Era of FIFA veteran Hayatou under threat at African election

In this Feb. 26, 2016 file photo, then-Acting FIFA President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon sits on the podium during the extraordinary FIFA congress in Zurich

Issa Hayatou’s reign could end this week after nearly 30 years as the head of the African soccer confederation and a top FIFA executive.

Hayatou, FIFA’s most senior vice president due to his long service, faces what is predicted to be a tough election challenge — an unfamiliar situation for him — at the Confederation of African Football’s general assembly in Ethiopia tomorrow. His opponent, the head of the Madagascan association, could provide African soccer with a new leader and a new direction for the first time since the late 1980s.

Defeat for Hayatou in the vote of CAF’s 54 full member countries would not only remove him as president in Africa but also as a FIFA vice president and a member of its ruling council. Ahmad, the challenger from Madagascar, would replace Hayatou on the FIFA Council.

With a younger candidate calling for a more transparent CAF, and questioning the secrecy with which the organization has conducted financial deals, the 70-year-old Hayatou may be another veteran soccer leader pushed out by a desire for change emanating from the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal.

Ahmad, casting himself as the man to modernize CAF, is campaigning under the Twitter hashtag #TogetherForChange. Hayatou, the son of a sultan from northern Cameroon, doesn’t tweet and rarely gives interviews.

Hayatou, seeking an eighth term, enters the election weighed down by the threat of a criminal prosecution. The Egyptian Competition Authority has recommended that he and his secretary general be referred to court over a marketing and television rights deal worth a reported USD1 billion.

“If I believed that I will lose this election, I wouldn’t have entered the race in the first place,” Hayatou said on his arrival in Addis Ababa at the start of election week.

Hayatou’s confidence shouldn’t be ignored, with his longevity impressive: Sepp Blatter was still FIFA’s secretary general when Hayatou took charge of African soccer. Current FIFA President Gianni Infantino was a teenager.

Hayatou was re-elected unopposed as CAF president in 2013, but he was only unopposed after he pushed through rule changes that allowed only members of his executive committee to stand against him, preventing a challenge from former FIFA executive committee member Jacques Anouma. Age limits for candidates were also removed, allowing Hayatou to be eligible for re-election this year. There was little opposition to him.

And although Ahmad’s campaign team has claimed support from 35 countries — 28 votes guarantee victory — the public announcements of support for the challenger haven’t matched that number.

“It is very difficult now to say how many countries are going to vote for me,” Ahmad told The Associated Press yesterday. “Nobody can know that at this moment. You campaign and if you believe in your work, only the vote will tell.” Elias Meseret,Gerald Imray, Ethiopia, MDT/AP

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