FIFA and Infantino have stepped in to 'rescue' African soccer but were they right to do it so quickly?
Two weeks ago, one seasoned FIFA watcher likened the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to a struggling city government plagued with a range of problems that gets taken over directly by the state. In this case, FIFA are taking control of African football given several scandals and FIFA president Gianni Infantino is determined to iron things out.
That analogy only applies to a point. Unlike the state with a city, FIFA doesn't have the authority to take over CAF. It had to be invited in by CAF itself and FIFA duly agreed. Fatma Samoura, FIFA's general secretary, will effectively be seconded to CAF as a "FIFA general delegate for Africa" for six months, together with other FIFA appointed officials. (Samoura will have the option for continuing on for another six months after that spell.) They will also be conducting a thorough "forensic audit" of the body.
It came to this unprecedented decision to swoop in and appoint Samoura because the past three months have seen CAF embroiled in a whirlwind of troubles.
Back in March, Amr Fahmy, CAF's general secretary, sent a letter to FIFA's Ethics Committee accusing his president, Ahmad Ahmad, of sending bribes to various association president, mismanaging funds and multiple counts of sexual harassment. Two weeks later, Fahmy was removed from his post by CAF's Executive Committee, who would not give a reason for the change. Ahmad is currently being investigated by the Ethics Committee and was arrested in Paris earlier this month before being released without charge.
Meanwhile, we still don't have a winner in the CAF Champions League even though the second leg of the final was played on May 31. Wydad Casablanca walked off the pitch with half an hour to go after they had a goal disallowed because the VAR was faulty. Their opponents, Esperance Tunis, were originally declared champions by forfeit, but CAF later decided the match would be replayed in July, with a venue and date to be determined.
That's the situation Samoura walks into. Not everybody is happy that she's been given the task: for example, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin complained that FIFA agreed to CAF's request and took the decision to send her without giving other confederations time to weigh in and properly assess the situation. Critics of Infantino also say that it's in keeping with autocratic style, and they note that Ahmad was one of his biggest supporters.
The biggest thing to note about this sudden move is how FIFA looks in the interim: in the space of a month, soccer's ruling body is losing its general secretary, Samoura, to CAF and one of the deputy general secretaries, Zvonimir Boban, who is going back to former club Milan.
As if all this weren't enough, some members of CAF's Executive Committee dispute whether they actually approved Samoura's appointment as "FIFA general delegate for Africa." Leodegar Tenga, a CAF ExCo member and president of the Tanzania FA, issued a statement claiming that while they "agreed in principle" to cooperate closely with FIFA to achieve "good governance," "eradicate corruption" and promote "integrity and ethical practice," they never actually approved Samoura's appointment. Instead, Tenga says, the English-speaking ExCo members were only shown French versions of the cooperation documents and did not have time to evaluate the proposal: it was simply announced as a "fait accompli."
It seems pretty clear the decision was made with all the grace and care of a wildebeest in a Faberge Egg museum. The message it sends -- Africa can't take care of itself so let's get those nice people from Zurich to sort things out -- is also loaded, resonates with an ugly colonial past and is only partly mitigated by the fact that Samoura is herself African.
That said, it doesn't mean it was the wrong decision, either. African football has been victimised by mismanagement, corruption and disorganisation for decades. (To be fair, in that sense, it's not much different to what happened in Oceania or in North and South America, judging by the number of officials who've been banned or indicted, though the CAF actually did ask for help.) It deserves better, and Samoura and outside auditors are maybe a step in the right direction. But given the region's history of colonialism, the stakes and the powerful figures and interests involved, it's difficult to understand why a decision like this was rushed through.