Soccer politics and imperialism…as Infantino takes over Africa

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By Anesu Chakanetsa

SOUTH AFRICAN billionaire Patrice Motsepe is projected to take over the Confederation of African Football (CAF) presidency on Friday next week following a series of fishy diplomatic moves.

Many a South African sports journalist carried a story where FIFA had put all its support on the South African maverick, thereby ditching Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast, Ahmed Yayha of Mauritania and Augustin Senghor of Senegal who are also in contention.

According to Kenyan journalist Francis Gaicho, a meeting was held on February 27 to broker a deal whereby Motsepe would go uncontested and the other three contenders, Yayha and Senghhor would be offered vice-president and second vice-president posts while Anouma would play an advisory role to Motsepe.

While this might seem a pleasant arrangement, especially for both Southern African countries and Anglophone Africa who have been longing for a great revolution in African Football and fair representation, there are some protocols that seem barbaric, making the road ahead nastily pot-holed for African football.

In fact, CAF procedures have drastically changed after the coming in of Gianni Infantino, FIFA president, to the throne in 2016. 

By all means, Infantino is trying to pack both African football and politics in his own pocket without the approval of the Africans themselves.

In early 2017, Africa celebrated the ‘fall’ of a giant, Issa Hayatou, who had become the ‘guru’ of African football, paving way for Ahmad Ahmad from Madagascar. 

Not later than three years, Ahmad was already embroiled in graft issues and poor ethical behaviour, leading to his leadership demise in November 2020. 

Infantino influenced the decision.

In June 2019, FIFA had sent its Senegalese secretary-general Fatma Samoura to CAF headquarters in Cairo to clean up CAF corruption scandals. 

A process called the ‘takeover’ of African football then began.

Since then, FIFA had been practising a massive re-colinisation of African football, such that Africans no longer had a voice on how football should be run on the continent.

A number of sweeping proposals have been made by Infantino, like moving the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) into a quadrennial tournament, like the World Cup, Olympics and UEFA European Championships.

Infantino has been criss-crossing Africa in search of a credible CAF leader, and it looks like Motsepe is his best candidate.

Motsepe has, in turn, responded hastily to the call, making his son heir to his Mamelodi Sundowns throne.

In one of the press conferences held recently, Motsepe promised a ‘better world’ for African football, saying that he lost a lot of money in football but his love of the game keeps him going.

He also dismissed claims that FIFA and Infantino were backing him 100 percent to take over the CAF reins.

Nonetheless, Motsepe seems to be ignoring the past CAF shenanigans, a case of football politics and imperialism.

It is the same Infantino who praised Ahmad and influenced delegates to vote for him, thereby ending Hayatou’s long reign.

Musa Bility, a former executive committee member and Liberian FA president, wrote an open letter to Motsepe warning him to be wary of African Football politics.

Bility described CAF as an organisation that has “…laboured under the nature of ineptitude, borderline racism, a colonial mindset and the itchy fingers of its successive leaders over the decades.”

Bility, who is currently saving a 10-year ban after he was found guilty of misappropriating FIFA funds, accepting and offering gifts that influenced conflict of interests, refused to support FIFA’s six-month taking over of CAF.

Three months ago, he wrote a letter to the FIFA council asking them to fire Infantino after the opening of a criminal investigation against him by the Swiss judiciary.

To Motsepe, Bility explored the cunning nature of some CAF official and FIFA who work hand-in-glove to control African football affairs.

“You will be seeking to take over at helm of CAF following the chaotic one-term tenure of an incumbent (Ahmad Ahmad) who dangerously bungles the administration of the organisation having been given the cate-blanche by the FIFA president… There is a misconception in Africa that anyone seeking the CAF presidency must have the express sanction and permission of FIFA and its president,” he wrote.

“Drawing from my own experience, everything was fine as long as I mindlessly voted according to FIFA dictates. 

Needless to say, at the point where I started to question the loss and transfer of several hundred thousand dollars of my then FA’s grants from CAF to a shadowy Polish art gallery, I was a marked man. 

By the time I took a stand against the recolonisation of CAF by FIFA through the infamous hostile takeover of August 2019, the personal aide to Infantino pulled me aside to warn me that I faced the resuscitation of a dead rubber ethics case, and which was quickly activated by the co-independent FIFA ethics committee and which led to my current 10-year ban.”

From the words of Bility, it is clear that African football is being submerged in the barbaric whims of re-colonisation.

As much as Motsepe is hugely praised for his bullish business practices and well-presented social responsibility practices, a dark cloud might be hanging over him.

From its inception, CAF has been marred by regressive accusations of CAF leaders that have continued to this day and Motsepe’s tenure of office, if he wins, will be no exception.

Motsepe’s decades of hard labour might be bogged in a warfare of barbed wired football politics that sank Hayatou, Ahmad and Bility.

The CAF presidency has been a hot seat since 1957, where even army generals like Abdel Azziz Moustafa of Egypt took over the reins.

Until Ydnekatchew Tessema of Ethiopia took over in 1972, CAF had been mired in fights, with controversies like the banning of Rhodesia, the South African apartheid issue and CAF-FIFA tensions.

The Ethiopian is the one who is regarded as the best CAF leader as he doused the embers of a CAF fire stoked by North Africa and European dictatorship. 

In 1988 he appointed Hayatou as the CAF president, who, under his tenure, made great changes but mostly in favour of Francophone and West African countries.

As Motsepe, the projected winner, readies to takeover, we expect sweeping changes to African football.

In other words, Africans know Motsepe as a reformer and progressive man, but the watchful eyes of Infantino seem to be discouraging.

It has become an ironic rhythm of names. 

Where Motsepe has been taking baby steps, the young Infantino has been making gargantuan strides to change African football.

Will Motsepe continue to ‘Practice More-steps’: and has Infantino become a ‘Giant Infant’ of football.

Africa is certainly not keen on more zombies of regression.

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