Today Saturday, March 16 marks exactly two years since Confederation of African Football – CAF – President Ahmad Ahmad rose to the apex of Africa’s highest football office. The former football administrator in his native Malagasy put a screeching halt to the long career of high flying Issa Hayatou in a rancorous election in Addis Ababa and immediately promised a new and fresher modus operandi, away from the dictatorial tendencies of his predecessor.
Two years since that historic day in the Ethiopian capital, we take stock of the report card and what he purposes for Africa going forward.
NEW WORLD ORDER
For close to three decades, Issa Hayatou was CAF and CAF was Issa Hayatou, the two entities joined at the hip, like siamese twins. The man from Cameroon had the continental game firmly in his grip like a mangle.
He strode the African scene like a colossus. He brooked no competition from any quarter and had no place for dissenting voices. The few that dared cross his path felt his full wrath. So stifled was the African game that the continent badly craved for a voice of reason, a messiah of sorts, to pull it out of the tight Hayatou strangle.
And like the proverbial rain after a long dry spell, Ahmad appeared on the scene and took charge. What is worth noting is that he is more democratic and liberal, allowing stakeholders across the wide spectrum to air their views, however dissenting, and contribute towards decision making, a far cry from the rigid style of the man before him.
As part of his inclusivity plan, Ahmad underlined a major policy shift for the continent by reiterating retired footballers and exponents of the game will be an integral part of his administration for the development of the sport. “Their wide expertise and rich experience shall be called to bear going forward”, he was quoted on the sidelines of a forum.
While it has not been all rosy and smooth sailing for the soft-spoken man from Madagascar, the CAF supremo is keen to bring to the fore a well crafted out paradigm shift of broadening the sphere and bringing more on board.
Towards this end, the 2019 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will have 24 teams, the expanded tournament set to accomodate 8 more nations compared to the previous editions of the coveted continental showpiece.
This in essence translates to increased participation and engagement for African sides that previously found it herculean to grace the biennial event.
Meanwhile, sons of Africa plying their craft overseas were reluctant to leave their mother clubs in January/ February when most leagues in Europe are in mid-season.
With Afcon dates now switched to June/ July effective 2019, almost all countries are guaranteed their cream of the crop, thereby giving the Nations cup the lustre it deserves and ensuring full participation of top players devoid of travel shenanigans and red tape.
With the CAF honcho and his men effecting their policies, women have not been left far behind. Morocco recently held two symposiums, one looking at all the aspects of African football and the other concentrating on the role of women in the game.
Subsequently, three women will officiate in a men’s youth tournament this year. As eight teams converge in Tanzania to take part in the 13th edition of the U17 Africa Nations Cup in April, a female referee and two assistants will join the fiesta.
On the administrative level, currently there may be only two women on the CAF Executive, Sierra Leone’s Isha Johansen and Burundi’s Lydia Nsekera, but the winds of change are fast gathering pace in the Ahmad Ahmad prospective legacy.
Ahmad’s administration will take pride in roping in more sponsors and benefactors to partner the continental body and boost it’s financial coffers. Key among this is the four year deal with VISA,1XBET signed to put wind in the sails of the 2019/2021 Afcon editions.
By his own admission, football being the number one passion of consumers in Africa, and by extension the globe, the game needs more dedicated partners to power CAF projects and literally trickle down to member associations.
Refereeing has been an Achilles heel for football in the continent. More often than not, match officials were left at the mercy of their sly hosts, ruthlessly exposing them to manipulation and blackmail to skew results by virtue of remunerating them during their numerous travels.
CAF now pays referees for international assignments instead of hosts/ clubs, thereby ensuring neutrality and fairplay, vices that previously almost brought the African game on it’s knees.
Two years and counting, Ahmad Ahmad appears to have carefully studied the mood on the continental football ground and devised ways to improve each aspect. Granted, he may have his detractors and a couple of high hurdles to clear, which is to be expected in every competitive and civil society, but thus far his scorecard has posted some impressive grades. At this rate, football in the continent of Africa can only hope for better tidings forging ahead.