KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Last October, lost amid all the fuss over World Cup expansion, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced the decision to organise a string of regional summits with FA leaders in the different continents.
The world federation president explained it as “the need for increasing involvement of members associations in FIFA by setting executive football summits in different parts of the world where we will discuss our strategy for the way ahead.”
Last week Infantino was in Asia, in Qatar, this week he heads for Africa and his latest ‘executive summit’ in Johannesburg tomorrow and Wednesday. The timing could not be more delicate.
Next month Issa Hayatou is seeking to extend his 28-year command of the African Confederation of Football at its annual congress in Ethiopia on March 16.
In the past the veteran Cameroonian has adroitly manipulated the statutes to sideline any potential challengers.
This time around the scenario is very different. He is being opposed by Ahmad Ahmad, president of the Madagascar football association and eligible to stand because he is a member of the CAF executive.
Ahmad has the backing of COSAFA, the southern African associations. This would not, on its own, be enough for him to be considered a serious danger to Hayatou. However sources close to the candidates consider Infantino to be in Ahmad’s corner.
Infantino, as president, has always insisted – concerning the power duels within any and all of the six confederations – that he is strictly neutral and is content to obey the democratic will of the member associations.
However, last year Hayatou opposed Infantino by throwing Africa’s support behind Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in the Bahraini’s vain bid to land the FIFA presidency; last month Infantino kicked Hayatou out of the presidency of the powerful FIFA finance committee.
It is no secret that Hayatou has not enjoyed the best of health but his iron will to retain command and influence within African football was evidenced only last July when he secured oil company Total’s wide-ranging sponsorship of the Cup of Nations.
Whether his negotiating power is still matched by his political power may be clearer after Infantino breezes through Johannesburg this week.