FIFA general secretary, Jerome Valcke, gave a media briefing to journalists in South Africa last weekend following the start of the African Cup of Nations.
At the end he was nabbed by the Nigerian journalist Osasu Obayiuwana and asked about the forthcoming CAF ‘elections’. I use the term lightly, because last year CAF President Issa Hayatou oversaw a change in the statutes so that only the 13 voting members of the CAF executive committee could stand as CAF president (by contrast ANYBODY can stand as FIFA president with the backing of a federation). The move effectively ended the chances of the Ivorian Jacques Anouma* to fulfil his ambition of becoming CAF president and means Hayatou is unlikely to face a presidential challenger.
Obayiuwana has been one of the few African journalists who has covered these shenanigans with any tenacity, so when given the chance asked Valcke about the fate of African football.
His answers were revealing for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, because he insisted on FIFA’s unwillingness to become embroiled in confederation affairs. FIFA has in the past intervened when similarly murky goings on have gone on at federation level, but it is clear that they’re not going to take on 53 federations in one go, particularly when they form one of Sepp Blatter’s great powerbases. Moreover, for Valcke the decision - no matter how flawed - was democratic. ‘I did not see anyone in the room with machine guns,’ he pointed out.
But it was perhaps his refusal to condemn or condone the manouevering that seemed to speak loudest.
Do you think that the recent changes, to the CAF presidential election rules, serve the cause of good governance in African football?
Valcke: I have to say that I will disappoint you. A lot. (Pauses) But I cannot answer your question…
Valcke: No. Permit me to keep what I think [to myself] and permit me to keep my job. But I cannot answer this question. I also have to be a bit of a politician sometimes…
Naturally the FIIFA general secretary needs to maintain some neutrality in order to navigate the cesspit of international football politics. But his refusal to speak out does beg the question: does Valcke have his eye on a bigger prize?
*Anouma should himself know a thing or too about discredited politicians, having previously been an advisor to Ivorian dictator Laurent Gbagbo, now residing in the Hague where he faces war crimes charges