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Quit Hayatou, quit! After a 23-year reign as president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Issa Hayatou (pictured right) should resign honourably and allow a new generation of leaders to tackle the serious challenges the organisation faces in the 21st century.

Adversity has a clear way of revealing a leader's mettle in difficult times. For Issa Hayatou, his moment of truth came at a time when the global fraternity was paying undivided attention to the African game he leads (or rather, rules).

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With two members of Togo's national team machine-gunned to death by members of the separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) before the start of the Nations Cup, nothing less than a statesmanlike and compassionate response was expected from the Cameroonian.

But on the contrary, the football family was stunned by the insensate behaviour of Hayatou and members of CAF's executive committee, following the tragedy's occurrence. After the Cabinda tragedy happened on 8 January, it took the CAF boss an inexplicable time lapse of 17 days before facing the international media to offer an official response, which ought to have happened within hours of the tragedy.

And as if that was not bad enough, Hayatou and his CAF executive committee members, in their all-knowing wisdom, thought Togo should, in addition to burying two of their own, suffer even further anguish by being banned from the 2012 and 2014 Nations Cup tournaments, in addition to a $50,000 fine! What planet could Hayatou and his coterie of lily-livered advisers--who obviously could not dissuade him from taking a decision that heaps further odium on CAF--have been living on when this decision was made?

How could the decision of Togo's government, whose primary duty is to protect the lives of their citizens, which were clearly at risk in Angola--where two of their people had been killed--be termed "political interference in matters of sport", the basis on which CAF slammed the ban on the West Africans?

Instead of adding a stinging insult to deadly injury, should any rational-thinking organisation not have bent over backwards to validate the emotional and physical trauma that was clearly responsible for Togo's indecision over whether to pull out of the tournament or remain in it?

Before the tournament began, FLEC spokesman Rodrigues Mingas said his organisation wrote a clear and unambiguous letter to Hayatou that the lives of the Ghanaian, Ivorian, Burkinabe and Togolese teams, playing Nations Cup group games in Cabinda, would be endangered by playing there.

"Before the Nations Cup, we wrote to Mr Hayatou to warn him we were at war. He did not take our warnings into consideration," Mingas said.

Hayatou confirmed, during the 25 January press conference in Luanda, that CAF had received the warning. But he shockingly admitted that it was given no serious attention, displaying he is clearly out of touch with the security precautions that must be taken in an age where terrorism is a clear and present threat to international sports events.

"Why would we regret bringing the competition [to Angola]?" the 63-year-old asked. "What happened with Togo happened outside the city of Cabinda--nothing happened in the perimeter of the city, which the Angolan government put at our disposal. Did you want us to tell the Angolan government to stop the tournament because a little group put out a release?"

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And to justify CAF's decision, he used, mischievously, the fact that FIFA staged last year's U-17 World Cup in Nigeria, despite the threats from armed groups in the Niger Delta region. "FIFA received threats in Nigeria from a rebel group. But did they suspend the competition? No--and I went there despite the threats," he explained.

But Hayatou's example was a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth, in order to cover up his organisation's abysmal management of the tournament's security risks in Cabinda.

Yes, FIFA did host the tournament in Nigeria but he, as a world football governing body vice-president, is acutely aware that it adhered, strictly, to the advice of its international security consultants not to stage any games in conflict areas. This was the reason why the oil-rich Niger Delta town of Warri, which had first-rate facilities for staging matches, was ruled out as a venue.

And being a hands-on member of the FIFA delegation that managed the tournament, I can testify, first hand, to the very strict security measures that were put in place for it. British firm Control Risks and the US-based FGI, both made up of former British Marines, ex-FBI agents and US Navy Seals, co-ordinated all security operations at the tournament, with the Nigeria police taking direct instructions from them. In contrast, CAF ignored the report of its own pre-Nations Cup inspection team, which warned it of the dangers inherent in hosting matches in a region of Angola that had armed groups trying to secede from the country.

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Spending over a billion dollars preparing infrastructure for the tournament, not to mention the millions of dollars splashed on an international media campaign, it was clear that Angola's government, without stern supervision from CAF, was not going to allow security considerations, such as some sad but "inconvenient" deaths, get in the way of their rebranding strategy.

The pervading autocracy at CAF HQ and creepy sycophancy of toadies, who haven't the courage to tell Hayatou some hard truths, is a betrayal of the promise that came with his ascension to the presidency at the 1988 congress in Morocco, where he promised to positively change the way the organisation did business.

Those that expected his era to usher in a brand of administrative sophistication matching their UEFA and CONMEBOL (the European and South American football confederations) counterparts have been bitterly disappointed.

The Nations Cup has grown in stature during his era, from its previous eight-team format to the existing I6-team tournament, with the profile of the African game improving appreciably--considering the exploits of Cameroon, Senegal and Nigeria at the World Cup and Olympic Games--so there have, indisputably, been several moments of joy during Hayatou's time in charge. But these developments have happened in spite of, and not because of, him or the organisation he leads.

They occurred because of the indefatigable spirit of African footballers and a select group of visionary coaches who have risen above the mediocre level of national and continental administration, to compel a hitherto sceptical world to acknowledge the power of African football.

The solitary thing for which Hayatou undeniably deserves credit is his successful battle to increase African representation at the World Cup from two teams, in 1990, to five teams today. But that achievement does not take the sting out of the fact that after 20 years of his regime, there remains a distinct lack of transparency in CAF's decision making processes. The "old boys' network"--some call it a cancerous mafia--holds sway over the management of the organisation. Radicals demanding positive and real change are either persuaded to join the corrupt system, seduced by the attendant lucre that comes with being a member of CAF's select committees or, sadly, they're frustrated out of the system.

When reacting to charges of running CAF like an unelected sovereign, Hayatou responds by reminding us he remains in power because he has the democratic mandate of stakeholders in the African game, who continually elect him into office.

But he fails, unsurprisingly, to point out that the power base built over 20 years, using the intimidating power of incumbency, has made it virtually impossible for anyone to unseat him. That might just change with the faux pas he made at the Nations Cup.

With even some of Hayatou's fervent supporters realising his treatment of Togo breached everything that was decent and humane, it is clear that he is out of touch with the realities and needs of African football in the 21st century and it's time a new man takes the helm.

He should quit honourably before he is humiliated out of office in 20II. But I doubt he'll take my friendly advice. On the contrary, I think Mr President will be quite upset with me when next we bump into each other. Shame that.

Reader's reactions can be emailed to africanfootball@africasia.com. You can also go to my blog at www.footballisafrica.blogspot.com
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Title Annotation:Comment & Analysis
Author:Obayiuwana, Osasu
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6ANGO
Date:Mar 1, 2010
Words:1339
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