Editorial Comment: New dawn for African football

IT has been a defining week for African football with long-serving CAF president Issa Hayatou being deposed from his post after 29 years at the top by a revolution that started on our doorsteps.

When zifa president Philip Chiyangwa declared he would remove Hayatou from his post, not many believed him, a good number of people even laughed, dismissing him as a madman who needed a lot of lessons in the trenches of African football, given the Cameroonian strongman had proved an immoveable object in the past.

Those who tried, like Botswana’s Ismael Bhamjee, to challenge him, were swept away by a tide of support for Hayatou with our neighbour getting only four of the more than 50 votes at stake, in a crushing defeat, while others just chose not to try and do what was billed as the impossible.

Enter Chiyangwa, a free-spirit who says he represents the new crop of African football leaders untainted by what happened in this game in the past, and somehow the Harare property mogul galvanises the entire continent to turn against Hayatou and hand him a humbling defeat at the CAF elections in Ethiopia on Thursday.

Of course, it was Ahmad Ahmad, the Madagascar Football Federation boss who beat Hayatou 34-20, but everyone knows that the real power isn’t with the soft-spoken administrator from the Indian Ocean island, but with Chiyangwa, who started this campaign by rallying the cosafa bloc, which he heads, to take a position against Hayatou.

A few weeks ago, when he hosted fifa president Gianni Infantino, Chiyangwa told the world that his camp had 34 votes, which he described as a dangerous number in the battle for the CAF presidency, and many dismissed him as a day-dreaming Johnny-come-lately whose inflated dreams would be crushed by the wily Hayatou.

Others even feared for Chiyangwa’s future in the game, with Hayatou and his executive making the first move to throw him out of football management by dragging him before the CAF disciplinary committee just two days before the elections, in a move which was meant to instil fear in the electorate.

Of course, now that things have changed in the CAF leadership, with Chiyangwa and his team firmly in control; that disciplinary hearing will not take place because those who are now in charge are his allies and will simply dismiss the case for lack of merit since they believed it was meant to intimidate them.

We are happy to see our nation, represented by Chiyangwa, playing such a major role in the affairs of African football after years of us being relegated to the back seat where we would repeatedly be abused by the game’s leaders, without anyone blinking an eye, as was the case when they took away our rights to host the 2000 Nations Cup finals.

While we take this opportunity to celebrate the fall of a football leader who was indifferent to our interests, in the hope that this will present a future that is brighter for our national game, we have to tell Chiyangwa and his team that the continent is watching and expects Ahmad to deliver on what he promised during his election campaign.

Every country on this continent should be treated the same rather than the old flawed ways where the Nations Cup finals would only be held in West Africa while the southern and eastern parts of the continent were fed on crumbs like the Championship of Nations and other junior tournaments.

But, if there is an area that badly needs to be sorted out quickly, then it has to be the referees’ arm at CAF.

Referees are an integral part of the game, they can decide a match, and they are expected to be neutral, all the time, seen as being fair judges who are not in the game to ensure that one particular team has better chances of winning than the other.

Sadly, under Hayatou’s watch, the cancer of questionable match officiating, to the extent that some fans believe matches were rigged, was left to destroy the moral fabric of a game that depends on fairness and we have read and heard a lot of stories of blatantly biased refereeing, on the continent, which has become virtually acceptable.

It is against this background that we find CAF’s decision to appoint Seychelles referee Bernard Camille, who carries a stink as a referee known to be biased towards TP Mazembe, for tomorrow’s CAF Champions League decider against CAPS United to be very baffling to say the least.

Surely, how can a referee who, only four years ago, was at the centre of a storm in which TP Mazembe received two ghost penalties as they tried to claw their way past Orlando Pirates in this tournament, be then trusted to take charge of another big game involving the Congolese giants when scars of his horror showing in Lubumbashi have not yet healed.

It’s very clear he will go into tomorrow’s tie under a lot of pressure and even if he makes a good big call against CAPS United, including giving Mazembe a penalty, the big crowd expected at the National Sports Stadium is unlikely to view it that way because they are coming carrying seeds of doubt over his impartiality.

Football deserves better than what Hayatou was giving us and, hopefully, Ahmad and his crew — which will be getting a lot of input from Chiyangwa — will sort this mess so that the best teams win tournaments on this continent.

And the fans don’t feel robbed.

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