The Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations [CECAFA] members have pledged to support Cameroonian Issa Hayatou to stay on as CAF President in Thursday’s elections in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Among the reasons cited for the bloc’s support is the need keep close relationship that has existed for years between CAF and CECAFA. Another reason is to recognise the achievements that CAF has made under Hayatou’s leadership and the “unquestionable ability” to do more for the development of African football.
“We pledge our commitment and loyalty to Hayatou’s leadership, and CAF’s ideology to drive the African agenda is the cornerstone that has seen CAF grow and hold the continent together,” read part of the CECAFA statement.
However, since Hayatou came to power in 1988 as CAF President, for the first time, he faces a real challenge from Mauritius FA boss Ahmed Ahmed.
While CECAFA countries continue to support Hayatou, who has been in office for the last 29 years, other National FA’s on the continent are hoping for a wind of change to blow in African football.
“It’s time we introduce a new regime,” Liberian Football Association president Musa Bility told BBC Sport last week ahead of what has been described as the most important CAF elections for almost three decades.
Bility, who has long been a thorn in Hayatou’s regime, believes that Ahmad could change the status quo.
“The reality is that football has come to be more active, more democratic, more involving – and we have to do that. We have to follow the path of the rest of the world, as Africa cannot afford to be left behind. I believe that Africa is ready for change,” he stated.
Only twice before has Hayatou’s rule been challenged and he swept aside both opponents: Angola’s Armando Machado in 2000 (47 votes to 4) and Ismail Bhamjee of Botswana in 2004 (46-6).
Under the 70-year-old Hayatou’s regime, African football has changed immensely.
He has, among several measures, administered the expansion of the Africa Cup of Nations from eight teams to 16, an increase in the number of Africa’s World Cup representatives (from two to five), remodelled and financially boosted club competitions as well as greatly pushed for CAF finances.
The 2007 introduction of the African Nations Championship (CHAN), which is like the more known Nations Cup but only using footballers who ply their trade in their domestic leagues, has proved very popular while it was also on Hayatou’s watch that Africa staged its first World Cup in 2010, in South Africa.
However, despite the numerous accomplishments, several CAF influential members like Nigeria believe time is up for the veteran administrator and that a new leader should come in to steer continental football into the future.
In an interview with the BBC, Nigerian FA president Amaju Pinnick said the elections were a defining moment for African football and praised Ahmad for his decision to take on Hayatou.
Pinnick said Africa needed a new generation of leaders to take the continent forward. He believes Ahmad, who outlined a desire for improved governance, with a commitment to increased transparency and reinvestment in his manifesto, is the right man for the job going forward.
COSAFA, the southern African bloc, endorsed Ahmed for the presidency. Hayatou has been CAF president since 1988.
*Report by the Newtimes