Tag Archives: CAF

Paving The Way For South Africa 2010: Ydnekatchew Tessema, Forgotten Hero Of African Soccer

National team player, national team coach for his country’s only major international triumph, co-founder of his continent’s FIFA confederation, president of that confederation for 15 years, and in many ways the man who set in motion the whole chain of events that led to South Africa becoming the first African nation to host the World Cup: the late Ethiopian visionary Ydnekatchew Tessema deserves greater prominence in the annals of soccer history than he has received.

Tessema’s remarkable story intertwined with deconolisation, the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the battle for respect and opportunities for African soccer in the face of a Eurocentric FIFA.

Tessema, born in 1921, was a hell of a player (scorer of 318 goals in 365 games for Saint-George SA) and a coach: in the latter role, he took his native Ethiopia to their sole major tournament triumph, at the 1962 Africa Cup of Nations.

But it was as an administrator that Tessema left his true imprint on the sport. In 1953, four African nations attended the FIFA Congress for the first time: Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Sudan. At first, FIFA resisted African claims for representation on its Executive Committee; in The Ball Is Round, David Goldblatt says “Initially their efforts had been brusquely rebuffed by FIFA’s European majority on the grounds of a barely disguised and contemptuous racism.”

The African nations, though, found support from the Soviet bloc and South America, and it gained representation on the Executive Committee in 1954 (Engineer Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem of Egypt became the first African to sit on it) and earned the right to set up its own FIFA Confederation.

That confederation, the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), was formed at a Constitutional Assembly on 8 February 1957. Tessema (still a player in his mid thirties) was one of the delegates there representing the four countries present: Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Africa. The Statutes of CAF were drawn from those proposed by Tessema and Sudan’s Abdel Rahim Shaddad. Tessema was voted onto the body’s first executive committee, with Engineer Salem the first president.

Immediately, CAF faced a major crisis, with founding member South Africa under its Apartheid regime stating it could only take either an all-white or all-black team to the first Africa Cup of Nations to be held that year; CAF excluded them from the competition and threw South Africa out of CAF altogether in 1961. It was, according to fellow founding CAF delegate Abdel Halim Mohammed, Tessema’s “firm stand” at CAF meetings that South Africa must field a mixed team that had ensured the confederation was the first international organisation to isolate South Africa in the sporting world.


Tessema at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden

In 1963, Tessema became the Vice-President of CAF, and led the move to form Africa’s first continental club competition, the African Cup for Champion Clubs. In 1966, Tessema (fluent in French, English and Spanish) joined FIFA’s Executive Committee, at a critical moment for African football in FIFA’s halls of power. As its membership grew, so would — theoretically — its voting power in the halls of FIFA.

FIFA operated under (and still does) a one member, one vote policy at the FIFA Congress: meaning for every African country taken in, the power of its original European members was weakened. Sir Stanley Rous, head of FIFA, put bluntly the fears this brought up for the existing powerbase:

Many people are convinced that it is unrealistic, for example, that a country like England, where the game started and was first organised, or that experienced countries like Italy and France, who have been pillars of FIFA and influential in its problems and in world football affairs for so many years, should have no more than equal voting rights with any of the newly created countries of Africa and Asia.

Writing in the 1980s as that sentiment lingered on, Tessema had an eloquent response for this:

Although we acknowledge the role played by certain continents in the creation of FIFA, its development and their moral, material and financial contributions, we estimate that democratic rule dictates that all rights and duties that form an international organisation should be the same for all. This is why in the framework of legitimacy, and by following a process consistent with the interests of world football and its unity, a progressive equilibrium of the representation in the heart of FIFA and its competition is required.

CAF’s rise in the 1960s, meanwhile, was tightly linked to the wave of pan-Africanism sweeping the continent. National pride became linked to joining the African community of football in membership of CAF. Politics and football were seen as reflections of each other. And this led to an almighty fight between CAF and FIFA over both politics and football as African demands for more power within FIFA reflected the demands of decolonisation politically in the international arena. And Tessema’s fight against racial discrimination in the African continent became a part of this struggle.

