African game faces uncertain future under new regime

By Mark Gleeson
The newly elected Confederation of African Football President Ahmad Ahmad addresses a news conference after his victory at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Mark Gleeson

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - African soccer faces an uncertain future after Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Issa Hayatou was swept from power and a raft of new officials were voted into powerful positions.

New president Ahmad promised widespread consultation as he seeks to make the game more inclusive after his shock presidential victory on Thursday at the CAF Congress.

“We need to be open to discussion again and open to advice on how to improve. We want to talk to Africa’s top players to see how we can run the game better. We want anyone with a love for football and ideas on how to improve the game to feel they can come and discuss this with us,” Ahmad said on Friday.

On a day of seismic shock for the African game, Hayatou was deposed after 29 years and replaced by the unknown Malagasy, who has served as sports and fisheries minister in his native Madagascar but only as a CAF executive for the last four years.

The diminutive Ahmad, 57, initially looked as bewildered as his predecessor after the result of the vote handed him an upset 35-20 victory in a clear repudiation of Hayatou’s long standing rule.

But Ahmad quickly flexed new-found muscle as he persuaded delegates at the CAF Congress to overrule Hayatou, who continued to chair the rest of the meeting despite his election defeat, and postpone important votes on the appointment of independent auditing and oversight structures.

Also left over were changes to the confederation’s statutes that had been requested by FIFA, but did not receive a two-thirds majority from a rebellious Congress.

If the drastic changes at FIFA, where a raft of senior staff have been removed since Gianni Infantino was elected last February, are any indication to go by, CAF’s administration in Cairo is also set for a shake-up.

Its new-look executive committee has little experience after Hayatou’s allies were summarily removed in elections that followed his own dramatic fall.

Infantino called for support for the new CAF president after witnessing Thursday’s coup.

“Now that the elections are over, everyone should be focusing on a bright future for African football,” he told reporters at the end of the Congress.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)