FIFA, CAF and African football

LAST week, shortly before the kick-off of the Total 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon 2019) currently ongoing in Egypt, the global football governing body, Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), announced the appointment of its Secretary General, Fatma Samoura, as FIFA General Delegate for Africa for a six-month period (August 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020), renewable with the endorsement of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The agreement, announced in a joint statement, effectively ensures FIFA’s take-over of the management of football in Africa. Under the new arrangement, Samoura will work with CAF president Ahmad Ahmad and a team of experts to oversee the operational management of CAF, including governance and administrative procedures, ensure the efficient and professional organisation of all CAF competitions, and support the growth and development of football in its member countries. According to the statement, ‘‘FIFA and CAF will work closely together in order to best serve all African member associations to bring stability, serenity, professionalism and effective football development on the African continent. As part of this process, it was also agreed that FIFA and CAF will undertake as soon as possible, a full forensic audit of CAF.’‘

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FIFA’s decision came amid the corruption allegations surrounding the CAF boss, Ahmad Ahmad, who was recently   detained by the French authorities, albeit briefly, and is also being investigated by FIFA over allegations that he unduly influenced a CAF decision to buy sportswear through a French company rather than directly from manufacturers, and at inflated prices. This has understandably not gone down well with the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, whose mantra of zero tolerance for corruption and pursuit of a new FIFA driven by integrity is well known. In addition to the corruption investigations involving the CAF boss, African football has in recent times also been rocked by the firing of the  CAF General Secretary, Amr Fahmy, for whistle-blowing and the unsavoury incidents witnessed during the CAF Champions League final. The match was abandoned after players of the Moroccan club, Wydad Casablanca, left the pitch an hour into the game because of a disallowed goal against Esperance of Tunisia. There was no Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to re-examine the disallowed goal and a CAF vice president allegedly assaulted a referee. CAF awarded the title to the Tunisian champions, but later changed its mind and ordered the replay of the final at a neutral venue.

However, FIFA’s action has not been without naysayers. For instance, a former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, described the action as a form of imperialism, saying in a tweet: “African football under control, new colonialism? Well done, courageous Leodegar Tenga! Is the compliance committee sleeping?” Blatter was referring to the Tanzania football boss, Tanga, who had queried FIFA’s claim that its decision was approved by the CAF Executive Committee. Similarly, the Union of European Football Federation (UEFA) described the action as an absurdity. Aleksander Ceferin, head of UEFA, wrote in a letter to the FIFA president: “Never in the history of our institutions has the FIFA Secretary General, who under the FIFA Statutes leads the organisation, been placed on secondment to take control of a confederation, even with the latter’s consent.” He added that Samoura becoming FIFA General Delegate for Africa while retaining the title of FIFA Secretary General raised a number of questions, including the likelihood of conflict of interest. He declared that without a legal analysis of the situation and consultation of the European members of the FIFA Council, he was “not at liberty to approve the proposal you put forward.”

We urge FIFA to come to a consensus on its decision regarding African football. Discordant tunes by members of its topmost echelon on its latest decision does not help its cause. At the same time, the point cannot be missed that FIFA’s action emanated from alleged corruption by the CAF leadership. In this regard, we fail to see how it can realistically be termed an exercise in neocolonialism or imperialism. Indeed, FIFA has, in recent times, wielded the big stick on persons accused and found guilty of corrupt practices within its ranks. For instance, in March this year, it slammed a life ban on the disgraced former head of Ecuador’s Football Federation, Luis Chiriboga, after finding him guilty of taking bribes. Previously in February, it had handed down a life ban to Oden Charles Mbaga, a referee affiliated with the Tanzania Football Federation, having found him guilty of accepting illegal payments. Mbaga’s punishment followed that given in January to former international referee, Ibrahim Chaibou from Niger Republic. Chaibou was banned for life and fined 200,000 Swiss francs after being found guilty of collecting bribes.

In this regard, we welcome FIFA’s probe of the CAF president and its planned audit of CAF. While it would be wrong to pronounce the CAF president guilty without evidence, the fact is also true that the management of African football is mired in corruption and inefficiency. Pray, in which other federation could a Champions League final suffer from the lack of VAR? The sad episode involving Esperance and Wydad Casablanca reflected badly on African football and cast football administration on the continent as an unserious business. Such episodes must never be allowed to recall.

In previous editorials, we noted that FIFA had shown enough commitment to self-cleansing and that this would help to preserve its image even while those who choose to be compulsively corrupt among its ranks take actions that effectively amount to sabotage. While urging the federation to beam its searchlight on other football federations and weed out felons masquerading as administrators, coaches and referees, we urged it to reform its internal accounting mechanisms with a view to fast-tracking the discovery of corrupt activities and proclivities and dealing with them decisively, and to undertake ethical evaluations of its operations with a view to making football beautiful on the pitch and in the management boardroom. It is quite salutary that FIFA is following this path. In doing so, though, it must ensure that the rules are correctly applied at all times.