FIFA’s intervention in African football speaks volumes about failed leadership

Confederation of African Football president Ahmad Ahmad attends a press conference in Cairo ahead of the 2019 Cup of Nations. EPA-EFE/Khalid Elfiqi

The Confederation of African Football president recently announced that an official from the world football governing body FIFA would run its Cairo-based secretariat. The move to send a secretary-general to Africa comes on the heels of scandalous reports on and off the field.

Off the field there have been allegations against federation president Ahmad Ahmad. He is under investigation by FIFA’s ethics committee over allegations of corruption, financial misappropriation and sexual harassment. And earlier this month, he was detained by French police for questioning over allegations of corruption, but was released without charge. Among other things, Ahmad is accused of corruptly engaging a personal friend to purchase sports kit at inflated prices.

He is also alleged to have abused his power when he summarily dismissed former Africa federation General Secretary Amr Fahmy. This is after Fahmy revealed instances of corruption in the organisation. These include irregular funding of hajj pilgrimages for a number of African football association heads.

On the field the picture hasn’t been pretty either. The Confederation of African Football’s handling of the African Champions League final has exposed it to further ridicule. The return match played between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Esperance of Tunisia was abandoned after Wydad disputed the nullification of their equalising goal. With the video assistant referee (VAR) equipment not working and therefore unavailable, it was impossible to review the contentious decision.

Victory was awarded to defending champions Esperance in line with rules for a forfeited match. But this decision was set aside four days later in favour of a replay on “neutral” ground. The fracas led to Tunisian prime minister Youssef Chahed to describe the handling as “a farce”.

The failure to run this important tournament to its successful end speaks volumes about the leadership of African football.

Amid all these controversies, and to avoid any possible sanctions, the conferederation’s president persuaded his colleagues to allow FIFA to temporarily intervene and re-organise its headquarters.

The fact that the Africa leadership unanimously consented to FIFA taking over the secretariat implies that there are major problems in the sport. It is a desperate measure that does more harm to the negative international image of African soccer. Given the history of corruption, poor leadership and management at both the continental as well as national levels, it is probably long overdue.

Indeed, it is an indictment of the African body’s leadership that external help is needed 62 years after it was formed.

The impact

The African confederation was established in 1957 and now has 54 national federations affiliated to it. However, the decision making is vested in the Executive Council. The confederation and its federations are also affiliated to FIFA, which funds and oversees football development around the world.

FIFA’s previous interventions have stopped at national federations. This is mainly to restore order after government interference or to end squabbling between officials. While FIFA is within its rights to help streamline Africa’s operations, there is no precedent for such intervention.

The arrangement that’s been agreed between the Confederation and FIFA is to appoint FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura as FIFA General Delegate for Africa. She will begin her new role on August 1, 2019. She has been appointed initially for six months, with the understanding that her contract will be renewed if both sides agree. According to FIFA sources, she is to be assisted by a group of experts who will work in a spirit of partnership with President Ahmad and his team in several areas.

The areas she will focus on include overseeing operational management, including governance and administrative procedures. She will ensure the efficient and professional organisation of all CAF competitions. Finally she will support the growth and development of football in all countries and regions of CAF.

In addition to this, FIFA is to undertake a full forensic audit of CAF as soon as possible.

Uphill task

Ahmad rose to power as CAFs chief two years ago on a platform of reform, promoting transparency and introducing a new code of ethics. These promises propelled him into power at the expense of Issa Hayatou, who led the confederation for 29 years.

The controversy surrounding the arrest and accusations of financial impropriety as well as sexual misconduct is also a major setback and embarrassment to Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, who has been claiming a new-look, clean and corruption-free FIFA.

It is evident that Issa Hayatou and now Ahmad, have ruined the credibility of African Soccer. It is also clear that football leadership is a major constraint to the development of Africa’s most popular sport.

It remains to be seen how much Fatma Samoura can accomplish in six months given that she will be surrounded by the same cast.