A member of African soccer’s ruling executive committee warned of a situation “spiraling out of control” if sharp internal criticism of the organisation’s president is not dealt with.
Isha Johansen of Sierra Leone wrote to her Confederation of African Football (CAF) executive committee colleagues on Saturday to request an urgent meeting after two leaked letters from another executive committee member accused CAF president, Ahmad Ahmad, of violating financial procedures and adopting a dictatorial style at the African soccer body.
Johansen wrote “we are sitting on what I believe strongly has the potential of spiraling out of control” in a letter addressed to Ahmad and the rest of the executive committee and obtained by The Associated Press.
She also questioned the lack of response from the executive committee to the now-public criticism of Ahmad, calling it a “deafening silence.”
“Am I the only one feeling that there is a storm behind this calm?” Johansen wrote.
Johansen’s plea for action — and for the executive committee to come together — came after the two letters over the last week from fellow executive Musa Bility of Liberia, in which he resigned from two of his other committee positions within CAF and criticized president Ahmad for taking the organization in the “wrong direction.”
On Friday, Bility was the first to call for an urgent executive committee meeting to investigate what he called Ahmad’s “violations” of CAF’s financial and other procedures.
One of Bility’s concerns was the recent announcement of a major sponsorship deal CAF agreed with sports betting company 1xBet, and which he said happened without the approval of the executive committee.
But CAF handed control of the sale of commercial rights to the Lagardere Sports agency, with the latest deal running 2017-2028. That agreement, signed in 2015 by Ahmad’s predecessor, Issa Hayatou, and before Bility joined the executive committee, makes it unclear if CAF’s executive committee has any say over commercial deals.
Bility also raised the issue of CAF awarding the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations tournament to Cameroun, which was stripped of this year’s edition for not being ready in time. Ahmad, who is also a FIFA vice president, announced Cameroun would have the 2021 tournament instead, incensing officials from Cote d'Ivoire, which had already been awarded that version.
Ahmad eventually persuaded Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea to each delay their hosting of Africa’s top tournament by two years — by directly lobbying the countries’ presidents — to create a new schedule and allow Cameroon to have it in 2021. There was seemingly no formal process within CAF to change the tournaments.
In an attack on Ahmad’s leadership style, Bility claimed Ahmad has told him: “I’m the president and I do as I want.”
Ahmad, who is from Madagascar and goes by one name, ended Hayatou’s 29-year reign as the head of African soccer in an election in 2017, a highly surprising result that removed one of FIFA’s old guard from power and saw Ahmad take his place as a FIFA VP. At the time, Hayatou was the longest-serving member of FIFA’s executive committee.
One of Ahmad’s campaign promises was to make CAF’s financial deals more transparent and its leadership more accountable.
Bility, a former head of the Liberian soccer association, has a history of challenging authority at CAF. He was suspended by the body for six months in 2013 when he protested against rule changes ushered through that allowed then-president Hayatou to stand unopposed for re-election.
Bility sought the FIFA presidency but he was blocked from standing in the 2016 election won by Gianni Infantino after failing an integrity check.