Football’s new habit of ruthlessly ridding itself of its
long-standing honchos could well leave one of its most enduring
As Issa Hayatou presided over the coronation of a new Fifa boss — the
first the world has seen in 18 years — on February 26 in his last
public assignment since taking interim charge of world football’s
governing body in October 2015, his own lengthy reign as president of
the Confederation of African Football must have been placed in stark,
As the Cameroonian has quickly learned from his rival-turned-chum’s
sudden fall from grace, even the most despotic despots would have to
relinquish power at some point, either voluntarily or, as ultimately
happened in Blatter’s case, rather forcibly. With world football
finally extricating itself from the stout Swiss albatross dangling
around its neck and ushering in a refreshingly new, promising era,
Africa wonders what to do with its own terminal problem: Hayatou.
The 69-year old has considerably outlasted the current heads of all
other continental football federations, with Malaysia-born David Chung
— four years at the helm of the Oceania Football Confederation —
coming closest. When, in 1988 Hayatou became Caf boss, Blatter wasn’t
even halfway through his stint as general-secretary of Fifa.
It’s been 27 years since then, during which he’s done a lot to upgrade
African football, directly or otherwise. The Africa Cup of Nations is
no more what it used to be, at least with regard to extent of
participation. From eight countries, up to 16 are now represented at
every edition of the competition, and even that figure, with just a
little more forethought, could be multiplied in the not-too-distant
Activity at the Fifa World Cup has grown bigger and better as well,
with all three of Africa’s runs to the Mundial’s quarter-finals — the
farthest any team from these parts has ever reached — coming during
Hayatou’s tenure, surely a reason for the increase of African slots at
the World Cup to more than double what it once was. And the positivity
spreads to other areas as well: Africa’s first World Cup [in 2010],
successes across several international tournaments, boosts in the
fields of futsal, women’s football, et al.
That said, it hasn’t been all bliss.
As the years have ticked off, Hayatou has gone increasingly stale,
having less and less with which to feed the ever-widening,
ever-deepening belly of African football. Regardless of the
aforementioned progress Africa has enjoyed, it still remains far
behind the rest of the world as, in more areas than are comfortable,
there’s been little growth.
Winning Caf’s Nations Cup and Champions League competitions rewards
teams with peanuts ($1.5m apiece, last time I checked), the
credibility of the organization’s biggest individual award is dragged
through the mud a little more each year. . . and, you know, all the
other things — big and small — that plague African football.
Put simply, there’s little more Hayatou and his elite circle of
cronies could do for Africa that they haven’t already offered, thus
highlighting the need for fresh blood of the sort a 42-year-old
Hayatou injected so many years ago when first elected to Caf’s top
He isn’t only mentally drained, however. Physically, Hayatou may just
be struggling to keep up — forget the imposing facade of a
man-mountain you see presenting trophies every now and then. Late last
year, Hayatou had a major kidney operation and, although he’s reported
to have made a full recovery, the image of him dozing, with eyes fully
shut, at an important Fifa press conference mere weeks later, seemed
to tell a different story. To worried cynics, there could have been
much more to this than just the occasional embarrassing nodding-off
we’re all susceptible to.
And, anyway, what business has Hayatou, six months away from turning
70, dreaming of extended occupancy in that posh little office in
Until April last year, Caf officials couldn’t hold leadership
positions after joining the band of septuagenarians, meaning Hayatou’s
most recent re-election — which expires in 2017 — would have been
his last. All that changed, however, when those goalposts were
shifted, and although that decision moves Caf in line with Fifa’s own
statutes, it certainly would have left ambitious Hayatou happiest —
but hardly a first-time ‘offender’.
Years prior, eligibility to contest Caf’s presidency got narrowed down
to only members of its Executive Committee, a cabal Hayatou’s got a
fairly firm grip on, needless to say. And so you see why many feel
Hayatou — himself exposed by past allegations as being nearly as
crooked as the disgraced men he once dined with at Fifa’s high table
— is no clean whistle.
During the past five weeks, Hayatou has felt what it’s like not being
monarch of African soccer, having briefly stepped aside to ensure no
conflict of interest as Fifa’s presidential race gathered heat.
Simultaneously, however, he enjoyed a spell, although only 140-day
long, in the seat he’s always pined to fit his bulky frame into, the
grandest one at Fifa’s Tilla Theus-designed headquarters.
And which did he love more?
Likely neither, given the circumstances.
Still, for the good of the continent he professes love for, he should
warm up to the first. It’s what he needs — a respectable bow and
deserved rest — and exactly what Africa needs — change.
That way, as didn’t quite happen for Blatter, Hayatou could leave the
sport with grace.