FORMER Zifa chairman Leo Mugabe has warned progressive forces pushing to unseat Confederation of African Football (Caf) president Issa Hayatou in tomorrow’s elections that it will not be an easy task.
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
Hayatou, who hails from Cameroon, has been in control of African football since 1988.
His rule, however, has been met with disapproval from several federations, who accuse him of corruption among other things, and are calling for leadership renewal in the African game.
And tomorrow, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Cameroonian faces perhaps his biggest test in nearly three decades at the helm of African football with Madagascar Football Association president Ahmad Ahmad challenging him.
Zifa and Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) president Philip Chiyangwa is Ahmad’s campaign manager and has been strongly critical of the Cameroonian. The flamboyant Harare businessman claims his camp has already bagged 34 votes – more than enough to win the Caf presidency.
But Mugabe – who served as Zifa chairman between 1994 and 2002 and was also in the Caf executive committee – yesterday said those calling for Hayatou’s removal face a tall order.
He reckoned that it was not easy to dislodge a sitting president.
“It’s a tall order unless they (those pushing for change) are well-resourced. I know this, I have been in the system. Hopefully, those that are in the opposing camp did their homework because winning that election will not be easy. Hayatou has been quiet, but obviously he has done his homework too,” Mugabe said.
Hayatou is also known for his retribution against perceived opponents and there are fears that he could retaliate against Zimbabwe if he retains power.
Madagascar’s rights to host the 2017 Under-17 Championships were promptly withdrawn soon after Ahmad announced he would challenge Africa’s football strongman .
Zimbabwe has already had a taste of Hayatou’s wrath. Having been given the rights to host the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals, they were brutally withdrawn after Hayatou had been angered by reports that Mugabe had voted for Sepp Blatter in the 1998 Fifa elections, going against a Caf resolution to vote for Lennart Johansson.
In withdrawing the rights, Caf cited lack of preparedness as well as the unavailability of a government guarantee.
Despite Burkina Faso having staged the tournament in 1998 with only two stadia that met international requirements, rules were bent after Zimbabwe had been given the rights with Caf demanding four stadia instead.
Mugabe has denied that he voted for Blatter against the wishes of Caf, saying it was former Cosafa president Ishmael Bhamjee who misled Caf as the two battled for regional supremacy.
“The rights to host the 2000 Afcon tournament could have been taken away from us because of the reports that I had voted for Blatter. But I can tell you it was not true. I was in the Caf executive committee and I could not go against the agreement that I was part of. What was happening was that Bhamjee was battling for regional supremacy and was feeding Caf with wrong information to tarnish my image,” Mugabe said.
The former Zifa boss also said it would be wrong for Hayatou to hit back at Zimbabwe in the event that he secured another term of office tomorrow.
Mugabe blamed the Cameroonian for failing to protect Zimbabwe when they were booted out of the World Cup despite the fact that he was acting Fifa president.
“Hayatou did nothing to protect us as country when we were expelled from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. He knows our situation in Africa that we are not well-resourced and it was unfair to ban us from the World Cup qualifiers.
He was Fifa acting president, but he did nothing. Zimbabwe should not have been punished by denying our players the chance to participate at such a big stage. Can you put a value to what we lost by failure to participate compared to what we owed the coach?” Mugabe said.
Chiyangwa last month invited several football federations, including Fifa president Gianni Infantino, to his birthday and Cosafa victory celebrations in Harare.
However, harsh words have since been exchanged with Hayatou accusing Chiyangwa of convening a formal football meeting against Fifa statutes which require him to only convene a gathering of federation presidents in the Cosafa region.
Hayatou believes Chiyangwa has been plotting his downfall.