By Basil Afoni
On Monday March 10, the President of the Confederation of African Football, Issa Hayatou clocked 26 years at the helm of CAF.
42-year old Issa Hayatou embarked on the long road of African football renaissance on March 10, 1988 at Casablanca on the occasion of the CAF General Assembly.
After three rounds of voting, Africa bestowed on a young visionary the mantle to lead, to guide the continent and steer it into a new century and millennium of football rebirth with confidences of repositioning the continent’s number one sport to heights so lofty they were a mere dream for greater Africa.
It should be recalled that, in February 2011, Issa Hayatou said he was stressed out and wanted to stand down from his job.
“I am 65 years old, I reckon it’s time to think about standing down and leaving, but I don’t know what Africans will think of that. But for me personally, I would like to quit.” Hayatou told French radio RFI.
He however, went in for another four years mandate which he claimed to be his last one at the helm of African football. He also Hayatou challenged Sep Blatter for the FIFA leadership in 2002 and lost.
Growth of African Football
Under his reign, Hayatou has overseen particularly successful FIFA World Cup appearances by Ghana Senegal and Cameroon, and pushed for African places in the finals to increase from two to five, with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa seeing the hosts garner an automatic sixth spot for an African team.
Hayatou has presided over the bid and the organizing committee for the 2010 games, the first in Africa. The African Cup of Nations finals expanded from 8 to 16 teams, in a confederation of over 50 nations in six zones and five regional confederations. Club competitions have undergone a similar grown in both numbers and scale, with more clubs participating in the African Cup of Champions Clubs, the CAF Confederation Cup (begun in 2004 for national cup winners and high-placed league teams), the CAF Cup, and the CAF Super Cup, CHAN among others. There has also been an expansion outside men’s football, with the CAF overseeing Youth, Women’s, Fustal, and Beach soccer competitions
He was able to negotiate a September 1997 initiative with UEFA which saw the payment of fees to African governing bodies and clubs for African-born players working in Europe. This was followed by the Meridian Project signed in December 1997 with UEFA, which was to provide cash payments to African National Associations every other year, and created the UEFA-CAF Meridian Cup. The 1999 Goal Project created with FIFA gives 46 African FAs financial support worth one million dollars over four years.
In November 2010, he was accused of haven taken bribes in the 1990s regarding the awarding of contracts for the sale of television rights to the football World Cup by Andrew Jennings, the presenter of FIFA’s Dirty Secrets, an edition of BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Panorama. Also, in May 2011, The Sunday Times published claims from a whistle-blower that Hayatou had, along with fellow Executive Committee member Jacques Anouma, accepted $1.5 million bribes from Qatar in order to secure his support for their bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Cameroon Still to Benefit From Issa Hayatou’s Expertise?
Although many will say that Hayatou is President of the whole African continent football federation and not just Cameroon, he still remains a Cameroonian.
It is rather funny that since Hayatou has been at the helm of African football management, his country of birth, Cameroon has not been able to organise a single international football tourney under his mandate. Also, one would have expected that Hayatou use his high office to advice the country on ameliorating its league which is below that of little countries like Gabon, investing in football infrastructures and bidding to host international tourneys.
It is rather ridiculous that Hayatou will move around attending CAF competitions whereas his own country is dormant when it comes to organising competitions.
In 1974, aged just 28, Hayatou became Secretary General of the Cameroon Football Association, FECAFOOT, and Chair in 1986. As chair, he was chosen the same year to sit on the CAF Executive Committee. Following the retirement of Ethiopia’s Ydnekatchew Tessema from the CAF presidency in August 1987, Hayatou was elected as the fifth president in the body’s history.