FIFA Rolls Out Red Carpet for Motsepe

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By Goodwill Zunidza, Harare

Patrice Motsepe began his term of office on Friday as the new Confederation of African Football (CAF) president after a deal brokered by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

He is likely to quickly find that it will not be a stroll in the park.

The continental football body had assumed a whole new character different from what it looked like for almost 30 years prior to the arrival of its outgoing leader Ahmad Ahmad who assumed office in 2017.

Ahmad could not contest for re-election as he starts serving an effective two-year ban from all football activities, slapped on him by Fifa.

But the ghastly changes he inflicted on the game in Africa might continue to be felt for decades unless Motsepe discards them completely.

The 59-year-old South African mining magnate, ranked by Forbes among the richest men on the continent, should not encounter any hurdle in stamping his authority at CAF’s Cairo headquarters as he hardly campaigned for the position and therefore has no quarters to try and please.

The way to the crown for Motsepe came through a virtual directive from Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president, after Ahmad was barred and three other candidates mysteriously pulled out of the race to all be incorporated into Motsepe’s team.

It was a drama that saw Motsepe’s campaign finish the day it began. The visit by Infantino to Johannesburg for the Cosafa AGM where Motsepe was launching his campaign did the trick, as it turned out to be Infantino’s endorsement alone that would matter.

With all this now water under the bridge, the incoming Caf boss must now start looking seriously into whether some of the far-reaching changes Ahmad brought to the game are sustainable.

The former Madagascar fisheries minister single-handedly increased the number of finalists at the African Cup of Nations from 16 to 24, nearly half the number of countries on the continent, which has rubbed off the competitive edge in the 64-year old competition.

It is genuinely suspected this was a personal decision by Ahmad to favour his own country Madagascar who went on qualify for the tournament for the very first time.

Round-robin qualifiers have become unnecessary under such a set-up as just single round elimination ties can determine Afcon finalists.

Ahmad further shifted the start date of the continental club competitions from January to August. The decision has affected various countries like Zimbabwe, Cameroon and many others on the continent whose seasons commence at the beginning of the year with winners – who will participate in Africa – determined at the end of the year.

In Zimbabwe’s case the country has now been stuck with one representative in the African Champions League for close on four years.

The question of international match venues is also one that Motsepe, the billionaire owner of Mamelodi Sundowns, and his team will need to revise.

Facilities in Southern Africa increasingly faced bans under Ahmad despite a lingering belief that the region commands the better facilities on the continent.

Motsepe’s club has not been able to use its own above-standard facilities in Midrand due to Caf scrutiny while FC Platinum also have to travel outside Zvishavane for their home fixtures in Caf competitions.

It is also interesting to note that Motsepe has promised not to take a cent from Caf pointing at his own wealth that has seen Forbes rank him the sixth richest black person in the world.

This should see him even plough some of his own resources into the youth competitions that have remained grossly under-funded for years.

It is a well-known fact that national football associations are running youth development at a loss and have to fund their teams for Caf competitions which earn them nothing in return.

Motsepe’s reign, the first by any official from the English-speaking part of the continent, should prove exciting although few can tell what’s in store given that he did not get to circulate his campaign manifesto.

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