from FIFA’s Zurich headquarters to a domestic and work base in Qatar. He could now find himself caught in shifting sands. The letter from CAF will send a cold wind of warning that the Africans will not be taken for granted, or be bullied by any perceived disrespect from football’s global headquarters.

Concluding his letter to Samoura (herself a Senegalese), Mosengo-Omba says: “We are counting on you to take adequate measures to avoid such discomfort in the future and to explain the various CAF competitions to FIFA employees, in particular those of the “legal” division, if necessary.”

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