Addis Ababa – Madagascan Ahmad Ahmad was elected president of the Confederation of African Football Thursday in a surprise victory against veteran Issa Hayatou, who reigned in office for 29 years.
Ahmad, head of Madagascar’s football federation, won the election in the Ethiopian capital by 34 votes to Hayatou’s 20, official results showed, in what is seen as a victory that will usher in a “new dawn” for football in Africa.
Delegates cheered and pumped their fists in the plenary hall after the announcement of the result which heralded the departure of the last of the old generation of leaders in world football after former FIFA chief Joseph Blatter and UEFA Presidents Michel Platini were forced to leave the scene after being mired in scandals that rocked the football world about two years ago.
“When you try to do something, then that means you are capable of doing it,” he told a press conference.
“What made me very proud today, proud and at the same time happy, is the victory of democracy in Africa … African football showed today that we respect democracy,” he added.
Ahmad, a 57-year-old father of two, had a discreet playing and coaching career before he took the reins of the Madagascar football federation in 2003.
Ahmad had told Agence France Presse in February that he was the “only one capable of challenging Hayatou,” who was seeking an eighth term in office.
He said his program was the “reform of the administration of CAF to avoid the involvement of politics in the organization.”
Cameroonian Hayatou headed CAF since 1988 and is a senior vice president of FIFA. He was credited with increasing the number of African teams at the World Cup and bringing in extra finance for the continent’s competitions.
Hayatou was led from the auditorium by aides who brushed off requests for comment from journalists while Ahmad was picked up and carried by cheering supporters.
Sources concerned in African football revealed that Ahmad enjoys “undeclared” support from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who was present at the CAF elections that were held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
“His excellency Issa Hayatou has done a lot for African football (but) it is time for him to step back,” said George Afriyie, vice president of the Ghana Football Association.
“Africa has made an emphatic decision that we are ready for change,” said Liberian Football Association President Musa Bility.
Prior to the elections, Hayatou had said: “The strength of the CAF lies in its unity and it should remain so.”
Hayatou’s reign at the head of CAF was often controversial.
He was accused by Britain’s The Sunday Times of receiving $1.5 million to vote for Qatar when it was awarded the 2022 World Cup seven years ago.
FIFA did not impose any sanctions on Hayatou, knowing that he was acting presidency of the football governing body in the interval between Blatter’s departure and Infantino’s election in late 2015 and early 2016.
On the eve of the vote, it was announced that Hayatou and CAF secretary-general Hicham El-Amrani could face criminal charges in Egypt over deals secured for African football marketing and media rights between 2008 and 2028.
A source from the Egyptian Football Federation said the country and other African nations were voting for Ahmad in the election.
After his victory, Ahmad stressed that he is committed to reviewing how countries are granted the honor of hosting the African Cup of Nations in light of corruption that has marred the selection process.
He added that he will also bring in a host of retired African football players to take part in the management of the CAF.