Island boy promises a new dawn for African football
A blue jean trousers upon a grey top, he looked every inch an island boy waiting to see how the ocean tide will subside. Self-effacing and exuding a trademark simplicity at the lounge of Sheraton Hotel, Addis Abeba Friday morning, it was easy to miss the latest sheriff in the house of African football.
This was a day after the hurricane from the island of Madagascar virtually swept away the old order of leadership and ushered in a fresh feel of youth and perhaps adventure in the house of Africa’s most cherished game.
“What has pleased me the most is the victory of democracy through football in Africa,” confessed Ahmad Ahmad, an accomplished politician and former cabinet minister in Madagascar. All those who stormed the City of Flowers, Addis Abeba, for the 60th anniversary celebration and 39th General Assembly of the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) may have left for home with pieces of varied memories of a day that changed the outlook of the administration of the game in the continent. But did they anticipate or envisage the magnitude of the storm that would rock the continental body with headquarters in Cairo, Egypt.
Definitely the ever last Lion from Cameroun and one time President of FIFA on acting capacity, Issa Hayatou had no fear of the raging roar of change. For 29 years he had held sway as CAF president like a charmed knight in a tournament, riding through little hurdles and providing a shield for a band of passionate adherents in the power corridor.
The days before the election provided opportunities to further pad his victory calculations and drag in to his fold those still undecided. He was in good company during the landmark launch of Ethiopia’s pacesetting St George’s FC Academy, named after his predecessor Yidnekatchew Tessema, as well as the screening of a film capturing the best of African football in the last 60 years of CAF.
There was also the CAF forum, which had many distinguished sports personalities, including the FIFA president Gianni Infantino. But many delegates who perceived the event as a design to distract them from their electoral mission opted to stay away.
The subjects tackled were meant for the education and enlightenment of the delegates but they were not impressed. It was a signal of the gathering storm. Not even the brilliant sunshine Thursday could open up the thoughts of those who had been at work in the last three months, crisscrossing the continent to extract commitments and pledges to confront a colossus in African football leadership.
From birthday party to meetings and personal visits across many cities within and outside the continent, the Ahmed coalition had found a united front and fully charged by the padding from the FIFA boss, who told all that he believed in Africa, which represents a phenomenal future of the game if well managed.
Truly so, March 16 provided a fresh vista of the game ‘s management and direction. For sure, the women also had a heavy dose of politicking and one of them, Isha Johansen of Sierra Leone won a seat in the CAF executive committee by beating another tested hand Lydia Nsekera of Burundi.
The embrace from the two ladies after the result announcement inside the magnificent AU Plenary hall captured the imagination of many, who witnessed the march into a new dispensation. Fair play and transparency reigned throughout the conduct of the election and any tinge of bitterness or disappointment will be kept in little corners of their hearts.
The outgoing president, no doubt, gave a solid fight and in the days ahead he says he will be ready to share his experiences and give support in the transition period. Friday morning, he looked radiant in his royal purple outfit and betrayed no sign of an embattled leader. He had moment to rub minds with his key lieutenants, most of who suffered defeats and now have to accept the reality of sports, which has winners and losers.
More telling will be how the Ahmad leadership approaches his inclusive governance agenda and fashions his team to imbibe the change mantra with an eye on the reforms flowing from Zurich. “I want to have a house of football that belongs to you,” Ahmad had pledged before the elections that gave him 34 votes as against Hayatou’s 20.
From his campaign style, one can deduce the strength of a leader, who is methodic and strategic in weaving a consensus that he adopts with a missionary zeal. He appears to adjust to moments as they affect his objective. His combative speech before the election and his populist delivery showed a character ready to carry the task and burden of change.
Indeed, he will have to match the great expectations of the soccer mad populace with the reality of a pragmatic revenue seeking programme that may not hurt the existing contractual deals on television rights, sponsorship and marketing for which a simmering fight for control may be too hot to handle or ignore.
The world is watching and it is clear that his victory was a relief to those who overtime continue to remind Africa that the future of the game belongs to you. Just go out there and seize it. Easy words to say but it is hard not to take to heart the message of Hayatou, who reminds all with emphasis that Africa must fashion its own destiny and vision.
The tide of election is over. It is time for the Island boy Ahmad to make us glad with a World Cup chase for the continent.
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