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The new face of African football



History was made in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last Friday at the General Assembly of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF). The elections into the executive body of CAF were held and it was a rude shock that former President, Issa Hayatou, was dethroned.

For over 29 years, Hayatou was President of the African body. He served seven terms and survived opposition from Armando Machado of Angola in 2000 and Ismail Bhamjee of Botswana in 2004.

They were roundly beaten, but Hayatou was also thrown out last week. Ahmad Ahmad, a 57-year-old from Madagascar, emerged the new CAF President with an election victory score of 30-24 points after the majority of Football Federation presidents on the continent gave their nod for the Malagasy to effect the much-anticipated change on the continent.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, also recorded a big win over Benin Republic’s Mousharaf Anjorin. He won with a massive 34-17 votes to confirm that the change team members were intact with their resolve to begin another chapter in the history of football on the continent.

FIFA President, Gianni Infatino, is 46 years old while UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin from Slovenia is also 49 years old while Hayatou is 71. The average age of most leaders of football in Africa is about 46 years and that informed the change that was effected in Addis Ababa. Ahmad is not really known but two things worked for him.

He was in a strong group of young football administrators who were thirsty for a change. People all over the continent desired the change and so it was a case of: ‘any change will do’ just to take Hayatou out.

We observed that the electioneering was a keen one that has never happened in the past two decades in Africa. COSAFA region began the crusade by promising Ahmad block vote while some other countries started joining. The role of NFF President, Pinnick, was huge in the entire change movement.

Pinnick took a political risk when he went on international media to pronounce his support for Ahmad even while Hayatou was still in office. Pinnick’s position was largely criticised in Nigeria but the eventual results at the election vindicated the NFF boss who is also 44 years old. However, it is important for Pinnick to always carry stakeholders along in matters of national interest.

It was rather surprising that some of the board members of the NFF were not aware that the former Delta FA boss was contesting. Ahmad promised transparency before and even after his victory in Addis Ababa.

Football has huge followership on the continent and we expect Ahmad to take the game to the next level with innovation that will boost the standard across the continent. Poor infrastructure and bad administration have been a major issue in African football and the new-look CAF executives will have to work on these. Some football clubs do not even have a good home pitch.

For example, we are aware that the former African champions in the CAF Champions League, Enyimba, have been playing outside their home turf in the past two seasons. Same problem is elsewhere in various parts of Africa.

Football can enjoy better marketing on the continent if the chieftains of CAF apply the best practices at global level. There are many multinationals on the continent who can help CAF to lift the game better and such outfits should be wooed to make football better. We also expect Ahmad to demonstrate transparency as promised.

He has vowed to audit the books of the continental body. That is very necessary but how the new regime goes on in a transparent manner also matters. They have to make their financial accounts public over time to earn the confidence of all the followers of the game on the continent and the world.

The CAF Champions League and the Africa Cup of Nations could be improved upon to make the game much more interesting in Africa. With more sponsors and more money, AFCON and the CAF Champs League would be as good as that of their European counterparts.

A continent that produced the likes of George Weah of Liberia, Abedi Pele of Ghana, Roger Miller and Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, Nwankwo Kanu and Austin Okocha of Nigeria deserves better at global stage and so we expect Ahmad to push for more slots for Africa at the World Cup. The continent certainly deserves more than five slots. For Pinnick, we expect him to humble himself and be a good ambassador of Nigeria.

It was amazing that he was correct with his political calculation and now we expect him to work closely with the CAF President to make football better on the continent and in Nigeria in particular. We congratulate Pinnick but we also urge him to hit the ground running.

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