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Feature: African Football – True State of the Union

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There is stress in the world of today. Suffering everywhere. This pandemic has caused massive chaos in all sectors of society. Every sector has been affected. Football has had its fair share of it, and it is still unclear the extent of the damage the virus and the attendant lockdown has had on the beautiful game.

All over the world, people are crying. Football clubs and national associations are losing money by the day. At the end of this whole pandemic, it will be an unfortunate reality that many jobs will be lost, and many clubs will not be able to sustain themselves.

Africa will be no exception. In fact, the impact of coronavirus on Africa will be felt the most because of how things were even before the virus.

FIFA has done what it could for member associations. Giving an advance of their grant to each of them to help. But the crunch is biting harder and deeper than the $500,000 each could have solved.

Because the fabric of African football is actually affected deeper than just this corona thing. As a matter of fact, coronavirus was a saving grace that shielded the mess that African football is in and has been in for some time now.

Is CAF bankrupt? No. But if care is not taken, it will get to that breaking point soon.

So how did they find the money they paid to the member associations? They had to save face and dig into reserves that are fast dwindling, especially since they lost the revenue from their broken agreement with Lagadere Sports on TV rights. And they could not hold the CHAN or play the final stages of the club competitions yet.

There has been a lot of talk about what the money they gave each association was for. They clearly made it sound like the money was a genuine palliative aimed at cushioning the effects of corona. But it really is not. It was just a fast-forward of the development money they normally were going to give to the national associations, that they made in advance.

The truth is that CAF is struggling, and they only made those payments to save face and not incur the wrath of member associations whose patience is getting stretched by the day.

CAF is a dead institution walking, and development of the game is at an all-time low. The credibility of the leadership is not that far behind and that should give every interested party in African football, a reason to worry.

For the first time, stipends owed to referees and match commissioners are owed, and CAF stated categorically that the money they gave each association must go towards paying the debts owed the officials, to the detriment of football development for which the money was designed.

This is sure to anger most member associations but the CAF leaders do not seem too bothered with this. And even if they are bothered, they can not possibly do much to change it because the funds are just not there!

Another point that will be of concern to many member associations is the decision-making process of CAF these days. Agreed that there are no flights to move around and hence not been possible to have face-to-face meetings.

But the members of the Executive Committee (many of whom are also presidents of their national associations) have been sidelined from the decision-making organism of CAF. They have not held a meeting at all since the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

In an era where everyone is now adapting to doing things sophisticated and remotely, the existence of Microsoft Team or Zoom, CAF has not managed to have an Executive Committee meeting in the 3 months of this crisis.

FIFA has held meetings. We know UEFA has had as well. And even countries like Nigeria, for example, also widely publicised that they had Executive Committee meeting more than once, where crucial matters were discussed.

But the entire fate of Africa’s football in these times, have been left to the 5-member Emergency Committee. This committee was set up for the purpose of emergency decisions that might need to be taken. However, it seems like EVERY decision that comes from CAF is now an emergency, at the expense of elected members of the Executive Committee, who are now lame sitting ducks in their houses, unable to add their voice to the situation on the ground.

When the General Secretary Hajji resigned abruptly, it was the Emergency Committee that moved to action and installed Bah as General Secretary. No approval needed from the Executive Committee. For the disbursement of the funds, it was the Emergency Committee that approved and announced it. Again, no input from the Executive Committee.*

And one wonders. What then is the job of the Executive Committee? They get paid a stipend – a huge one at that – for sitting in their respective countries and watching the news as the selected special few made decisions for them.

We used to hear of the dissenting murmurs of the likes of Pinnick Amaju of Nigeria, Danny Jordaan of South Africa, Leodegar Tenga of Tanzania and Musa Bility of Liberia. There was also the astute ambitions of Ghanaian strong man, the diminutive Kwesi Nyantakyi, who was the first Vice President under Ahmad at the start. And we cap it with the near-physical dissent of Djibouti’s Suleiman Wabare, who went as far as grabbing CAF President Ahmad by his neck in a meeting that almost descended into schoolboy fisticuffs.

All these guys seem to now have one thing in common today. The emergency fiat – not the executive one anymore – have put paid to their dissent in various ways.

They knocked Musa Bility out with a sharp shot to his guts, slapping him with a lengthy ban. They connived and voted out Tenga so he is no longer there. They hit Pinnick and shot him into submission and he retreated to his massive Nigeria. I say massive, considering the size of the country of the man who outdid Pinnick – Madagascar!

They cleverly and ruthlessly set Nyantakyi up (we have new information on how the two most powerful members of the group actually knew about the entrapment beforehand and allowed the unsuspecting but rather careless young Ghanaian supremo to take the fall).

Now there are two guys – Musa Bility, someone who comes from Liberia – a real fighter who has seen hard times in his life, makes one wonder: is that truly the end of him in football? With a ten-year ban on his head, he seems to be set to join Nyantakyi in oblivion.

As for Pinnick, young businessman who seemed to overcome the tag of coming from a micro-minority part of Nigeria to ride high over more populous contemporaries; albeit with a big war chest; has the Malagasy CAF President Ahmad really seen to his permanent demise in African football? No way back for him as well, you might wonder? Something tells me not. The Pinnick we know is a fighter and, although silenced now, won’t be so for much longer.

You might think of Suleiman Wabare and think he is ‘small fry’. After all, he comes from Djibouti, a nation that has not much of stature in football. But Wabare was a staunch supporter of Ahmad in the latter’s rise. And was one of the first to openly question the authority of Ahmad early on. Wabare it was who was made President of the CAF Referee’s Committee, but went on a trip to South Sudan with Ahmad, only to return and find that he had been removed from the Committee – one, Ahmad did not even tell him, and two, the removal was without any consultation.

Apparently, he was told by Ahmad that he was ‘not competent’ to lead the powerful Referee’s Committee. So, Wabare as well has been cut down to size.

And Danny Jordaan? A different story. The veteran, oldest member of the group, yet easily bought over. That one had to betray his own friends in order to reach prominence. Jordaan, at almost 70 years old, an avowed hater of CAF President Ahmad all the way back when he was COSAFA President and Ahmad was a small member – is now Ahmad’s crony; his Yes-man, and that is a travesty for the South African status and legacy in Africa.

And to think that the people running African football – the members of this Emergency Committee whose words are the real gospel in Africa comprises Omari Constant from DR Congo. A staunch supporter of Issa Hayatou who only switched to the Ahmad camp when Hayatou saw him for who he really was. Omari – a guy who has lost all credibility in his native Congo and depends primarily on handouts from football to keep him going. We have stories on his mortgage on properties he owns in Paris and in Atlanta and how he has made football serve those mortgages, but it is a story for another day.

There also is Jordaan on that Committee, and the less we say about this South African, the better really.

And we have kingmaker, chain-smoking Faouzi Lekja, Morocco’s FA President – the headbutt king. A leader who goes on to the football field during a match, and headbutts the referee, and got away with it. Lekja whose Morocco denounced Africa even as recently as 5 years ago and is now aspiring to become President of Africa’s football.

Our concern is Africa, and it really must be seen that when you hold a heavy brick on a glass platform, it is only a matter of time before the glass under collapses. But it will not just collapse, it will shatter. African football must not shatter. But we can’t trust these guys to keep it from doing just that.


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