The quagmire that makes world football governance shall for long remain controversy ridden. No conventions they ask or expect of others matter to them. They rule countries they do not belong to. They hand down draconian and heavy punishments with impunity. National constitutions and Presidents do not count for anything where the Zurich Lords are concerned. Their football is theirs and no one else’s. And can they rule as long as they want; going against established trend of limited terms which is meant to safeguard institutions, strengthen leadership and while providing alternative and varied thinking. At FIFA and CAF, these rules do not matter. Brazilian Jao Havelange stepped down as FIFA president in 1998 after 24 years at the helm. Pressure had mounted on him following accusations of maladministration and growing corruption in the world soccer body. His successor is the incumbent Sepp Blatter who had been the Secretary General. After 17 years at the top and now 79 years, Blatter feels there is still something more he could give. This is despite a growing chorus of critics who feel that the governance of the game is too bad to be allowed to continue on his watch and control anymore. Instead of feeling that at his age he has done all for the game, he maintains his wisdom is what the game still requires.
Then look at Africa. Cameroonian Issa Hayatou has run the game for 27 years now. His country’s president Paul Biya – aged 83 - is in his 33rd year as leader and does not appear set to relinquish power anytime soon. Hayatou is reading Biya’s script very well. And though CAF has wisely placed an age cap on leadership, he is reportedly bracing himself to change the rules. CAF rules say officials who reach 70 should retire. However, with the level of control and influence he has in football on the continent it could simply be a forgone conclusion that he will have his way. The decision will be made at the April 7 CAF Congress in Cairo – CAF headquarters. The man is in his seventh term as leader. The question is what with his waning energy can he now do that he has not done for the past 27 years. Retirement is one big thrill; meant to safeguard a legacy. Despite the challenges, he has had his successes and ought to be satisfied with that – and take an advisory role than continue at the top. Unfortunately, those that vote for CAF leadership are often one-minded. Whether they are bribed to conform, one won’t say matter-of-factly. But the pattern worries. These compatriots, with fresh lessons to draw from – Burkina Faso and DRC where public protests against change of term limits have succeeded or continuing – are most likely to be blinded by small and convenient benefits than what is genuinely right. Hayatou ought to be offered a retirement that he so much deserves. It is unfortunate that only members of his executive are – under CAF statutes – allowed to contest for the Presidency. Otherwise one would be asking the local leader – Tebogo Sebego – to run for the office. Former CAF and FIFA executive committee member Ismail Bhamjee challenged Hayatou in 2004 in Tunisia. He lost as once more the ‘Yes-men’ of the continent chose to retain the status quo; with some having misled Bhamjee into believing that they will support him. A change of leadership in CAF is even more urgent when one looks at the dominance of the Francophone zone in the administration of the game against the other regions of the continent. Rotational leadership will ensure that there is equitable sharing of CAF resources and responsibilities. One just has to look at the recent AFCON finals where the dominance of Francophone referees could not be ignored. There is without doubt a need to shift things around and for the better. With Hayatou getting another term, it is another season of stagnation. Sebego and his generation that attend CAF Congress should block the change of this age-limiting provision and abolish the rule that allows only members of the executive to vote. Imagine even the mother body FIFA allows a retired player Frenchman David Ginola to challenge Blatter for Presidency! Our Dipsy Selolwane should be allowed to run for CAF presidency if he so wishes. It is these kinds of exclusions that breed corruption. CAF has to change and its leadership.