Madagascan Surprise Unseats FIFA Godfather Hayatou

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A little-known official from Madagascar toppled African soccer head Issa Hayatou, ending almost 30 years of rule as the world’s most-popular sport continues to deal with the fallout of corruption probes into its management.

Ahmad Ahmad, 57, will replace Cameroon’s Hayatou, who is also senior vice president of global governing body FIFA, after a 34-20 victory in a vote Thursday in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. Hayatou’s ouster is the second significant change at one of soccer’s major regional bodies since the Feb. 2016 election of FIFA’s new president Gianni Infantino.

Infantino was elevated to his post following the unprecedented crisis stemming from U.S. corruption charges against dozens of global soccer in May 2015. Ahmad’s victory follows that of Aleksander Ceferin, the Slovenian picked to lead European soccer after its president Michel Platini was banned from the sport.

The vote was a “sweet victory” that was “achieved after years of work,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad, who is took over Madagascar’s soccer federation in 2003, ran on a campaign to open an era of transparency, and bring “a wind of change.” He’s also the subject of a preliminary investigation into wrongdoing by FIFA’s independent ethics committee over e-mails requesting funds he sent in 2010 to the now-banned former Asian soccer Mohamed Bin Hammam, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ahmad and his federation didn’t respond to an email and telephone call seeking comment.

Changes

Infantino hadn’t said which candidate he favored. He attended a party thrown by Ahmad’s campaign manager, Zimbabwean soccer leader Phillip Chiyangwa, weeks before the vote.

The African election removes another member of FIFA board from the time of disgraced leader Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. Several regional leaders who dominated the sport were removed during an American corruption probe.

A new, larger governing council has been created to replace a previous structure, allowing more voices, from more regions and guarantees places for women. The changes also solidify Infantino’s role, by removing some long-time board members.

The changes are likely to be scrutinized by the the U.S. Justice Department, which is due to receive details of a FIFA’s internal investigation started in 2015. At stake is FIFA’s “victim status,” a legal position that grants it permission to receive restitution from cash seized by U.S. authorities and allows American companies to continue participating in the World Cup, which adds about $5 billion to FIFA.

Hayatou’s History

Hayatou, 70, took over as president of Confederation of African Football in 1988. He once challenged Blatter for FIFA’s leadership, and became a loyal ally in later years.

Hayatou was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee in 2011 after FIFA acknowledged he had been the recipient of a payment from its defunct marketing partner. He was also alleged to have sought payments in return for his vote in the controversial bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Hayatou has denied those allegations.

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