Motsepe must excel to prove he's no Fifa puppet

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Mamelodi Sundowns President Patrice Motsepe.
Mamelodi Sundowns President Patrice Motsepe.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

As much as we must warmly welcome Patrice Motsepe’s impending installation as president of the Confederation of African Football tomorrow, it would be foolhardy to ignore strange circumstances surrounding his election.

Motsepe should be officially crowned as CAF’s first president from an Anglophone country at the CAF congress in Morocco tomorrow, following a pre-arranged deal which led to his challengers, Senegal’s Augustin Senghor, Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast, and Ahmed Yahya of Mauritania, to quit and agree to serve under him instead.

It sounds like a typical win-win situation, cancelling the need for aggrieved “losers” to mount a potential rebellion that would further destabilise an organisation already on its knees.

The deal, brokered by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, also ensures Motsepe can draw from the wells of Senghor, Yahya and Anouma as he tries to implement his own vision to take African football from the rut into which it has been sunk by Ahmad Ahmad, now banned from the game for two years.

But legitimate questions have to posed as to whether this is the correct model to adopt going forward, where continental election outcomes are predetermined by involving football’s most powerful leader. On the contrary, by their very nature, elections must be contested and, inevitably, produce winners and losers.

As a man who’s traversed the politics and business worlds for decades, Motsepe will be all too aware that there’s no such thing as free lunch. Infantino’s backing, which will conclude with the Mamelodi Sundowns owner giving a victory speech tomorrow, couldn’t have come without expectations of returning some favour of sorts.

Most possibly, it is speculated that the Fifa president – similarly elected unopposed in 2019 – will seek re-election in 2023 and, having someone in his corner at the CAF headquarters almost certainly guarantees him 54 votes, the largest voting block in world football.

But the most pertinent question is whether Motsepe will be his own man, free to make decisions without first deviating to Zurich. Some critics have compared Infantino’s peace deal to indirect recolonisation of Africa, where Europeans impose their preferred leaders on the rest.

But we have to hope that Motsepe will remain an independent thinker that he is. He has never come across as some puppet, and it would be strange were he to start that tendency now after ascending the most powerful football seat on the continent.

What is not in doubt is Motsepe will be like a new broom at CAF; someone not there merely for self-enrichment. Unlike his predecessors, he will have no reason to install his family members in key decision-making committees and boards of companies which decide on TV rights deals. He has no reason to expect CAF to pay for his travel allowance for non-existent meetings.

He will have to get down to work immediately. It’s been nearly a year since Africans were able to watch the CAF Champions League and Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on TV, after a standoff between previous rights holders and CAF. Motsepe’s administration must urgently resolve the impasse.

History has taught us leaders who ascend to the throne unopposed tend to misread that for general acceptance and consequently become too blasé. Motsepe must guard against that. While we are chuffed at his success, some will work hard to paint him as a mere Fifa proxy, pushed forcefully down the continent’s throat. We know him as a competent workaholic who will invalidate those claims soon.

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