Madagascan Ahmad Ahmad was elected president of the Confederation of African Football Thursday, ousting veteran leader Issa Hayatou after 29 years in office to usher in a “new dawn” for the sport on the continent.
Ahmad, head of Madagascar’s football federation, won the election in the Ethiopian capital by 34 votes to Hayatou’s 20, official results showed.
Delegates cheered and pumped their fists in the plenary hall after the announcement of the result which heralded the departure of the last of the old generation of leaders in world football.
Ahmad, a 57-year-old father of two, had a discreet playing and coaching career before he took the reins of the Madagascar football federation in 2003.
His rare and determined bid for “change” at the head of the CAF this year took many by surprise, and the incumbent was seen as the favourite.
“When you try to do something, you mean that you can do it,” Ahmad told reporters after the vote. “If I can’t do it, I never stand.”
He earlier said his programme was the “reform of the administration of CAF to avoid the involvement of politics in the organisation.”
Cameroonian Hayatou headed CAF since 1988 and is a senior vice president of FIFA. He was credited with increasing the number of African teams at the World Cup and bringing in extra finance for the continent’s competitions.
“His excellency Issa Hayatou has done a lot for African football (but) it is time for him to step back,” said George Afriyie, vice president of the Ghana Football Association.
Hayatou was led from the auditorium by aides who brushed off requests for comment from journalists while Ahmad was picked up and carried by cheering supporters.
“Africa has made an emphatic decision that we are ready for change,” said Liberian Football Association President Musa Bility.
Seyi Akinwunmi, vice president of the Nigeria Football Federation, called Hayatou a “colossus who has bestrode African football for decades” before adding: “It’s a new dawn, all should be happy.
“We’re Africans and Africans never forget their elders. An elder has been defeated today, but he’s still an elder.
“The world has moved on, we really need energy. And the truth is Issa Hayatou is almost 70. There’s only so much really that he can do.
“The world, technologically and in terms of the way you see things, has changed. Speaking with Ahmad, I found that he understood those things.”
Hayatou’s reign at the head of CAF was often controversial.
He was accused by Britain’s The Sunday Times of receiving $1.5 million to vote for Qatar when it was awarded the 2022 World Cup seven years ago.
In 2011, Hayatou was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee over money he received from the scandal-tainted sports marketing company ISL in 1995.
He has always insisted the money went to CAF and has always strongly denied any wrongdoing.
On the eve of the vote, it was announced that Hayatou and CAF secretary-general Hicham El-Amrani could face criminal charges in Egypt over deals secured for African football marketing and media rights between 2008 and 2028.
Ahmad has also been implicated in the 2022 World Cup bribe-taking. The Sunday Times said he received between $30,000 and $100,000 for his vote. The Madagascar soccer chief has called the allegations unfounded.
Before the vote Hayatou called for delegates to vote for “unity”.
Laying out some of the priorities for CAF in the future, he mentioned lobbying for 10 places for African nations in the enlarged World Cup field.
He also called for the African Nations Cup to be maintained at the beginning of the year, when the climate is cooler, amid calls for it to be rescheduled to accommodate European clubs who don’t want to lose their African players during their season.