Issa Hayatou, the last of the old generation leaders in world football, faces a rare and determined challenge when he bids for an eighth term as head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in Thursday’s election.
Ahmad Ahmad, head of the Madagascar Football Assocation, has picked up key votes with his calls for “change” against the 70-year-old Hayatou.
The Cameroonian official remains a favourite but many African federations refused to say who they would back.
“Issa has never faced a challenge like this and he has had to call in some favours,” one CAF executive member said ahead of the vote at a congress in Addis Ababa.
Hayatou has headed CAF since 1988 and is a senior vice-president of Fifa. He has been credited with increasing the number of African teams at the World Cup and bringing in extra finance for the continent’s competitions.
But he has also faced controversy, accused by a British newspaper of receiving $1.5-million to vote for Qatar when it was awarded the 2022 World Cup seven years ago.
In 2011, Hayatou was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee over money he received from scandal-tainted sports marketing company ISL in 1995.
He has always insisted the money went to CAF and has always strongly denied any wrongdoing.
“No one has been able to hurt him despite all the rumours of corruption,” a former senior member of Fifa said.
Ahmad (57) has also been implicated in the 2022 World Cup bribe-taking.
The Sunday Times said he received between $30 000 and $100 000 for his vote. The Madagascar soccer chief has called the allegations unfounded.
“If people want change there is no other choice. Only I can dare (to challenge Hayatou),” Ahmad said at the Madagascar Football Federation offices in Antananarivo.
“My programme is the reform of the administration of CAF to avoid the involvement of politics in the organisation,” he added.
Ahmad is already a member of the CAF executive and he has been promised the support of the 14-member Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa).
Zimbabwe Football Association chief, Philip Chiyangwa, who is also Cosafa leader, said: “We have all endorsed Ahmad Ahmad. We need new ideas.”
In the group, South Africa has not publicly committed to vote for Ahmad.
But an official from the Football Association of Malawi said, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The thinking is that Hayatou has overstayed his welcome and has run out of ideas. Africa needs fresh minds to develop football.”
In a sign of the furious lobbying going on, the influential vote of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and a football powerhouse, appeared in doubt. Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick had wanted to vote for Ahmad. But the government has called for a vote for Hayatou.
The 12-member Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations, which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia, voted a resolution in February to back Hayatou.
But Kenya Football Federation president Nick Mwendwa said each federation would make their own decision in the election.
An Egyptian Football Federation source said the country would vote for Ahmad. The source said “a small coalition” including Morocco, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Egypt will support Ahmad. But no official has estimated how many votes Ahmad will get and most say Hayatou remains favourite to win.
Fifa leader Gianni Infantino visited Africa last month and met with Chiyangwa, who is seen as one of the leaders of the anti-Hayatou camp.
Infantino has embarked on reforms of the world body, seeking to redeem its image after the scandals that forced out past president Sepp Blatter and his one time ally Michel Platini. While many suspect he favours Ahmad, Infantino has not said publicly who he supports in the election battle. – Agence France-Presse