It was at this time that CAF fought its battle with FIFA to gain an automatic place for Africa at the World Cup finals. CAF had 30 members by the mid-1960s, but only half a place at the World Cup finals: the winner of the Africa Cup of Nations faced a playoff against the Asian Cup winner to qualify. The costs of competing and the low likelihood of qualification for the World Cup meant many poorer countries did not enter CAF’s premier competition. And this in turn, in a clever sleight of hand by FIFA’s existing European and South American powerbase, threatened their use of their growing membership in FIFA’s sovereign Congress: FIFA decreed that “National Associations which do not take part in two successive World Cups or Olympic tournaments will be stripped of their right to vote at the Congress until they fulfil their obligations in this respect.”

Tessema and CAF’s leadership, with the global voice of Ghana’s first post-independence leader Kwame Nkrumah supporting them, announced a boycott of the 1966 World Cup unless Africa received one full place at future finals. FIFA’s response was to fine the threadbare boycotting nations 5,000 Swiss Francs each. Tessema wrote a furious letter to FIFA pointing out the absurdity that only one World Cup place was awarded to a total of 65 nations in the continents outside Europe and South America. FIFA relented, and Africa was awarded a full place for the 1970 World Cup finals (Morocco becoming the first African nation to play in the World Cup since Egypt in 1934). This was to the dismay of Brain Glanville (still a World Soccer columnist today), who wrote that “It is quite true that football in countries such as the U.S.A. and Ethiopia would be encouraged by World Cup participation, but only at the expense of cheapening the World Cup, a pretty heavy price to pay when this tournament is, or should be, the very zenith of the International game.”

Not coincidentally, politics as well as World Cup positions were dividing CAF and FIFA: led by Sir Stanley Rous, FIFA secretly supported the establishment of a new, second Confederation in Africa, the Southern African Confederation, a South African puppet clearly aimed at giving the Apartheid regime legitimacy, as South Africa had been suspended from FIFA against Rous’ wishes in 1961 under pressure from CAF (FIFA’s Executive Committee had lifted the suspension in 1963 following a visit by Rous to South Africa, only for the FIFA Congress to reimpose it the next year). Led by Tessema, CAF’s delegation threatened to walk out on the FIFA Congress in London in 1966 if FIFA’s leadership backed the reinstatement of South Africa again.


Meanwhile, internally in CAF, Tessema continued to modernise the organisation and expand its role in Africa, even as he faced challenges in a power struggle for CAF leadership.  He led a key Organising Committee that led to a restructuring of CAF in 1972, and the same year was elected as its president (a position he would hold until his death in 1987). The continent’s first youth competition was soon instituted, as was an African Cup Winners’ Cup tournament. CAF’s revenue grew, with television and marketing rights to the Africa Cup of Nations profitably sold for the first time in 1982, and it became less reliant on outside support and focused on continental development of the game.

Tessema had worked hard to grow Africa’s standing globally, particularly in the face of intransigent European leadership at FIFA. One key strategy he employed was to cement ties between the African continent and South America, with an African select team appearing at the 1972 Brazilian Independence Cup, for example. Tessema then played a key role in the victory of Brazilian João Havelange over the reactionary Sir Stanley Rous for the FIFA presidency in 1974: for all his later corrupt dealings, that victory by Havelange was crucial for orientating FIFA beyond its previous Northern European pole and led to unprecedented opportunities for African teams.

Notably, rather than Havelange manipulating CAF to gain their support to defeat Rous, it was Tessema who had used the leverage of the forthcoming 1974 election to force Havelange to withdraw Brazil from a 1973 multi-sports festival in South Africa aimed at giving the Apartheid regime international credibility. As Rous himself wrote: “The Brazilians withdrew, I am told on good authority, because Tessema, the president of the African confederation threatened that Mr Havelange would lose the support of the African associations in his fight against me for the presidency of FIFA.”

