By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The suspension of Confederation of African Football chief Ahmad Ahmad on Monday has thrown wide open the future leadership of the regional soccer governing body, with his ban from the game coming just months before CAF's presidential elections.
Ahmad had already been endorsed by 46 of the continent’s 54 football associations and looked certain to be re-elected in March 2021 but the five-year ban, announced by FIFA's Ethics Committee, means there will now be a scramble for power.
FIFA said in a statement that Ahmad was found guilty by the independent committee of offering and accepting gifts and other benefits, and misappropriation of funds.]
Ahmad’s suspension arrived more than a year after the world governing body opened investigations into allegations against the 60-year-old former fisheries minister from Madagascar.
Ahmad, who denied any wrongdoing, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
The ban comes after last week’s closing date for nominations for the CAF presidency and leaves the field devoid of any of Ahmad’s loyalists.
Instead, the new head of African football will come from a field made up of a former candidate for the job, two association presidents and one of the continent’s richest men.
Jacques Anouma, 68, of the Ivory Coast previously attempted to run for the CAF presidency but was stymied when the incumbent Issa Hayatou had the rules changed to make only CAF executive committee members eligible to stand. Anouma was at the time an executive committee member with FIFA but not CAF.
He has been out of football administration for the past five years and the rule that halted his ambition has been removed.
Augustin Senghor, 56, from Senegal and 44-year-old Ahmad Yahya of Mauritania serve as their country’s football federation presidents and were among those declaring support for Ahmad before his impending suspension saw them enter the race.
The 58-year-old South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe was a surprise candidate named earlier this month and has the support of Nigeria as well as his home country.
He is proposed as a candidate whose business acumen and commercial contacts will open revenue opportunities for CAF, which has no television or marketing contract after last year cancelling a long-term deal with French company Lagadere Sports.
CAF on Monday named first vice president Constant Omari Selemani of the Democratic Republic of Congo as its acting president in a brief statement after Ahmad‘s suspension.
It said: “The Confederation Africaine de Football, which is concerned about the reputational consequences of this long procedure, maintains the schedule of all its activities and programs.”
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)