Six months ago, no one could have foretold what transpired on Friday, March 12 in Rabat, Morocco, during the 43rd General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football [CAF].
Patrice Motsepe emerged as the new CAF president-unopposed.
The 59-year-old South African billionaire does not have any experience as a football administrator but he owns the very successful South Africa football club, Mamelodi Sundowns.
One challenge that has constantly bedeviled the game on the African continent has been that of money. Whether it is a lack of it; the misuse, or the pillaging.
One reason for Mr Motsepe’s emergence may be him not needing CAF to live well.
What would a man worth almost $3 billion need with a broke association like CAF, who receives handouts from FIFA? In his first press conference as CAF president, he revealed, “if you listen to our financials, we’ve got problems there; we’ve got challenges and we’ve got to fix it and we will fix it.”
The sorry state of the game on the continent, especially in the west, east and south regions are often blamed on bad administration and the financial impropriety that forcefully gazes at anyone that has a contrary opinion. The past president, Ahmad Ahmad, was swept away after FIFA found the Madagascar native with his hand stuck in the CAF cookie jar.
Mr Motsepe has broken many molds that have characterised CAF’s leadership structure and personnel since the body came to be in 1957. He is the first Anglophone and most prosperous man to ascend to the presidency of the 56-nation body.
Challenges and people set in their ways
Many are looking at him as someone foisted on Africa by FIFA’s interference. They will look to knock him back in whatever strategy he deploys to ‘cleanse’ CAF. The first item on his 10-point manifesto is: “Investing in developing and growing football in each African country through sponsorships, private sector, and other partners.”
Mr Motsepe presents himself as a team player. “African football needs collective wisdom,” he said before his election on Friday in Morocco. “If we all work together with our experience, talent, and passion, football in Africa will see success and growth that it has not seen in the past. It will take all of us to achieve this.”
With his vast business links and connections throughout the world, Mr Motsepe can call on ‘friends’ and ‘well-wishers’ to help bring much-needed manpower and financial might into the continent. But what of the administrators, who are steeped in their autocratic and financially itinerant ways?
Mr Motsepe will need FIFA as his policeman to ensure the 56 African FAs follow the line and adjust accordingly.
From infrastructure to technical know-how, grassroots development, and of course adequate financial resources, Africa is behind when compared to other continents globally. These developments have made the search for credible leaders pertinent to CAF, but over the years, the organisation has been riddled with the endless stench of corruption which takes it back two steps when it advances one step.
From 1988 to 2016, CAF was under the reign of Issa Hayatou, who many rightly or wrongly fingered for the slow pace of growth in football in Africa. So, when the wind of change ushered in Mr Ahmad as the successor for Mr Hayatou, many felt the Malagasy will right all the wrongs done for the past years. Unfortunately, Mr Ahmad’s notable moments as CAF president were grounded in dust after being disgraced out of office for corruption.
To get the needed result in a place like CAF, one would require a leader that is well-connected and can pull the strings whether in the political or corporate world. Mr Motsepe perfectly fits this bill, and he has already hinted he will woo more private investments into African football.
He also must be ready to knock his head against many walls in his drive to “Improving the efficiency and professionalism of CAF’s Competitions and its staff,” while “implementing and adhering to governance and auditing global best practices,” Mr Motsepe revealed in his 10-point manifesto.
The personal example at Sundowns
Though cynics will argue that the business of CAF far outweighs managing a football club, Mr Motsepe has shown his capability with his pet project–Mamelodi Sundowns. He has owned Sundowns since 2003 when he secured a majority stake.
The “Brazilians”, as the club players are fondly referred to, because of their yellow and blue shirts, have won the South Africa championship 10 times-the last three seasons in a row. But the biggest success in the club’s history was the triumph in the CAF Champions League in 2016.
Mr Motsepe has no experience in football administration, but he is ready to learn and lose money.
“There is no one in Africa who has lost more money in football than I have,” he told journalists at a press conference last October in South Africa before announcing his candidacy. “It’s a stupid love,” he added. It looks like that. For him to leave his cozy surroundings and many successes to become CAF president may mean he is a man who does not take himself too seriously.
“I was laughing when I was asked why I didn’t first run for PSL Chairmanship. Why must I run for positions where there are people better than me? Dr. Khoza has done a brilliant job at PSL. Danny Jordaan as SAFA President is doing a wonderful job.”
Thankfully, Mr Motsepe does not accept failure from himself or others. “You have to set high standards,” the 59-year-old once said. “I can never be satisfied with a mediocre performance.”
He will be at the helm of African football for at least four years and, as CAF president, he is automatically a vice-president in FIFA, making him one of Infantino’s deputies-able to deploy and pull strings to work his manifesto. Whether he will succeed is for time to answer!
At that first press conference as CAF president, Mr Motsepe revealed that his tenure senses an ‘urgency’ for African football. “There is a sense of urgency in certain steps we have to take to ensure that African football is globally competitive and is also self-sustaining and I said earlier on that the test of the success of African football has to do with what happens in every country.”
Mr Motsepe promised that he and the other members of the executive will visit every country in Africa over the next nine to 12 months.
“We have no doubts on what needs to be done and I think in some countries we will do well and in some, we may do well but not as well as we will like to and in others, the results may not be as good as I expect but there is a huge sense of urgency and a huge sense of focus.
“What we have to do-we know quite clearly. What success will look like in two, three, or four years is how teams or clubs are performing globally because we have to compete at the highest level in the world and do well. And there is no higher level in the world than the FIFA World Cup.
“There is a key understanding we have to excel on the field of play, but we also have a clear expectation-if you listen to our financials, we’ve got problems there; we’ve got challenges and we’ve got to fix it and we will fix it.”
He said he is looking at helping to create partnerships with the private sector to increase sponsorship in various countries and prize money for CAF competitions, ensuring that the AFCON Nations Cup is ‘exciting’
Mr Motsepe’s official manifesto:
1. Investing in developing and growing football in each African country through sponsorships, private sector, and other partners.
2. Improving the efficiency and professionalism of CAF’s Competitions and its staff.
3. Implementing and adhering to governance and auditing global best practices.
4. Investing in African football infrastructure.
5. Investing in our youth and in the future of African football.
6. Developing and growing women’s football.
7. Protecting the integrity and professionalising referees.
8. Establishing Video Assistant Referees (VAR).
9. Statutory reforms.
10. Partnerships with FIFA and other Continental governing bodies.
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