Paul Darby, in his excellent book Africa, football, and FIFA: politics, colonialism, and resistance, explains Tessema’s sophisticated strategy:

The fact that Tessema was in a position to threaten the withdrawal of African support for Havelange’s presidential challenge illustrates that CAF was not only gaining confidence to assert itself within world football politics but was also beginning to recognise the potential that its voting powers offered the African continent. Indeed, it is clear from African accounts of the 1974 FIFA Congress . . . that the African nations did not see themselves merely as pawns in a power struggle for the control of FIFA. Instead, they saw Havelange as the means through which to achieve a realignment of the distribution of power and privilege within world football which would more adequately reflect their growing stature.

At the same FIFA Congress, a motion by Tessema required the automatic expulsion from FIFA of any country that practiced ‘ethnic, racial and/or religious discrimination in its territory’, thus ending — to the chagrin of Rous — the ambiguity that surrounded South Africa: Rous was still pushing to end their suspension. But Havelange’s victory ended that hope, and under his leadership, South Africa were expelled from FIFA in 1976.

In 1978, the number of World Cup places Africa should hold came up again at FIFA, but this time, it was an easier fight for Tessema to win some numerical justice for Africa: their number of places doubled at the 1982 World Cup to two.

As the years went on, some began to question Tessema’s long tenure, and the divisions between African nations hampered the realisation of the Pan-African dreams of the 1960s. But Tessema remained a force for the good of the sport until his death in 1987: he was a lone voice at keeping alcohol and tobacco sponsorship out of African football, and he warned against the growing trend of young African talent leaving for European shores. He spelled out the latter concern clearly in the 1980s:

African football must make a choice! Either we keep our players in Africa with the will power of reaching one day the top of the international competitions and restore African people a dignity that they long for; or we let our best elements leave their countries, thus remaining the eternal suppliers of raw material to the premium countries, and renounce, in this way, to any ambition. When the rich countries take away from us, also by naturalisation, our best elements, we should not expect any chivalrous behaviour on their part to help African football.

One wonders what Tessema would make of African football today: a World Cup host, with numerous world stars, but still struggling for domestic development in the game.

Shortly before his death, Tessema, according to Darby, “reiterated his belief that CAF must continue to struggle to ensure that Africa procured within FIFA, ‘the place which is ours by right and which would allow us to play the role of a real respected partner and not that of a puppet’.”

Few have done more to propel Africa towards its proper place in world soccer than Tessema.

References: Darby, Africa, Football, and FIFA; Goldblatt, The Ball Is Round; Le Sueur, The Decolonization Reader; Mangan, Europe, sport, world: shaping global societies; Rous, Football Worlds. Photos courtesy of The Tessemas website.

Africa, football, and FIFA: politics, colonialism, and resistance

CAF Chief Issa Hayatou Should Resign

Issa Hayatou, far right.

Issa Hayatou, far right.

Our post last week condemning CAF’s decision to ban Togo for two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments for withdrawing from this year’s event following the deadly attack on their team bus mirrored much of the world reaction: it saw the draconian punishment as rash, insensitive and wrong.

Not everyone agreed, though. Gabrielle Marcotti defended CAF for following the principle that governments should not interfere in sporting matters no matter the circumstances, as it was Togo’s government who reportedly made the final decision that Togo’s team should return home for three days of national mourning (CAF then took this as a de facto withdrawal from the tournament, even though Togo then said they wanted to return and play).  I’ll cite Marcotti in full:

On the face of it, the decision seems ludicrous. You enter the Africa Cup of Nations, you get attacked by terrorists, watch as two of your delegation die before your eyes and withdraw from the tournament to mourn. And then comes the most stinging blow. You get banned for the next two tournaments by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

CAF’s announcement that Togo would not be allowed to enter the next two continental tournaments met howls of outrage. And, indeed, it is shocking, until you read CAF’s justification. Togo were banned not for withdrawing from the competition — given the circumstances, it would have been more than understandable — but because the decision to pull out was taken by the Togolese Government, which apparently overruled the players, who reportedly wanted to play.

