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DM168 SPORT

New CAF president Patrice Motsepe has to play on a rough pitch

CAF president Patrice Motsepe. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

The billionaire is fast realising the burden that has befallen him as the new CAF president and the shark-infested waters he must navigate if he is to put the continent’s favourite game on a winning path.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Billionaire mining magnate and philanthropist Patrice Motsepe’s promise to find more money for football in Africa, and to turn out teams that will prove competitive at future World Cups, looks a long way from being realised as he unravels the chaotic state of his moribund organisation.

It’s unlikely that Motsepe had any perception how bad it was when he first set out to be elected as the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), spurred on by Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, and South African Football Association boss Danny Jordaan.

The inertia of the long reign of Issa Hayatou followed by the kleptocracy of successor Ahmad Ahmad has weighed heavily on the reputation, finances and prospects of African football’s controlling body, leaving Motsepe struggling to negotiate new broadcast and commercial deals.

CAF dumped French company Lagadere Sports, its long-standing marketing and television partner, without any plausible explanation in late 2019, flushing away a $1-billion, five-year deal.

Predictably it has ended up in the courts in a saga that promises no quick solution.

“I have now spent so much time in almost all of those meetings with potential sponsors and partners and with people who we need to work with,” Motsepe told his executive committee when they met in Rwanda last week.

“And the message I received over and over again is ‘CAF is in court’ because there is a perception that certain agreements, certain contracts, were concluded which were improper – and the people who want to work with us and want to give us more resources are saying: ‘You have got to clean your house’.

“Some have even said, ‘We will find ourselves in court if we conclude agreements with you now when there are still these agreements – whether it is TV rights or contracts – which were done in a manner that is improper.’

“I want to indicate to you that we are going to do what is required,” Motsepe warned. “I am going to take legal advice and make sure that this organisation is not just protected, but that we get out of those arrangements.”

That will likely delay his need to show some return to a sceptical football community, still unsure whether Motsepe has the ability to swim successfully through shark-infested waters.

Suspect finances

Motsepe has ordered a fresh audit from PwC into the organisation’s finances.

Between 2019 and 2020, CAF suffered a $40-million drop in its reserves. In 2020, the organisation reported a financial loss for the second consecutive financial year, first of $6.8-million in 2019 and of $11.4-million in 2020. It is projecting a net deficit of $13-million for 2021.

There are suggestions that more evidence of misappropriation of funds have been found.

For the past four years, CAF’s finances were presided over by executive committee member Fouzi Lekjaa, the president of the Moroccan Football Federation, who was also the power behind the throne during Ahmad’s reign.

Lekjaa should have gone the way of his ally in the last elections but, instead, proved something of a power broker in helping Motsepe emerge uncontested in March’s election and has won himself a seat on the game’s governing body, the Fifa Council.

It is these kinds of individuals and hurdles that Motsepe has to carefully navigate around. Reports from Rwanda suggest there was much head-butting between the new president and the old guard at their weekend meeting.

Motsepe’s strong alliance with Fifa president Infantino, pointedly also attending the Rwanda rendezvous, gives him the upper hand as he hunkers down for a long fight. He will need gritty determination and, eventually, an iron hand.

Mixed messages over Afcon

So far, the only money CAF has brought in since Motsepe’s election in March is his own – a not insignificant $10-million donation for a Pan-African schools competition, extending what has been a pet project of his in South Africa for years.

Motsepe has started fulfilling his post-election victory promise of visiting every one of the 54 member nations of CAF – although visits to Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast in the past weeks managed to produce mixed messages and were no tours de force.

In Sierra Leone, where they tried to cheat their way to a place in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals by falsifying Covid-19 test results of their opponent Benin ahead of their decisive qualifier, Motsepe led effusive praise of the country’s football association president Isha Johansen.

Johansen, another unsavoury character recently elected one of Africa’s representatives on the Fifa Council, has been central to several corruption allegations and the latest incident underlines the self-serving nature of her involvement in the game.

It also did Motsepe’s legitimacy as an independent, fresh face at the helm of the African game little good to suggest poverty-wracked Sierra Leone could host a future Afcon final – just days after CAF had banned its main stadium in Freetown because it failed to meet proper standards.

In Abidjan, Motsepe and Infantino fawned around alongside Didier Drogba, despite the former Chelsea star being a disputed figure in the last Ivorian Football federation election. Drogba, heavily backed by a star-stuck Infantino, was one of three candidates for the post but he could not obtain the endorsements he needed to get on the ballot.

Then Fifa suddenly stepped in to suspend the electoral process and it has since appointed a “normalisation” committee to run the association.

By “hanging out” with Drogba for the day, Motsepe ignored the legitimacy of the two other candidates – something he was reminded of later at a media conference. He was forced into some embarrassing backtracking when admitting he had not even met them.

While needing Infantino’s council and support, Motsepe must also be more wary and avoid blindly stepping into situations that question his objectivity and leadership skills.

He will have been aware he was venturing into dangerous territory by bidding to join the ranks of sports politicians, but even for someone who has been as close to the corridors of powers as Motsepe has been for decades, this is proving a sobering adventure. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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