By Bonang Khumalo
Undoubtedly this is a testy time for FIFA. The world football governing body has been embroiled in several corruption scandals down the years, but the latest of these periodic convulsions has been the most devastating and makes it imperative to change the old order.
FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, realised the need to have a breath of fresh air in the game’s leadership; the avalanche of criticisms that trailed the recent revelations left him no choice. He had agreed to quit the helm and conduct a fresh election early next year.
Important as this change is however, there is also a compelling need to look outside the traditional power centres in the search for this freshness. Europe had historically provided leadership for FIFA from its birth in 1904 except for the period when the Brazilian, Joao Havelange, took the presidency from Englishman, Sir Stanley Rous.
Sir Stanley was something of an old-guard purist and even in 1974 the tide in the game was already flowing swiftly in a certain direction, and the old English gentleman could not stem that tide. It was a natural progression for big money to come into football and Havelange was a huge proponent of that new trend.
Interestingly, it is this trend of big money that eventually gave rise to the massive corruption ravaging the game today, so much so that the need for a clean break had become not only imperative but urgent.
And this freshness can come from Africa, indeed should come from Africa. CAF is made up of 54 national associations same as UEFA. CONCACAF has 41 members, while AFC has 41 affiliates. CONMEBOL has 10 members with Oceania weighing in with 14. So in terms of numerical consideration, Africa is well placed.
Again, it is consistent with FIFA’s policy of inclusiveness, of ensuring that all the confederations are carried along. It is this same policy that ensured Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010 and it is also the reason the competition would be staged in the near east, Qatar specifically, in 2022.
The African Mundial in South Africa in 2010 was widely acknowledged as a huge success and the man who made it happen, Danny Jordaan, is an option that can mount the African challenge. But he has not shown any interest.
So the lot fell on Nigeria, not only because of its position on the continent but more as a result of the fact that two of its citizens had already shown more than a passing interest. Ex-international, Segun Odegbami, had already thrown his hat into the ring for the game’s top position. The second is Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.
Although he has not publicly declared his intention as yet, the avalanche of appeals for him to do so are such that would be decisive at some point. The reason for these appeals is not far-fetched. At all levels of the administration of the game what is required are people with proven managerial and business acumen who can provide the much needed leadership.
Apart from having been a chief executive of a state, Abia, in South East Nigeria for eight years, Kalu has a string of businesses he has managed with huge success. The bane of the game had been the mistake of entrusting such sensitive positions to anybody who has shown some passion for the sport. That has not been enough apparently. Football is big business and those who have shown they can run big businesses, who have managed businesses successfully for many years, should be entrusted with the task of administering the beautiful game. That is the reason chief executives of English Premier League clubs for instance are, in the main, proven managers and businessmen.
Kalu had also demonstrated his passion for football; as governor of Abia State he superintended over the emergence of Enyimba as a force on the continent. The club not only won the in 2003 the CAF Champions League that had eluded Nigeria for 39 years, it successfully defended it the following year. Not even the more traditional sides like Enugu Rangers, IICC Shooting Stars (as it then was), Bendel Insurance, could achieve that singular distinction until Kalu rode into town with Enyimba.
It was not rocket science, but Kalu was almost prescient in the way he went about it. He had a firm belief that with solid leadership so much could be achieved. Add this to his feel for the politics of the game and the outcome was certain.
But the latter has been one area where Nigeria has lagged behind for decades. Considering its size and potential the nation has never realised the importance of seriously playing the politics of sports; the upshot being that Nigeria never really had representation in many continental sporting associations. The disadvantages of this remiss have been colossal.
This negligence is not restricted to sports. For instance the African Development Bank (AfDB) was founded in 1963 and Nigeria has been one of its biggest financiers, yet for decades the country couldn’t attain the presidency of the continental economic development body.
This was due to a combination of indifference, and lack of concerted effort even where there was some interest. But a Nigerian, Akinwumi Adesina, finally became the president of the AfDB after elections earlier in the year, and it shows what can be achieved when there is a collective and rigorous effort. President Muhammadu Buhari was involved from the get-go; he played the politics and wooed other African countries to support Adesina’s candidacy.
That is the spirit and it won’t be out of place for the president to be similarly involved when Kalu decides to pick the gauntlet. Nigeria needs to step to the plate as they say in baseball and begin to play in the big leagues. It won’t do for compatriots to shoot down the intention of Kalu or Odegbami for that matter. Already, some people have been trenchant in their dismissal of the very idea of Kalu running for FIFA presidency, asking why? But the real question is why not? The worst kind of censure is self-censure.
Thankfully, however, no less a personality than Dr. Amos Adamu, a former CAF and FIFA executive committee member has thrown his weight behind Kalu’s bid.
Adamu said: “Nigerians must accept the fact that we have people who can aspire to the highest positions in the world in all spheres of life. One of those rare persons is Orji Uzor Kalu, who has proven to be a world-class personality in everything he laid his hands on from politics to sports and business.
“Nigerians must believe that, we are not second class people in the world, so those who are expressing the fears that, the campaign for Kalu’s FIFA presidency is not possible, should have a change of heart as I can confirm to you authoritatively that it is possible… that is why we are encouraging and supporting Kalu’s FIFA presidential candidacy. When the opportunity presents itself for a world-class position to be filled in any international organisation, Nigeria should be in the forefront and never in the back seat. That is what we are trying to break with this Orji Kalu’s campaign.”
Already Europe is once again lining up their own, UEFA president, Michel Platini, to step into Blatter’s shoes. That is one European replacing another and it does not do justice to the policy of inclusiveness. It would also not favour the much-needed freshness in Zurich.
Platini has been a part of FIFA since assuming the reins at UEFA eight years ago; so the question is: can he be really absolved from the chicanery and rot at FIFA?
Former Argentina superstar, Diego Maradona, does not think so.
“Blatter did a lot of harm to football and with Platini, it’s a farce. They pretend to be separated, one at FIFA and the other at UEFA, while in fact they were always side-by-side.
“If we want a transparent FIFA, we cannot vote for Platini who has been close to Blatter, who taught him how to steal,” Maradona said.
So a fresh face with fresh ideas is needed at the helms in Zurich. This is where the Nigeria Football Federation has a major role to play; it won’t do for the federation to place obstacles on the way of those seeking to contest for FIFA’s top job.
The NFF must mobilise and galvanise other national associations on the continent to support the idea. It must be an African fight. Kalu on his part has to quickly declare his intention and also begin to call in his favours. He has to talk to his friend and CAF president, Issa Hayatou, whose importance in this battle is crucial.
Again, Kalu must reach out to his global sporting and business connections, let everybody know that the gravy train is in town so that they can quickly jump on board.
When Primo Nebiolo, one of the original titans that also included Havelange and Juan Antonio Samaranch (at IOC), left the saddle at IAAF it was to an African he handed the reins. The 83-year-old Senegalese Lamine Diack ran a great marathon in the last 16 years and took the world athletics nearer the tape before handing over to a younger man, Britain’s Sebastian Coe. That is the way to go in a global federation with representations from all corners of the world.
So for FIFA, the time to look to Africa is now, especially now, when FIFA is reeling and tottering on the brink of abyss.
And the cap fits Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu snugly.
•Dr. Khumalo wrote in from Durban, South Africa
Culled from The Sun