South African mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe was elected president of the African soccer confederation on Friday March 12 without the need for a vote after a deal brokered by FIFA saw his three challengers withdraw and left him as the only candidate.
Motsepe was confirmed by acclamation-a round of applause by officials-at the Confederation of African Football’s general assembly meeting. As head of CAF, Motsepe automatically becomes a FIFA vice president and a member of the FIFA Council.
The 59-year-old Motsepe, a highly successful businessman but a man who has little experience in soccer administration, now has a seat at the sport’s top table but also the challenge of turning around FIFA’s most troubled confederation.
CAF’s finances were shredded in a FIFA-requested forensic audit in 2019 that found extensive irregularities, and CAF president Ahmad Ahmad was banned from soccer last year for financial misconduct, preventing him standing for re-election on Friday.
CAF was effectively taken over and run by FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura for six months in 2019 after the confederation became completely dysfunctional under Ahmad.
Motsepe was the first Black African to make Forbes’ list of billionaires and is the brother-in-law of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. He became the sole candidate after FIFA president Ginanni Infantino’s intervention saw Augustin Senghor of Senegal, Ahmed Yahya of Mauritania and Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast withdraw.
Infantino attended the general assembly, where Motsepe referred to him as “my brother’” and thanked him “for the vision and encouragement of unity.”
Under the deal, Motsepe, Senghor, Yahya and Anouma are set to operate as “a team” at the head of CAF, FIFA said. The move has spurred criticism of FIFA and Infantino for interfering in what is African soccer business.
Infantino faces re-election in 2023 and the votes of Africa’s 54 FIFA members are hugely important to him.
It’s not yet clear how the new CAF leadership team will effectively work, although Senghor and Yahya are expected to be given roles as vice presidents. CAF already has three vice presidents.
It has also been reported that current FIFA secretary general Samoura, who is from Senegal, will become CAF secretary-general as part of the agreement. Samoura also attended the general assembly.
Motsepe is a mining magnate with a fortune of $2.9 billion, according to Forbes. He is the owner and president of the South African club Mamelodi Sundowns but hasn’t held a role before in regional or even national soccer administration.
He is used to operating in high circles, though, once making a speech alongside Barack Obama, and attending an exclusive meeting of international business leaders hosted by then-President Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year.
After being confirmed as CAF president, Motsepe said he would not make a long speech but did note: “We spent the morning hearing the challenges that confront African football.”
CAF recorded a loss of more than $11 million in the financial year 2019-20, officials said earlier at Friday’s meeting, continuing its steep decline over the past four years.
“The new team (Motsepe and his leadership allies) needs to double or treble the revenue of CAF,” said Fouzi Lekjaa, the head of the CAF finance committee. “I don’t want to be alarmist but the figures … can’t be interpreted any other way.”
After promising a new era of ethical leadership for African soccer on his election in 2017, Ahmad’s reign was one of chaos and mismanagement, and he was banned from soccer for five years last year for financial misconduct. The ban was reduced to two years on appeal this week.
In another indictment of CAF’s reputation, the man who took over from Ahmad as interim CAF president, current senior VP Constant Omari of Congo, was prevented from running for a place on the FIFA Council in Friday’s voting because he is the subject of an ethics investigation.
In his campaign manifesto, Motsepe promised to instigate stricter auditing practices at CAF while building revenue by securing more commercial sponsorship.
“There are many companies all over the world who want to give money to football,” Motsepe said last month. “But they want to be comfortable that the money will not go into the pockets of the leadership of football.”