Sport

Afcon: Issa Hayatou will have the last laugh

Carlos Amato

The African Nations Cup just another example of daylight robbery by those in power, says Carlos Amato.

Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football. (Reuters)

Millions giggled at the footage of Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou catching a power nap in his VVVIP seat at Moses Mabhida Stadium during the enthralling 2-2 draw between South Africa and Angola a fortnight ago.

But the last giggle will always be Hayatou's. While the rest of his African football empire is sweating and hustling and trying to play proper football on Mbombela Beach, the 66-year-old Cameroonian slumbers like a happy baby. He has no worries.

The Africa Nations Cup product is more lucrative than ever, and his citadel of corrupt power remains as safe as Buckingham Palace.

If anything, Hayatou's impunity is even greater in the wake of revelations that endemic match-fixing in European football has infiltrated the hallowed heights of the Uefa Champions League.

With such a massive scandal set to preoccupy the media and the international policing agencies for months and years to come, who will bother to challenge Fifa supremo Sepp Blatter and Hayatou's respective programmes of ingeniously sanitised patronage (plus a few old-school bungs to keep things real).

Their modus operandi involves doling out millions in no-strings "development funding" to rotten association bosses, in return for votes and miscellaneous prezzies. It's all very noble, and some of the dosh actually does trickle down to building artificial pitches in the brokest member countries.

In the grand tradition of multinational capital, CAF and Fifa are masters at outsourcing both their scams and their costs. And this year's Nations Cup was another feat of daylight robbery dolled up as benevolence.

Improved on balance
The tournament's brand has arguably improved on balance. Some stellar football has been beamed to more than a billion viewers around the world, captured with consistently superb camerawork, with South Africa's magnificent World Cup stadiums as a backdrop.

That sexy sheen was more than a bit scuffed by the fiasco of the Mbombela Stadium pitch, which all but ruined a fifth of the fixtures, and the small crowds. Public apathy and a moribund economy were as much to blame for the turnout as the shoddy marketing efforts made by the local organising committee.

But the crowds for non-host fixtures are always puny at Nations Cup finals – it doesn't bother Hayatou and his cabal in the slightest. CAF's business model still works a treat – and it works best of all for Hayatou associate Christian Lagnide, a former footballer who owns the private Benin television station LC2.

French TV rights agency SportFive (whose vice-president happens to be Hayatou's son Ibrahim) holds the overall rights to the Nations Cup. It sold on its sub-Saharan broadcast rights for this tournament to LC2, which has proceeded to charge extortionate prices to dozens of national broadcasters – far more than Fifa charges for World Cup rights. It is estimated that LC2 has raked in about €50-million from this tasty racket.

We can safely assume that none of that loot will trickle south of the Limpopo to offset the South African government's hefty bill for staging the tournament, which is pushing R400-million. As the irrepressible Ivorian journalist Mamadou Gaye will tell you, CAF arrived here "with nothing but their suitcases".

And what did South Africa obtain in return for so generously rescuing the tournament from the ruins of the Libyan civil war? Well, we got the chance to unzip our snazzy stadiums again, and flash them at the world. Pristine, elegant and thinly populated, they once again projected South Africa as a society with more money than sense.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula got a chance to explore his thesaurus. Bafana got to play some soccer with the big boys.

The Super Eagles showed Bafana how to win when you're winning. It was good clean fun. And with so much peace and love in the air, can we really blame Hayatou for indulging in the occasional erotic daydream about briefcases?

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