Mor(e) Diouf, less Hayatou

12 March 2013 - 02:22
By Carlos Amato

Supersport United defender Mor Diouf was born in 1988 - the year Issa Hayatou assumed the throne of African football. And, judging by their exploits this weekend, the continent could use a few more Dioufs and one less Hayatou.

On Sunday, Diouf scored a goal of peerless vision and technique - from deep inside his own half - to win the Tshwane derby. On the same day, in Marrakech, Hayatou won his seventh term as Confederation of African Football president unopposed.

To Hayatou's credit, there was proper technique involved in his feat: he had the CAF constitution tweaked to outlaw the candidacy of his rival, Jacques Anouma.

The Ivorian FA boss (no saint himself - remember the Qatar World Cup bribery scandal?) was disqualified by an ingenious new clause that bars non-executive members of CAF's executive committee from standing for the presidency. That's the sort of tidy manoeuvre that gives every dictator goose bumps of delight: "The bugger can't even stand against me, let alone win. Mwahahaha!"

Hayatou's Machiavellian gifts are the stuff of legend. He is an old master of the art of patronage: the Rembrandt of remuneration. Using a complex irrigation system of official and unofficial sweeteners, the Cameroonian keeps everyone who matters happy. And, when someone who matters insists on being unhappy - like Anouma, he finds creative ways to ensure that said fellow no longer matters.

And, like his old partner in slime, Sepp Blatter, Hayatou is protected by the ever-increasing wealth of the football industry, which provides an idiot-proof election platform. If everybody in a position of power is raking in large sums of cash - and can expect to profit even more in years to come - why would anyone vote for change, and a whole new patronage system? Donkeys don't vote for burger chains.

Hayatou is also protected from challenge by the huge strides made by African football over the past two decades - most of which were made in spite of his presidency, not because of it.

Three brilliant generations of African players have shot to the pinnacle of European club football, while facilities, academies, sponsorships, broadcast and standards have all improved at home.

Africa's burgeoning resource economies have sprouted a vibrant, big-spending middle class - a market that has lured a stampede of eager corporate backers to football's door. All Hayatou and his cronies have had to do is haggle a bit.

Though the Africa Cup of Nations' profile has grown massively, the product remains mediocre - marred by small crowds and bad officiating, its appeal further dulled by its relentless biennial frequency. And the continent's premier club competition, the African Champions League, is scandalously under-financed and under-marketed - it speaks volumes that its total prize money is about the same as that of the Absa Premier League.

And what about Africa's cobwebby quarterfinal barrier at the World Cup? That bar was set by Hayatou's compatriots in 1990. A quarter of a century later, there's no reason to be confident that it will be raised next year in Brazil.

It's unreasonable, of course, to hold Hayatou responsible for that long record of stagnation on the World Cup stage. Striker Luis Suarez is one of several culprits.

But even if we are forced to accept football's absurd tradition of unlimited leadership terms, we shouldn't have to accept an eternity of mediocrity and graft.

To justify to the masses 30 years in power you need to be one hell of a leader. The best you can say about Hayatou is that he's one hell of a politician.