After 29 years, African football kingpin falls

Above: Madagascar's Ahmad Ahmad (second from left) is carried after winning an election to become the president of the Confederation of African Football in Addis Ababa. He beat incumbent Issa Hayatou (left) in a 34-20 vote.
Above: Madagascar's Ahmad Ahmad (second from left) is carried after winning an election to become the president of the Confederation of African Football in Addis Ababa. He beat incumbent Issa Hayatou in a 34-20 vote.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Above: Madagascar's Ahmad Ahmad (second from left) is carried after winning an election to become the president of the Confederation of African Football in Addis Ababa. He beat incumbent Issa Hayatou (left) in a 34-20 vote.
Madagascar's Ahmad Ahmad (second from left) is carried after winning an election to become the president of the Confederation of African Football in Addis Ababa. He beat incumbent Issa Hayatou (above) in a 34-20 vote.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ADDIS ABABA • Cameroon's victorious players were still dancing on the Stade de l'Amitie field in Libreville, Gabon, when Issa Hayatou - African football's apparently unassailable kingpin - decided he deserved a moment of triumph, too.

He was present at the final of this year's African Cup of Nations to hand out medals to the winners and to offer a consoling hand to the losers. It was a role he had come to know well over the course of the 29 years he had spent as president of the Confederation of African Football, African football's governing body.

That did not stop him from breaking just a little with protocol. Standing on the podium that had been constructed in the centre of the field, he briefly clasped the trophy with both hands, held it aloft, and turned, beaming, to the crowd.

The 70-year-old had every reason to be happy. He had just watched his homeland beat Egypt to win his tournament, the competition he had transformed, in a stadium and a country he had all but hand-picked to host it.

In that moment, his power must have seemed complete.

Not even two months later, it has evaporated completely.

On Thursday, at the federation's congress in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, he was finally removed as the head of African football, resoundingly beaten, in a 34-20 vote, by Ahmad Ahmad, 57, the previously unheralded president of Madagascar's football association.

"Africa has made an emphatic decision that we are ready for change," said Liberian Football Association president Musa Bility.

Hayatou's toppling represents yet another staging post in world football's gradual attempts to improve its image, to learn the lessons of its scandal-ridden past.

He has lost not only the federation's presidency, but also the post on Fifa's Council that goes with it. That, too, will pass to Ahmad, meaning that of the 22 men involved in the controversial vote to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar - the decision that eventually led to Fifa being engulfed in crisis and, from there, to the downfall of former Fifa president Sepp Blatter - only four remain.

They are Egypt's Hany Abo Rida, Senes Erzik of Turkey, Belgian Michel D'Hooghe and Spaniard Angel Maria Villar.

Though he has strenuously denied all allegations of corruption hurled in his direction - and he has never been convicted of any wrongdoing - it is that mood for change that has claimed Hayatou, long seen as both an embodiment and a relic of Fifa's darkest days, as its latest victim.

He was the thwarted opponent who turned into a crony of Blatter's; he was Fifa's interim president after Blatter fell last year. He was tainted.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'After 29 years, African football kingpin falls'. Print Edition | Subscribe