By Robson Sharuko
A DEFIANT ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa basked in the glow of international media spotlight yesterday as the battle to dethrone world football’s longest-serving leader, CAF boss Issa Hayatou, continued to gather momentum.
The Harare businessman declared to The Herald yesterday he was unmoved by threats from the CAF leadership to sanction him because, as far as he was concerned, he wasn’t violating any rules and regulations governing the game on the continent, or around the world, through his endorsement of challenger Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar.
Ahmad is trying to end Hayatou’s grip on African football, which started in 1988 and has challenged the long-serving Cameroonian strongman for the CAF presidency in a move that has shaken the game on the continent.
Although Hayatou has been challenged in the past, the former athlete has easily destroyed his opponents, but as he seeks to extend his reign at the helm of African football to more than 30 years, a consensus is growing across the continent that this could be his biggest challenge to remain in power.
Analysts have pointed to the way Hayatou panicked on Monday, sending his lieutenant to threaten Chiyangwa with unspecified sanctions should the Harare businessman go ahead with hosting a number of African football leaders in Harare next week.
The Hayatou camp claim that the gathering is in contravention of CAF statutes, claiming it is being used by Chiyangwa and those plotting against the Cameroonian to gang up against the CAF president, while Chiyangwa says it’s just a glitzy bash to celebrate his belated birthday and triumph in the COSAFA presidential elections.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino is also expected to grace the occasion.
Yesterday, Chiyangwa said he was Ahmad’s campaign manager and he didn’t understand why the CAF leadership, who have accepted the Madagascar boss as a legitimate challenger for the leadership of continental football, should consider those who were fighting in his corner to be allegedly destabilising the game on the continent.
“I am Ahmad’s campaign manager, after he was endorsed by the entire COSAFA region which I also lead and I think it is only normal that I fight for his interests because the mission is to ensure that he gets the post that he is fighting for,” Chiyangwa told The Herald.
“In doing so, I am very clear that there are rules and regulations that govern how this process should be shaped and I am clearly aware of them and respect them not only as an individual, but also as a leader of a major regional bloc on the continent.
“I will not flout those regulations, no matter what, because I believe that we need a fair race and that means a candidate who has been accepted by CAF for any position deserves respect and also need to be given a chance to compete and that’s exactly what I am doing in terms of trying to help Ahmad win his race.
“But that has nothing to do with the birthday celebrations that I am holding and the party for my victory in the COSAFA elections.
“These are two separate things and the planning for the party was done before I became Ahmad’s campaign manager.”
Chiyangwa said he was the voice of the voiceless.
“I have always considered myself the voice of the voiceless and it’s something that I have considered to be part of my life and I will never be forced to change the way I am, no matter the intimidation,” said Chiyangwa.
“When I said I wanted to be the COSAFA president, a lot of people felt that I didn’t have a chance, but I knew that, because the majority didn’t have the voice which I was prepared to give them, I was going to win.
“And I won and I also feel that if the majority of our football community in Africa don’t have a voice, I should be there to provide them with one because that is the only way that we can get better as a continent, by exchanging views without fear or favour as long as we respect the statutes that govern our game.
“When other people didn’t consider Infantino a good candidate for the FIFA presidency, I felt that he was the right guy, even though some were saying he was too young and others were saying he was probably too inexperienced, but I went into his corner because I felt he had the right vision for world football.
“That’s what I am seeing in Ahmad, in terms of African football, and that is why I am in his corner.”
And Chiyangwa appears to be shaking the game. A number of veteran commentators on the continent now believe Hayatou could be defeated, with the BBC’s Farai Mungazi tweeting yesterday that there was now a possibility change could sweep African football leadership.
Another veteran journalist, Mark Gleeson, penned an interesting article that appeared in the South African media.
“The decision of the southern African countries to back Madagascar’s Ahmad in the race for the Confederation of African Football (Caf) presidency next month has put the Cosafa region at loggerheads with long-standing ruler Issa Hayatou,” Gleeson wrote.
“Ahmad — the former government minister who uses just one name — hopes to deny the 70-year-old Hayatou taking his reign at the head of the African game into a fourth decade when the CAF elections are held in Addis Ababa’ Ethiopia on March 16. The weekend decision of COSAFA to publicly back Ahmad is the first serious sign of dissent that Hayatou has faced since he became president in 1988.
“With FIFA president Gianni Infantino backing Ahmad’s bid’ the southern region is to become a further major battle ground over the next days.
“Infantino has invited some 20 African football association presidents for a summit in Johannesburg next week on youth and women’s football’ conveniently timed so that he might be able to bring some influence to bear on the election.
“This is to be followed by a one-day meeting in Harare on February 24 called by the new COSAFA president Philip Chiyangwa’ who is an enthusiastic supporter of Ahmad.
“But Hayatou has told him he may not have the summit if he is inviting presidents from outside his region. If he does so he will sanction. But Chiyangwa’ who poses for pictures with his Rolls Royce and is said to be one of the richest men in Zimbabwe’ has rejected the threat’ saying it is a party to celebrate his being voted COSAFA president last December and also to mark his birthday.
“SAFA president Danny Jordaan is also standing for elections in Addis Ababa’ seeking both a seat on the FIFA Council as well as the executive committee of CAF.”
Steve Vickers also wrote a feature on BBC Sport. “Council of Southern African Football Associations president, ‘Captain Fiasco’, and a source of worry for the Confederation of African Football — Philip Chiyangwa could shape the future of the sport on the continent,” he wrote.
“The 58-year-old Zimbabwean is flamboyant, daring and often controversial.
“And he is currently at the centre of an almost unprecedented stand-off with CAF and its long-serving president Issa Hayatou.
“It appears Hayatou, who is seeking an eighth term in office, is rattled and that a power struggle at the top of African football could be looming.
“Chiyangwa is not the type to shy away.
“His interests include property, a school and numerous other business ventures and he has been involved in politics, holding a position as an MP in the 2000s.
“Chiyangwa famously brought music legend Michael Jackson to Zimbabwe in 1998, driving him around Harare in a black limousine. His first interest in sport was as a boxing promoter in the 1990s and his entry into football administration in 2015 was unexpected.
“After becoming president of the Zimbabwe Football Association he declared himself ‘the god of football in Zimbabwe’ and declared that he would aim for positions in CAF and FIFA.
“Chiyangwa’s victory in the elections for Cosafa president last December came as a surprise.
“While he may be something of a greenhorn in the world of football politics, he possesses a fearlessness that leads him to believe that greater things are ahead for him in football.”