African football's long-serving leader faces stiff challenge

By Mark Gleeson
Acting FIFA president Issa Hayatou gestures during the Extraordinary FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/File Photo

By Mark Gleeson

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou will face a rare challenge on Thursday as he stands for an eighth term at the helm of the African game when CAF hold their Congress in the Ethiopian capital.

Ahmad, a Madagascan government minister who uses a single name, will contest Thursday's vote and is only the third challenger Hayatou has faced since he became CAF president in 1988.

The other opponents -- Armando Machado of Angola in 2000 and Ismail Bhamjee of Botswana in 2004 -- were roundly beaten but Ahmad is the first to have received expressions of support from among CAF member countries, including the grouping of 14 southern African countries (COSAFA) and Nigeria. Hayatou and his opponent have waged a lively election campaign over the last two months, featuring an unusually high number of public pronouncements for a process that is traditionally played out behind closed doors.

The 70-year-old Hayatou, who also serves as FIFA’s senior vice president and is from Cameroon, promises continuity while Ahmad says it is time for change.

“Basically, what we all want is a change in leadership, in the system, and in how we manage the Confederation," he said in an interview.

"We live in a time of transformation. The majority of federation presidents have changed. There are many more young people than before.”

The Madagascar Football Federation president said he was confident of support, even though only COSAFA and Nigeria have so far gone public.

“Others won’t say it publicly. I know that and I respect their position."

The election for the CAF president is followed by elections for seven of the 15 places on the organisation’s executive committee.

Then there will be a tightly run contest for Africa’s seven places on the new-look FIFA Council, the all powerful cabinet that runs the world game.

(Editing by Toby Davis)