Ahmad Ahmad’s emergence as the 6th President of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) signals a new dawn for the organisation and for soccer in Africa. He was elected president of the African football governing body at its recent extraordinary congress in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He secured 30 votes to defeat his only rival, the then incumbent president, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, who was seeking his eighth term in office at the age of 71. Ahmad’s election is a clear indication of the yearning for a change from Hayatou’s leadership of the organisation for an unbroken 29 years.
Expectations are high and Ahmad has promised positive reforms in the affairs of the football body. No less is expected of him. As a first step, he has indicated his readiness to call a CAF Executive Committee meeting, the highest decision making organ of the body, to debate and adopt his reform agenda.
That is good and completely in line with his democratisation agenda. He has vowed to return football to its true stakeholders and owners. This is very important as it has been observed that one of the drawbacks to the development of the game on the continent is the limited involvement of those who once played the game at the highest level in its administration. The practice is different elsewhere, especially in Europe, where past players are heavily involved in the running and piloting of the sport to remarkable successes.
With the benefit of hindsight, Hayatou’s ouster was inevitable, having worked against the emergence of the new FIFA President, Giovanni Infantino. Infantino was reportedly very active in the background moves that sacked him from the highly influential seat. We are glad that our own Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, correctly read the handwriting on the wall and aligned himself and the nation with the movement for change. He was rewarded with his election to the CAF Executive Committee. He thus becomes the third Nigerian, after the late Orok Oyo and the now banned Amos Adamu, to have been so elected. We congratulate him on this achievement and urge him to be a good representative of Nigeria.
Hayatou’s ouster was widely expected. Despite his modest achievements in the office, he had apparently overstayed his welcome. For the records, Hayatou’s achievements include progressively improving African representation at the World Cup from one to five; qualifying the continent for its first ever quarterfinal appearance in the global football Mundial; aligning the African Nation’s Cup football calendar with the odd year demand so that it stops clashing with the World Cup; introducing the CHAN Nations Cup for home-based footballers, and the introduction of the African Women’s Nations Cup. But, many stakeholders believe that a lot more should be done to move African football forward, hence they worked hard for a change.
Ahmad is expected to bring that change to life. He should be transparent with the finances of the organisation as he promised. He will also have to be innovative and rev up the administration and marketing of football in Africa. He, however, comes well qualified. Although he is from Madagascar, which is not well known for football, he has been President of the country’s Football Association since 2003. He has been a footballer, a coach and a politician, rising to the position of Senate Leader. So, he should know his onions.
His election, coming before Russia 2018 World Cup and the planned expansion of participation in the global football fiesta, from 32 to 46, should count for much. We expect Ahmad, working with his CAF Executive Committee members, to get the most number of additional slots possible for the continent. Infantino has promised no less than three additional slots to bring Africa’s participation to eight. While the jury is still out on the immediate benefit of this, there is no doubt that African football will gain immensely from the expansion in the long term. Ghana was just a penalty kick away from qualifying for the semi-final (the last four) at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. That is just one of the gains that improved access can potentially afford the continent.
Qualifying for the quarterfinal, which represents our best showing at the World Cup so far, is not good enough for the continent. Africa can, and should, do much better. Having won the age-grade competition many times, the continent should move a step higher to winning the ultimate prize in global football.
This is the challenge before Ahmad and CAF. He must introduce the reforms that would make this possible, and bring the quality and business of the game at par with the best globally. The continent has immense potentials on all of these scores, and waits with hope and great expectations for the change promised by Ahmad.