“It’s time we introduce a new regime,” says Liberian Football Association president Musa Bility ahead of what has been described as the most important Confederation of African Football elections for almost three decades.
African football goes to the polls on Thursday to choose a new CAF president and for the first time since he came to power in 1988, incumbent Issa Hayatou faces a serious challenge.
Only twice before has the Cameroonian run against another candidate and he swept aside both with ease: Angola’s Armando Machado in 2000 (by 47 votes to 4) and Ismail Bhamjee of Botswana in 2004 (46-6).
This time many believe Hayatou’s opponent, Ahmad of Madagascar, could change the status quo. Bility, who has long been a thorn in CAF’S side after speaking out on several issues, told BBC Sport. “The reality is that football has come to be more active, more democratic, more involving – and we have to do that.
“We have to follow the path of the rest of the world, as Africa cannot afford to be left behind. I believe that Africa is ready for change. This is the first time in the history of (Hayatou’s) CAF that there is a real and possible challenge to the leadership.”
Under the 70-year-old Haytou’s control, African football has changed immensely.He has, among several measures, overseen the expansion of the Africa Cup of Nations from eight teams to 16, the increase in the number of Africa’s World Cup representatives (from two to five), remodelling and financially boosting club competitions as well as greatly boosting CAF’S finances.
The 2007 introduction of the African Nations Championship, which is like the Nations Cup but only using footballers who play in their domestic league, has proved very popular while it was also on the Cameroonian’s watch that Africa staged its first World Cup in 2010 (in South Africa).
Despite the myriad achievements, Bility believes time is up for veteran Hayatou and that a new leader should steer African football into the future. He believes Ahmad, who outlined a desire for improved governance, with a commitment to increased transparency and reinvestment in his manifesto, is the right man. “He’s presented a programme to all 54 countries – I’ve never seen this before,” added Bility.
“Normally, we go to elections and there are no promises. There is nothing to hold the president against. This time around, we have a guy who is running on something we can hold him to.
“The other candidate (Hayatou) does not care to give a programme. He just goes through election after election, acclamation after acclamation. There is no promise made to us, therefore there are no obligations nor broken promises. This is what we need to change.”