CAIRO (AP) — FIFA president Gianni Infantino promised unwavering support for the scandal-ridden and dysfunctional African soccer confederation on Thursday as he deflected criticism by Sepp Blatter and others that FIFA was exceeding its authority by overseeing a cleanup operation to stem the embarrassment.
Speaking to African delegates at their meeting in Cairo, Infantino said he had “to laugh” in the face of Blatter’s criticism that FIFA was engaging in modern-day “colonialism” by sending secretary general Fatma Samoura to oversee a six-month forensic audit and administrative reform of the Confederation of African Football.
“I have heard about colonization, that FIFA is colonizing Africa again,” Infantino said, a clear reference to the statement released by former FIFA boss Blatter to the BBC this week. “What does it mean, colonialization? I don’t know. It’s not part of my vocabulary. But I know what it means to work, to team up. … We all suffer when we see what is going on here (at CAF).”
Samoura, Infantino pointed out, is from Senegal, so African herself.
Blatter said FIFA’s involvement also flouted its own rules. National associations are members of FIFA but continental bodies like CAF are not. FIFA managed to work past opposition to the move by some within CAF’s executive committee to agree on a roadmap for reform.
Infantino was “puzzled” by the criticism, he said.
Instead, Infantino framed the issue — hugely embarrassing for soccer’s largest continental confederation and the FIFA vice president who leads it — as just another challenge for the world soccer family to overcome. Infantino attempted to present a more positive picture.
He said CAF’s current predicament wasn’t as bad as the FIFA corruption scandal of 2015, which led to the downfall of some the most powerful men in world soccer, including Blatter, and brought Infantino to power.
“We turned the boat (around),” Infantino said. “We intend to do the same for Africa and for CAF.”
That belies the reality that it’s another stark failure by soccer leadership and a leader whom Infantino backed.
Ahmad, the president of CAF, is at the center of the crisis and the subject of allegations of corruption and other misconduct. He has denied wrongdoing but was taken in for questioning by French authorities while attending a FIFA meeting in Paris last month. He is also the subject of a FIFA ethics committee investigation.
Among other things, Ahmad is accused of improper business deals, misusing CAF money on expensive cars, sexual harassment of staff, and cheating on his expenses.
He sat next to Infantino at the congress at a luxury hotel in Cairo and called for the leaders of national associations in Africa to stand and applaud for the FIFA head.
His own story is one of bitter disappointment.
A former politician in Madagascar, Ahmad was surprisingly elected to lead African soccer in 2017 when he beat longtime CAF president Issa Hayatou in an election. Ahmad promised to stamp out corruption and modernize CAF, making it transparent and efficient. He was held aloft by jubilant officials in the minutes after winning that election and hailed as a liberator of African soccer.
Two years later, it’s in crisis and Ahmad, who hadn’t held any senior roles at CAF before he was elected president, is accused of driving the organization into the ground. The bottom line was delivered on the congress floor on Thursday when CAF announced a $17 million loss for the year ending June 30.
“We are lagging behind all (other) confederations in all aspects,” Ahmad said before that financial blow was revealed. He said the general assembly meeting would be dedicated to reforming the entire administration.
This was CAF’s first major meeting since the announcement last month that FIFA would take the unprecedented step of overseeing the complete reorganization of one of its confederations. CAF, with 56 countries affiliated to it, is the largest of FIFA’s six continental bodies.
FIFA secretary general Samoura, who formerly worked for the United Nations, will move to Egypt as FIFA general delegate for Africa to lead the cleanup for six months from Aug. 1. The work will start with a financial audit to detect “potential wrongdoings,” according to a roadmap agreed by FIFA and CAF. Samoura’s term can be extended and she will be aided by a group of outside experts.
The deal has been portrayed by both parties, publicly at least, as a partnership, with Ahmad seeking out FIFA’s help and FIFA responding.
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