Only incumbent Ahmad Ahmad potentially stands in the way of South African billionaire and current sole candidate Patrice Motsepe becoming the eighth president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) this Friday.
A verdict is expected Monday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on an appeal by Malagasy Ahmad against a five-year ban imposed by FIFA last November over “governance issues”.
The world football governing body said the 61-year-old had “breached his duty of loyalty, offered gifts and other benefits, mismanaged funds and abused his position as the CAF president”.
Ahmad appealed to CAS within two days of the ban being announced and was allowed to return to his CAF post in January, pending the outcome.
A CAF executive committee member, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity in order to be candid, said he believed the best Ahmad could hope for was “a lesser suspension”.
“Some of the evidence against him (Ahmad) is strong and I would be shocked if the five-year ban was scrapped,” he said.
However, the appeal would have to be completely upheld for the former Malagasy fisheries minister to have a chance of opposing Motsepe, who has the backing of FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
“In the unlikely event of the appeal being upheld, Ahmed would have two choices,” said the CAF source. “He can try to defy the odds and seek a second four-year term or bow out gracefully.
“Were he cleared by CAS, he might draw strength from the fact that 46 (of 54) national association presidents publicly stated a few months ago that they wanted him to continue as CAF president.
“That said, some of my colleagues are convinced FIFA will pull out all the stops to prevent Ahmad running again, even if the CAS decision goes in his favour.”
– No objection –
The eight countries who did not sign a statement supporting the Malagasy were Algeria, Botswana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
A meeting of the CAF executive committee in Cameroon last month said a final decision on whether Ahmad could run lay with FIFA.
This move came after the CAF governance committee, comprising lawyers from Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia, said it had no objection to Ahmad running again.
After Ahmad was banned, four potential successors emerged: Motsepe, Ivorian Jacques Anouma, Senegalese Augustin Senghor and Mauritanian Ahmed Yahya.
Anouma, Senghor and Yahya withdrew from the race this weekend, saying they were putting the interests of African football ahead of personal ambitions.
It was a particularly tough decision for Anouma, as he is 69 and will be too old to contest future CAF presidential elections.
The plan is for Motsepe, 58, to be elected president this week in Rabat with Senghor, 55, and Yahya, 44, becoming vice presidents and Anouma a special advisor.
Ahmad was a shock presidential election winner in 2017, ending the 29-year reign of Cameroonian Issa Hayatou by 34 votes to 20 in Addis Ababa.
But after a promising start in which he gave voices to a wide range of stakeholders, including former stars, CAF deteriorated under his leadership.
South African online newspaper the Daily Maverick recently described the Cairo-based body as a “cesspool of corruption and self interest”.
Whoever is CAF president on March 12 will find an in-tray stacked with challenges and a virtually empty out-tray.