Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) for an era spanning 29 years and a senior administrator at Fifa throughout its years of corruption scandals, has finally been deposed, suffering defeat in Caf’s presidential election.
A former teacher and sports minister from Cameroon, who was first elected as the Caf president in 1988 and became a member of the Fifa executive committee two years later, lost decisively in the vote at Caf’s congress in Addis Ababa, 34-20 to Ahmad Ahmad, the president of the Madagascar Football Association.
Ahmad will replace Hayatou on Fifa’s governing council, so the election signals the departure of another long-term fixture from world football’s governing body’s executive committee, one which overlapped with the 17-year presidency of Sepp Blatter. That tenure ended when Blatter was banned from football in December 2015 over a SFR2m (£1.6m) payment to the then Uefa president, Michel Platini, who was also banned. A string of other Fifa powerbrokers in that executive committee have now been indicted for alleged corruption in the US Department of Justice criminal proceedings, or been banned by Fifa’s own ethics committee, for malpractice.
Hayatou himself has not been charged or implicated in those investigations, and his long record at the heights of power was tarnished only by an alleged payment to him of FR100,000 from the marketing company ISL, which serially paid bribes to Fifa officials before it collapsed in 2001. Hayatou admitted receiving the money but has always said it was not a corrupt payment and that he used it to pay for a celebration of Caf’s 40 year anniversary in 1997.
Fifa did not sanction Hayatou but he was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee, on which he also sat after he was elected in 2001, for accepting money which the IOC said “in these conditions constitutes a conflict of interest”.
Hayatou stood for the Fifa presidency in 2002, supported by a concerted campaign of senior European members of the executive committee determined to oust Blatter, but he lost comprehensively, 139 votes to 56. His seniority at Fifa endured, however, and after Blatter was suspended in September 2015 over the Platini payment, Hayatou stepped up to become the organisation’s acting president, performing that role until the election of Gianni Infantino, Platini’s former general secretary at Uefa, last February.
In that landmark election for the post-Blatter presidency of Fifa, Hayatou supported Infantino’s rival candidate, the Bahrain royal Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a political miscalculation which contributed to his support in Africa slipping and the emergence of Ahmad as a rival.
Ahmad, 57 and a former player and coach, heads the FA of a less prominent African football country, but under Caf rules a candidate for president has to be a serving member of the executive committee, and he was encouraged by allies to make the challenge. His manifesto reproduced the standard Fifa and continental confederation promises of good governance and transparency, promised to have significant development money invested smartly and not in “white elephant” building projects, and for football to be “a lever for economical development and a tool to reach social stability” for young people in Africa.
As the president, Hayatou in 2015 signed a deal to sell Caf’s TV rights for the African Cup of Nations and club Champions League to the French media company Lagardère for $1bn over 12 years, a 10-fold increase on the previous deal of $150m from 2008-16. In his final speech as the president, delivered at the Nelson Mandela hall in Addis Ababa, Hayatou acclaimed the progress made by African football in the 60 years since Caf’s formation in 1957, and promised to lobby for 10 countries from the continent to be included in the World Cup which Infantino has steered to an expanded 48-team format from 2026.
However the emergence of Ahmad and the groundswell of support behind him has meant that Hayatou will not serve to fulfil that or his other election promises.
He had been challenged only twice before during his nearly three decades of power, winning by overwhelming margins in 2000 and 2004. In April 2015 the Caf statutes were changed to remove the then age limit of 70 for a president to stand which allowed Hayatou, who is 71 this year, to put himself forward for yet another term.
However after Ahmad announced his candidacy in January, promising to unify African football and embrace countries who have “lost their trust, their confidence” in Caf, Hayatou found his support drained away.
At the congress, Ahmad is reported to have been carried shoulder high by supporters to the podium after one more of the men who populated Fifa’s ruling body during its era of great expansion and shocking scandal had fallen.