Sole candidate Patrice Motsepe was confirmed as Confederation of African Football (CAF) president in Rabat Friday, and the South African mining magnate pleaded for unity as he seeks to fix the troubled organisation.
“Africa needs collective wisdom, but also the exceptional talent and wisdom of every (national football association) president and every member nation,” Motsepe said.
“When we all work together, football in Africa will experience success and growth that it has not enjoyed in the past.”
Motsepe said there was a “sense of extreme urgency” to “stabilise the financial position of CAF”. However, he also put the emphasis on improving the performances of African teams on the global stage.
The continent has suffered serious setbacks in recent years with all five qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia eliminated in the group stage.
– Earn ‘global respect’ –
“Football is a powerful tool to reassert the pride, the dignity, the global respect of Africans, and Africa can produce and compete at the highest level in the world, both at the World Cup as well as the FIFA club championships,” he said in a speech.
He said “the world will only respect us” when African teams succeed internationally. “Not when our best players are respected in Europe – Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Salah, Mane from Liverpool, and George Weah. We have done that. We want our national teams to compete and win and succeed.”
Motsepe takes over an organisation still reeling after Malagasy Ahmad Ahmad became the first CAF president to be banned by FIFA last November, with a five-year suspension for “governance issues” cut to two years on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Just a few weeks ago, Motsepe, Ivorian Jacques Anouma, Mauritanian Ahmed Yahya and Senegalese Augustin Senghor were locked in an intriguing struggle for the presidency.
But FIFA-brokered meetings of the contenders in Morocco and Mauritania led to Motsepe becoming the sole candidate. Senghor and Yahya were given the first and second vice-president roles.
Anouma, who initially declared the pact “undemocratic”, is a former FIFA executive committee member and becomes a special advisor to Motsepe.
As some CAF officials railed against alleged interference by the world body, FIFA president Gianni Infantino played down the role of his organisation.
“I am delighted that FIFA has been able to contribute, even if just a little, to this crucial moment for football on this great continent,” he said.
– ‘Stop the massacre’ –
Former Africa Cup of Nations-winning coach Claude le Roy questioned the involvement of FIFA in Motsepe’s election, given they “would not dare do so in Europe or South America”.
“Infantino, stop the massacre with African football … imposing your law on Africa in the elections,” Le Roy told AFP.
Many officials believe Infantino already privately backed Ahmad four years ago, when the Malagasy ended the 29-year reign of Cameroonian Issa Hayatou.
But after a promising start, Ahmad stumbled from one crisis to another, which eventually led to him exiting the presidency in disgrace.
FIFA became so concerned by governance issues at CAF that it sent its secretary general Fatma Samoura to Cairo for six months to assist in the running of the confederation.
Motsepe is the ninth-richest man in Africa with a personal wealth estimated at $2.9 billion (2.4 billion euros) by Forbes magazine. He owns 2016 CAF Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns.
He inherits an organisation described as a “cesspool of corruption and self interest” by South African newspaper the Daily Maverick.
“CAF desperately needs to break from its tired old ways, institutionalised habits and the sense it serves those who sit on its executive committee, rather than the other way round,” wrote the publication.
CAF are banking on Motsepe using his business connections across Africa to woo new sponsors.
France-based oil and gas giant Total are the main financial backers, but details of the eight-year deal that began in 2016 have never been disclosed.
“Ninety-five percent of our discussions will be about football…but I also want the five percent to be about the realisation that football cannot succeed and prosper without a partnership with the private sector,” Motsepe said.
“We need partnerships with the private sector to sponsor and make more revenue available.”