The president of CAF, Issa Hayatou / AFP/Sia Kambou
Madagascar’s football boss Ahmad who is challenging the long-serving Issa Hayatou for the CAF presidency in March, wants less political interference in the African game.
First elected in 1988, Cameroonian Hayatou, 70, is seeking an eighth consecutive term as head of the body that governs African football.
“If people want change there is no other choice. Only I can dare (to challenge Hayatou),” Ahmad told AFP during an interview at the Madagascar Football Federation offices in Antananarivo.
The mononymous Ahmad, whose single name means “the glorious” in Arabic, wants to break with Hayatou long reign, which critics consider “authoritarian”.
“My program is the reform of the administration of CAF to avoid the involvement of politics in the organisation,” said the father of two who was born 57 years ago in a northwestern Malagasy village.
He is confident of support from 13 of the 14 countries of COSAFA, the southern Africa umbrella football body which includes Madagascar.
Doubts persist as to whether South Africa will back the outsider as their football president Danny Jordaan is close to Hayatou.
The Cameroonian has been challenged for the presidency only twice, with both rivals coming from southern Africa, and he inflicted humiliating defeats on Armando Machado of Angola and Ismael Bhamjee of Botswana.
Most observers believe Ahmad poses a greater threat to Hayatou (a former international middle-distance athlete) but he remains the outsider.
He did receive a significant boost this week, though, with west African football powerhouse Nigeria publicly backing him.
Elected in 2003 as head of Malagasy football, the former player and coach guarantees “transparency in the management” of CAF and an end to “obsolete practices”.
Hayatou was criticised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2011 for involvement in a corruption case connected to ISL, the former marketing arm of world football body FIFA.
Ahmad was named by English newspaper the Sunday Times regarding allegations of corruption surrounding the award of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The newspaper reported that he received between $30,000 and $100,000 (28,000 and 95,000 euros) in exchange for influencing CAF delegates to back Qatar, but provided no proof.
“I simply asked for financial aid to organise the elections of the Malagasy federation,” explained Ahmad. “It was not in exchange for support.”
In January, Ahmad suffered a slap in the face when CAF stripped Madagascar of the right to host the Africa U17 Cup of Nations scheduled for April.
While CAF said the huge Indian Ocean island had fallen behind schedule in preparing for the eight-nation tournament, Ahmed believes it was a “political manoeuvre”.
“We lost the organising rights just after I declared myself a candidate for the presidency,” he noted.
In addition to transparency and change, the Malagasy wishes to draw on his local experience to govern CAF.
“We must seek to diversify the disciplines, as we did in Madagascar with beach soccer, winning the continental title (in 2015),” he says.
Under a change introduced last year, CAF presidents are restricted to three four-year terms, starting from March.