By Goodwill Zunidza, Harare
Patrice Motsepe’s first weeks in office as the new Confederation of African Football (Caf) president are turning out to be days he will wish to forget.
Topping the list of disappointments the South African business mogul has had to grapple with in his opening month was the failure this week of his own national team to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
The calamity occurred on a murky weekend of both the penultimate and ultimate rounds of the qualifiers as a massive 24 countries confirmed their berths at Africa’s most glamorous football competition to be staged in Cameroon next year.
The 33rd edition of the continental event will be the first to be organized by Motsepe’s administration and Banana Bafana’s slip-up deals a massive blow to the Mamelodi Sundowns proprietor’s ego.
It’s an unwanted tag for which Motsepe is the first to wear as his predecessor Ahmad Ahmad presided over Madagascar’s rare qualification despite his short reign while Issa Hayatou before him ruled the roost with Cameroon’s enduring presence at Afcon.
SA, who have now ducked four of the last five finals, crashed out of the current edition after being held to a home draw by Ghana only to lose in Sudan five days later.
Caf is also bracing for a round of complaints from member countries over the chaotic manner the just-concluded qualifiers were held.
Whereas the norm is to set the same kickoff time for group games played at this delicate stage of the competition, Caf’s scheduling meant for example Zambia already knew their hopes had evaporated by the time their encounter against Algeria got underway in Lusaka.
This is because the corresponding clash between Zimbabwe and Botswana started three hours before in Francistown, producing a 1-0 win for the visitors that sealed the fate of the group and rendered the Lusaka tie an immediate dead rubber.
The week-day, and in most cases night kick-off fixtures introduced by the previous Ahmad Ahmad-led Caf regime even before the Covid-19 pandemic have also proved a financial disaster for the majority of Africa’s teams who are unable to attract huge crowds as they would for weekend matches.
Another source of headache for Motsepe has been the impact of Covid-19 protocols on the smooth administration of football on the continent.
El-Mereikh of Sudan appealed to the Caf disciplinary committee after some of their players returned positive results from test samples taken before their African Champions League match against Simba Stars in Tanzania.
Caf threw out the appeal but has since been inundated by similar calls from affected associations and clubs regarding the same issue.
The kickoff in Francistown itself was delayed by almost 40 minutes as Botswana authorities sought to exclude four Warriors from the starting line-up on the pretext that they had tested positive for the deadly viral disease.
A match between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea also took place amid much controversy with the Gabonese players claiming they had been made to sleep at the airport while awaiting their Covid19 results that took longer than usual to be released.
Away from pandemic-induced matters arising for Caf, Motsepe’s new executive was called into an awkward and far-reaching decision of suspending Chad over what they termed government interference in the running of the game in the central African nation.
The action saw Chad expelled from their Afcon qualifying group gifting their remaining two opponents Namibia and Mali three points apiece.
With Chadian football supporters having welcomed their government’s decision to dissolve the ‘corrupt and inept’ Chad Football Federation (FTFA) Motsepe will not be the most popular man in their country especially when Fifa extends, as they are expected to, the Caf ban to also cover the impending Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
With hardly a month at the helm of the continental football body Motsepe must already be feeling the heat.