The PricewaterhouseCoopers reports has shed further light on the alleged financial mismanagement at the heart of African football
When the decision was taken by Fifa to butt into the administration of African football, the sentiment was largely negative.
Where there was any positivity, it came from the belief in some quarters that there would at least be a light shone of some of the murkier financial dealings of the Confederation of African Football, and that in the end, African football would be a cleaner, more accountable space.
Per the latest reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers however, things are even worse than were initially feared, and Fifa is, at the very least, an accomplice in the financial impunity that has become the watchword at Caf.
Following a forensic audit, a number of concerns, including alleged high-value transactions carried out in cash – thereby leaving no trail for the benefit of accountability – were flagged by the independent professional services company. There has also been a light shone on one of the major scandals of the Ahmad Ahmad presidency: the use of Caf funds to fund the Umrah (lesser Hajj) for a number of African FA heads.
Depressing as it sounds, corruption within the continent’s governing body is hardly news. However, Caf’s reaction to the revelations have been, not only revealing, but rather worrying.
The tone of its press statement, released on February 9, was needlessly truculent.
In it, the body referred to the reports as ‘misleading’ and went as far as threatening legal action against the disseminators of the PwC findings (interestingly, not against the company itself); but at the same time, it sought to shift the blame for the irregularities unearthed into the lap of its previous administration (note that Ahmad came into the presidency in 2017) by claiming, in essence, that things were always likely to get worse before they got better.
“More than 30 years of an outdated and patriarchal management of Caf have resulted in important shortcomings at all levels of operations,” the statement read. “The Executive Committee’s commitment for a new chapter based on international best practices motivated its decision to launch a comprehensive audit of Caf operations, during its meeting on April 11th, 2019.
“It would be unrealistic to pretend that those structural changes can all take place in a matter of weeks.”
This mixed messaging is certainly not a good look for Caf. Neither is the implicit inability to take responsibility for its own shortcomings—it is never a favourable portent when the crew brought in to clean up a mess begins to complain about the extent of said mess.
It’s an even less flattering one when said crew then tries to pass off its own malfeasances as a consequence of being tripped up by the old mess.
There is also the unseemly desire to censor media – again, not a new phenomenon within the corridors of Caf, but hardly representative of some sort of new direction. It was also borderline delusional to imply, as the statement did, that the aim of the reports is to ‘derail’ their ‘reforms’.
From a PR standpoint, it surely would have made a whole lot more sense to front up totally, while re-affirming their commitment to those “structural changes”, taking a hard-line stance against any misappropriation and pleading from patience and understanding from the media and stakeholders alike.
Then there is the elephant in the room: Fifa.
“Additionally, it was the Executive Committee which requested a six-month partnership with Fifa to accelerate the reforms it had initiated,” the statement insisted. “Several sweeping governance and operational measures have already been implemented before and during the six-month partnership with Fifa.”
Considering the lack of a response from them since these latest revelations came to light, one wonders if football’s global governing body is not comfortable being used as a shield.
In that sense, Gianni Infantino – and his proxy Fatma Samoura – might be considered accomplices in some quarters: their presence within Caf has given the Executive a moratorium period on accountability.
How long exactly does this coverage last?
That is hard to tell, especially considering the ExCo have voted against Samoura’s continued stay as ‘General Delegate for Africa’.
So far, Infantino has gone out of his way to provide a soft landing for the Ahmad administration he midwife, but how much longer can that permissiveness continue with a president who, by some reports, does not even seem to fully grasp the extent of his missteps?