And CAF, like Fifa and Uefa, has strict rules about government interference in sporting matters: the decision should have been made by Togo’s football association and it should have been final.

If this decision — however painful — is the first step in CAF standing up to government meddling in African football, then it is welcome. But if it fails to follow through the next time some local “strongman” starts giving “advice” to his FA or plunders the football coffers, then it will feel as if Togo are being singled out.

We criticised Marcotti for this piece on Monday, with one commenter strongly disagreeing and defending this position. Yet I’m still convinced this is a hasty and political decision by CAF themselves. And this would seem an extraordinary incident on which CAF should take such a first step, however worthwhile the principle, to ending “government meddling” in African football — this isn’t a case of squabbling over team selection or player bonuses or TV money, but a true tragedy that actually should make us pause and realise football is a game, and sometimes life, or mourning over the loss of it, should take precedence.

Here are several questions I’d have for Issa Hayatou, CAF’s chief, regarding it:

  • Why was CAF’s decision to ban Togo announced before the tournament was even over, on the eve of the final itself? Was there no consideration given to CAF taking a full investigation into what had happened in Cabinda and after, and what role Togo’s government had exactly played in the return of the team to Togo? How could this decision have been reached so swiftly and abruptly, without any apparent input from Togo?
  • Togo’s government themselves said CAF failed to contact them, even to offer sympathies, in the aftermath of the attack. Why was this the case?  Wouldn’t communication between CAF and Togo’s government potentially have allowed them to find a mutually agreeable way for Togo’s team to leave, mourn and return?
  • Did CAF, in the wake of the horrendously traumatic attack on Togo’s team, offer to delay Togo’s next game in order to give the team time to mourn?
  • Relatedly, is CAF planning a full, independent investigation into who knew Togo were travelling by bus to Cabinda, and who accepted this arrangement?

Furthermore, it was clear from the conflicting statements coming from the players, team and government of Togo in the days after the tragedy that nobody was sure what to do or how to react, and whether the team should play or not. Never before has a football team faced such a swift decision in the aftermath of such tragedy, while a player’s life was still hanging in the balance. CAF has consistently shown a shocking lack of compassion for the position Togo’s players, through no fault of their own, found themselves in.

Togo national team coach Hubert Velud expressed his fury at Hayatou for the decision today: “It’s a scandal. This decision shocked us. I wonder on what logical basis such a decision was taken. Everyone knows that the morale of the players hit rock bottom after seeing death in Cabinda. It was impossible for them to play a football match.”

He went on to say he was particularly angry about Hayatou “because I realized that he’s an opportunist who serves his personal interests in the name of football. I’m more frustrated than you can imagine. Issa Hayatou should have taken into consideration the sentiments of the Togolese people before such a decision was taken. Hayatou proved that he’s not capable of running CAF, he should review himself.”

FIFA, of course, with Blatter facing reelection soon and needing CAF’s support, will do nothing. Hayatou will not do the decent thing and resign, I am sure, but perhaps at least the rest of Africa’s football associations will do the decent thing and kick him out at their next election.

Carry on Cabinda: Politics, Morality and Safety at the Africa Cup of Nations

CAN 2010 Angola

It looks as if Togo will depart from the Africa Cup of Nations, though games will take place in Cabinda, just days after that region saw that team come under machine gun fire, will three officials dead and one goalkeeper (who had earlier been reported as dead) in intensive care, his life in the balance.

Togo have been under enormous pressure to stay from the tournament organisers, the Angolan authorities and the Confederation of African Football, who have much money and political prestige on the line.

“It is left to you to decide to stay in a competition synonymous with fraternity, brotherhood, friendship and solidarity,” Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou told Togo.

Conflicting reports have been coming out frequently over the past 24 hours as the team deals with all of the demands being made of them. This morning, the Guardian reported Togo were leaving:

Adebayor revealed a conversation he held with Gnassingbé Eyadéma, Togo’s head of state, this morning changed the player’s minds after they had previously vowed to play on.

“That’s what made the difference,” he said. “It was also our families and loved ones at home who called us. They told us we could continue if we wished but that it is the authorities who have the information.”Is there going to be another attack? Nobody knows.

If they asked us back [home], maybe they received a call saying that the threat was not passed. We are obliged to respect that. The head of state knows what is good for our careers and our lives.

“The presidential plane will pick us up. He told me that the plane had left Lomé. There are about two hours flying between Lomé and Cabinda. We will leave in two or three hours.”

The BBC’s Piers Edwards quite rightly questioned the pressure being put on the Togo team to stay (he was writing when it was reported they were staying):

It seems wholly inappropriate to put pressure on footballers who survived a near-death experience to play a tournament, which is the least of their concerns when life was flashing before their eyes, but that is what appears to have been happening.

The pressure has – somehow – worked and Togo’s players are now singing a different tune to the one that reverberated around the world in the aftermath of the attack.

“People died for this tournament, others were injured. We can’t abandon them and leave like cowards,” Alaixys Romao told French sports agency L’Equipe.

“If we stay here, it’s for them. But also so as not to give satisfaction to the rebels. Our government doesn’t necessarily agree with us but we are determined to play in this competition.”

Indeed the Togolese government does not want their players to stay in Cabinda, with the West African nation’s prime minister upping the ante by declaring that if the players ‘present themselves under the Togolese flag, it will be a false representation’.

While this story has no clear end at present, it’s revealing to note that there has never been talk by Confederation of African Football officials of scrapping the tournament.

This is a ruling body for whom money talks and with about 80% of Caf’s revenue coming from the Nations Cup, it’s no surprise at all that no political will has been shown to stop the tournament.

Arsene Wenger made the sensible counter-point that we always hear in these situations: you cannot let the terrorists “win” by cancelling the tournament.

“I don’t believe you just can stop a competition as it rewards the people who provoke the incident and means any competition is stoppable at any time. The international federation has to make sure the security is good enough.

This, of course, is an important point, and Wenger makes it well. At the same time, there are some important reservations about continuing the tournament in this case, and in particular, pressuring Togo to participate and holding games in Cabinda:

(1) In my opinion, the political pressure on Togo is disgraceful, given the human tragedy those players have just gone through. They should have been given several days to recover before even being asked to make a decision. The tournament, at the least, should have been delayed for this: even if FIFA had to dip into their coffers to help Angola and CAF financially cover the costs. They can afford it. Who has the appetite to watch the games starting today anyway?

(2) Togo should have been given the assurance that they would not have to play in Cabinda, with their games, at the least, moved to a safer part of Angola from a region that we now all know all too well (and as Angola’s organisers were well aware) is not safe — and I don’t mean not safe in the sense of today’s modern sense of fear of everything, but in the old-fashioned in-the-grips-of-civil-war-still unsafe. The splinter group of FLEC responsible for the attack have promised to strike again.

(3) Does anyone believe that the motivation of the Angolan government is not political in their insistence games should continue in Cabinda, as indeed, the entire staging of games there was seemingly motivated by their desire to present a firm grip on the oil-rich region that still had an armed separatist movement known to target foreigners? FIFA and CAF, by allowing the political motivation of the Angolan government to determine the course of events, are going against their responsibility to the sport first and to the safety of players, fans and officials.

But those are just my opinions. The last words on this should go not to the blogger writing this from thousands of miles away, nor to Togo’s head of state, or to Issa Hayatou, CAF’s chief shuttled around in executive safety and luxury, but to the captain of Togo, who just two days ago said his final prayers, believing he was about to machined gunned to death on a bus trip to a football match.

Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor has been much maligned in recent times, but his honest thoughts and leadership in this situation has been admirable. Adebayor was speaking before the intervention of the Togolese premier, when the team seemed set on staying. Given his words, I am glad they are leaving.

“If we speak of the dead, the competition should have been cancelled. But CAF (Confederation of African Football) have decided otherwise. We’re going back and we wish good luck to those who will remain, especially to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

“What I have told their leaders is that they may be attacked at any time in Cabinda. I hope they will be cautious.”